Movie Review: Avatar
Movie Review: Avatar (2009)
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Joel Moore, Giovanni Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez, CCH Pounder
Plot: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Friendly scientists, Mean space marines, Greedy corporate guys, a main character trying to prove himself, and a discriminated people all have disagreements and duke it out. The difference here is the backdrop: an alien planet called Pandora – which is the real star of the movie.
Jake Sully (Worthington) is a space marine in a wheelchair. When his twin brother is killed in the AVATAR program on a planet called Pandora, they bring in little Sully to take over. The AVATAR program allows humans to pilot empty vessels that look like the indigenous people, called The Navi. The idea is to use the AVATARs to diplomatically relocate the Navi away from their home, which is the largest source of this mineral that Greedy Corporate Guy (Ribisi) wants. However, the trigger-happy military wants little Sully to do recon work for them so they can come in and blow everything up.
It’s like Fern Gully meets Dances with Wolves, only with the action and direction of Aliens.
During his first mission in the AVATAR, Sully gets separated from his scientist buddies (Weaver and Lang), and is saved from an onslaught of local predators by a Navi named Neytiri (Saldana). Because she sees some (sentient?) seeds attract to him, she takes him to the village where the elder says that she must train him in the ways of the Navi.
Thus begins the purpose of the movie – learning about another culture and starting a student / teacher romance, and all the while showcasing the fantastic visuals and details put into the world of Pandora.
But just in case you have a short attention span when things aren’t going boom, the military guys are still gathering intel and plan to forcefully relocate the Navi people. And it’s up to Sully to stop them.
My review above doesn’t give the movie justice, so let me just say this: I went to go see this movie three weeks after it was released to theaters on a Monday. This is not really prime time for a theater to have a lot of patrons. I was expecting a handful of people when I got to see the flick in 3-D (which is the only way to experience this movie, by the way), but what I encountered was closer to opening night crowds. The theater was PACKED. I thought I would at least have a seat to put my winter coat on, but no. Coat was on the lap, people on both sides of me, every seat in the house was filled. It was insane!
Thankfully, no one talked during the movie. And no cell phones went off. I was very happy with that.
But I was simply amazed by the turn out three weeks after being released.
The star of the movie (“the draw,” if you will) is clearly the WETA effects and the world of Pandora. The flora AND fauna. There’s so much to soak in visually that it almost demands repeat viewing. But not in a bad way. You want to see some of the fantastic images that they bring to life in this flick. I was nervous that this movie (like other sci-fi special effects movies, cough cough “Star Wars” cough cough) simply couldn’t live up to the hype that it was generating. Let me put your fears to rest: it SURPASSES them.
The pictures don’t do it justice. The trailers don’t do it justice. This movie will be a different / lesser experience on your small screen (but I’ll no doubt still buy it). This movie is a reason to go see something in theaters. This is one of those rare “event movies” where going to the theater actually means something.
WETA has created another standard for special effects in movies, and it only took them 14 years to do it this time (last time it took them 5-7, with Lord of the Rings). The time and effort clearly show through.
Like any good fantasy story, the writers use the narrative to introduce you to the world that they have spent so much time creating. Unfortunately, there are some areas here that fall flat in the film. For example: the planet has a toxic air to humans, yet still has water and produces rain (so there’s hydrogen and oxygen in the air). What about the air makes it so toxic? Little things like this stuck out to me, since I had so many more questions about the world of Pandora (and the world that the humans came from) as the credits were rolling. The ending narration says that the people went back to heir dying world – but they never mentioned Earth has being a dying world before. Is that why we were on Pandora mining this substance? What would that substance give us?
I suppose in the grand scheme of the story these questions are not very important, but for someone who has started lecturing on crafting fictional worlds, I’d like to know more. Perhaps the 9+ hours of special features on the blu-ray will enlighten me (we can only hope there’s 9+ hours of special features).
The movie is long (2 hr, 40 min) but doesn’t feel long at all. I didn’t find myself checking my watch or shifting in my seat. I was engrossed in the world of Pandora. The 3-D effects were both subtle and in your face, but I think it was the subtle ones that stuck out the most to me. When little lightning bugs are flying around and popping up in your face, I felt compelled to brush away whatever was interrupting my view of Pandora. But it wasn’t interrupting – it was engrossing. You start to feel like you’re actually there.
There are a few items that people tease about when it comes to the look of the characters, namely that the Navi are not unlike Smurfs. First off, notice that James Cameron is obsessed with the color blue. The Abyss, Terminator 2, True Lies – there’s a lot of blue lighting in those movies making the characters look blue. When given the opportunity to just change their skin pigment, it’s the color that he chose. Had his favorite color been red or purple, there wouldn’t be any Smurf references.
Cameron’s return to movie making is certainly a triumphant one. I’ve liked all of his movies that I’ve seen previously (yes even Titanic, despite Leo Dicrapio’s best efforts), and this is no exception. I had previously been skeptical about his wanting to adapt Yukito Kishiro’s Battle Angel Alita for the big screen, but now I’m not so certain I’m fully opposed to it. I’m optimistically curious.
Go see this movie. In 3-D. Bring friends.