Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Avatar (2009)

Movie quotes:

"Just relax and let your mind go blank. That shouldn't be too hard for you."
- Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver)

At a glance:
Avatar creates a stunningly original and beautiful 3-D paradise, then sadly destroys it with fire, noise, and cardboard caricatures

Our review (with spoilers):
At 175 minutes, Avatar is lengthy enough to be two movies. In fact, it basically is two movies. In this imaginative universe, a mining company is tasked to take what they need from a pristine land and to eliminate any indigenous people that get in their way. The first two hours, although burdened with a script that fires off every movie cliché and classic situation one after the other, still is a triumph of 3-D visuals over substance. This beautiful world is populated by computer-generated indigenous tribes and visited by humans (inside indigenous-lookalike shells called Avatars). One man, Sully (Sam Worthington) seems the least likely to infiltrate this simpler, spiritual culture – after all, he’s a former marine. But his warrior skills come in handy, and he slowly warms to the parts of the culture that worship the forest and the trees. But Sully is conflicted. Even as he is falling in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and the Na’vi culture, he is also delivering intelligence to General Quaritch (Stephen Lang, in a strikingly effective role), the no-nonsense former jarhead in charge of strong-armed military operations for the mining company.

There are emotional hooks galore in the first two-thirds of Avatar. Sully in the human world is confined to a wheelchair; there is great joy in seeing him within his Avatar body for the first time, running, jumping, unencumbered. His slow transformation into one of the indigenous people is somewhat less effective. The concept of creating lab-hatched indigenous bodies and then controlling them via mind links has many more possibilities than were realized here. This film would have benefited from a bit more juxtaposition. Rather than spending the last hour in a long, loud, fire fight, mostly between outmatched tribes bouncing poison arrows off armored helicopters, what if some of the baddies, like Quaritch, were forced to live as an Avatar? Could Quaritch have reached an understanding of the Na’vi culture? And if not, wouldn’t it have been satisfying to see the people whom he devastated deliver his just desserts? The emotional punch from a redemption story like that would have been much stronger than from all guns blazing. Still, this is the price we pay for the way movies are made in Hollywood today. With an estimated budget of 280 million dollars, director James Cameron would not be allowed to take any risks. He has to create a product that will have action, action, action (this ensures strong overseas box office) and he must play it safe, or he would never be able to get that kind of backing. To his credit, he did achieve the goal of beating all existing box office records (besting his own Titanic). No matter what else you think, this guy knows how to make an epic blockbuster.

Avatar could have been a much quieter masterpiece. But let’s take it for what it is. It is still a landmark film for its visuals. And most people will ignore the script deficiencies and just enjoy the epic scale. It’s easier to do so when you get more of an appreciation for the technological leaps that were made to make this groundbreaking film. Check out this link for more information on the making of

Rating: 2.75 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"As superbly rendered as his 3D world is, Cameron has populated it with characters who are strictly 2D. And sometimes not even that."
- Jim Schembri (The Age [Australia])

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