For the record, I wasn't on the Avatar bandwagon at first. If I'd only had the trailers to go on, I probably would have waited until the DVD came out to go see it.
But the buzz got me.
Sites like Screen Rant (even though the bastards won't reply to my emails, curse them!) and word of mouth caught my interest and got me out the door to see the film. I'm glad I listened... for once!
A friend of mine said she thought the film was Dances With Wolves dressed up in a Sci-Fi costume, and after having seen the film I won't disagree with that analogy. The storyline is not very original and can be summed up quite succinctly: An evil human corporation, wishing to make a vast profit from mining a rare mineral on a nearby planet called Pandora, have genetically crossed human DNA with that of the indigenous humanoid population (the Na'vi) and created living, remote stand-ins for their genetically matched human operators. Basically, the avatars are supposed to go into the Na'vi villages and persuade them that we humans have good intentions so that the Unobtanium (yeah, that's really what it's called) can be mined with minimal loss of human life.
Well, just like Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves, one of the avatar operators, Sam Worthington's Jake Sully, becomes sweet on a native girl and finds himself sympathetic to the plight of the natives, eventually siding with the very people he was enlisted to fight. You can guess the rest, or go see it for yourself.
Despite the unoriginal storyline, the movie succeeds in entertaining at a very high level.
The Finer Points
Acting! The acting goes a long way in saving this movie from being compared to other visually pretty films such as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, King Kong, and the Star Wars prequels. Sam Worthington has quickly become my favorite new actor, picking up the reigns from his fellow South Pacific thespian comrades Mel Gibson and Russell Crowe. Anyway, he is great in the movie, lending the whole, great-big, crazy spectacle a sense of realism and believability. Sigourney Weaver is terrific as the grizzled, cynical scientist-cum-humanitarian, and Zoë Saldaña (though never seen on screen as her true self) is perfect in her part.
And who could forget the special effects? To me, SFX are a means to an end. When they usurp storytelling, character development, and a smart script, as they did in the Star Wars prequels, then they are no longer of any value to the story, and only serve as a hindrance to it. Let me just say that the SFX do not get in the way in Avatar. True, Avatar is probably the most visually striking movie I have ever seen on screen, but the visuals do not embody all that the film is. The FX add to the film in the same way that they added to the original Star Wars. They add to the storytelling the same way that they added to Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy. And, quite honestly, I would have been hard pressed to tell the FX from the real stuff.
They were that good.
So let's get down to the nitty gritty, shall we? The film has flaws, albeit mostly small ones, and I will try and outline them here without being too harsh about it.
Let's start with the obvious issues; Pandora and Unobtanium. Seriously, James Cameron? Were you too busy chatting with the boom operator or lining up a shot with the cinematographer to come up with something a little more original than these two shit biscuits? People actually laughed out loud in the theater (no, not just me) both times that the mineral's made up name were mentioned on screen.
I also felt like the film had a few thematic problems, but please understand that I am probably nitpicking here. First, the Na'vi are supposed to be some sort of alien-hippie-Native American wannabe's who are quite literally connected to their environment. The film is filled to the brim with environmental themes and the basic idea of living in harmony with the world around us without exploiting it for personal gain. This is all fine and good, but what happens when the Na'vi need a convenient mode of transportation to traverse the skies above Pandora while hunting? If you guessed bending another, lesser native species to their will until it accepts the Na'vi as its overlord you're 100% right! In order for a Na'vi to be recognized as an adult, he or she must trek to the top of a floating mountain and wrangle a winged reptile until it accepts its new Na'vi master. Of course, the winged reptile quickly forms a close link with its Na'vi rider and the two become close companions. Right.
This doesn't really fit into the worldview that Cameron presents us where every creature should have freedom of choice and never have another's will forced upon it. It's just a movie, I know. But I sometimes find these bullshit, liberal views to be so hypocritical that it's hard to take them seriously.
Which brings me to my next point: Avatar is yet another movie where the white man must come and save the poor indigenous people. It seems sometimes like filmmakers are so enamored with themselves and the political agendas they hope to push that they completely fail to realize that they are every bit the hypocritical, Euro-biased, egomaniacs that they hope to smite with their films. The same is true of Australia, The Phantom Menace, and Dances With Wolves. I'm sure I could think of a few more examples were I to sit here for another ten minutes and think about it. But the point is that white writer/directors are so enamored with the message that they think they're delivering that they fail to realize they're bringing the same Eurocentric ideas that they claim to detest to bear on the themes of their films. Am I the only one that sees it?
Some Quick Advice
See the film in 3D. There is no excuse for seeing it any other way. I find, like many others, 3D to be clumsy and cumbersome, but in this case it is worth the burden.
Watch out for Sam Worthington. His star is on the rise, with last summer's Terminator Salvation under his belt, Avatar, and a starring role in the upcoming remake Clash of the Titans, he is poised to be Hollywood's next leading man.
James Cameron is back on top of his game with Avatar. Would I say that it is a better film than Aliens or Terminator 1 or 2? No, probably not. But it is clear from this offering that Cameron still has stories to tell. He isn't just showing off the newest technology he's developed.
I wish we could have said the same thing about The Phantom Menace and the prequels that followed it.
Avatar is probably showing now at a theater near you.
Have you seen Avatar? Did you love it or hate it? Or just want to tell me to shut up? Please feel free to use the comments section to voice your opinion!