[Movie Review] Avatar

Movie Poster for Avatar

The movie poster for Avatar, featuring the Na'vi princess.

Since it came out, James Cameron’s Avatar has been hailed as a masterpiece, the harbinger of a new era of film-making. A film to bush the boundaries, and to boldly go where no film has gone before.

And it is. The story is epic, the animation and camerawork is grand, and the idea is genius. There is no doubt in my mind that this film will be the film of the year. It will win at every feasible award show, and its Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic ratings will skyrocket. All this, because (at least, it might seem so) that’s how the film was made. Would you expect anything less from the maker of Titanic?

Dancing with Pocahontas in space.

In a future world where humanity are colonizing planets far away in space, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) wakes up on Pandora, a moon circling the planet Polyphemus in the Alpha Centauri system. He’s there to pilot a so-called “Avatar,” an organism, made by combining DNA from the indigenous Na’vi with DNA from a human. The human providing the DNA can then take control of the organism thus produced.

Except Jake wasn’t meant to be an avatar pilot. His deceased identical twin brother was. Jake is a crippled ex-marine, while his brother, like the rest of the avatar-team, was a scientist.

Jake is not particularly enthusiastic about the project – nor is the leader of the Avatar project, Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), thrilled about having him and not his brother. The tough chief of security, ex-marine colonel Quaritch, on the other hand, is thrilled to have a marine on the inside of the wuss scientist team, who can tell him all about the Na’vi – such as how to get rid of them most efficiently.

Of course, Jakes attitude to the whole thing changes when he meets the Na’vi and is accepted into their tribe where the scientists have all been rejected. It can come as no great shock that Jake will soon face the consequences of the humans’ advances on Pandora, and pick a side in the inevitable conflict between Na’vi and humans. Guess who he’ll choose…

2D in 3D

Avatar is, in most ways, an amazing accomplishment. The digitally produced sceneries are breathtaking, not least when viewed in 3D. The alien biology of Pandora is very original, while still seeming believable and coherent. The human technology seems just as well constructed. You get the impression that Cameron has gone out of his way to listen to scientists and take their views and ideas seriously.

The composition of the film is just as impressive. The pacing of the hectic and the subtle, the bad and the good – it works. The plot is believable, yet still contains surprises.

Most of the characters work just as well. Jake is a brilliant protagonist – we can relate to him, and while he starts out with several issues he needs to resolve, he is still likeable, especially as we see the good sides of him come out. Sigourney Weaver’s character is the same: a scientist with a bad attitude, but a heart of gold.

But it’s not all just peachy. First of all, the Na’vi seem too much like stereotypical Indians – many of their lines could have come out of Dances with Wolves, or similar, white-man-goes-native style films.

Secondly, the villains are two dimensional and somewhat unoriginal. The middle manager, doing anything for profit and the Marine colonel with a thirst for battle are both characters we’ve seen in loads of films. Especially the marine colonel urgently needs something to properly distinguish him from the million movie characters like him. Why on earth is he so battle thirsty? Why has he decided the Na’vi are bad? We are never told.

Just as some characters seem shallow, certain facets of the plot seem a bit tired. Why another film where a giant corporation tramples all decency and human compassion? Another one to put on the pile with Alien (all four of them), Blade Runner, I Robot, Robocop, Terminator – should I continue? Couldn’t we for once see a film where the men with the money see the error of their ways and help find a common ground? And why another film about a white man who meets the noble wild, learns of their ways, and leads them to victory against his former allies? I saw Dances with Wolves, thank you very much – I have no need to see it again in space.

The inevitability of academy

But when you’re watching the film, these things are minor, and very forgettable, annoyances. You’ll be far busier being amazed by the glorious images and the riveting story. This film is a shoe in for the technical Oscars, pushing the boundaries of computer assisted filmmaking, and doing wonders in sound and music. And while I can’t see any of the acting meriting awards, the director and scriptwriters are likely to receive nominations, at the very least.

Because this film is a milestone. It pushes boundaries of what can be done with computers, and sets new standards for all coming films to aspire to. And, what to me seems just as important, it sheds light on some neglected parts of what science fiction can do.

All in all: there are few, if any, excuses for not watching this film. Go on, don’t be shy. But do take it for what it is: a grand, masterfully produced, Hollywood blockbuster, tailored to be just that.

Oh, and if you don’t know anything about Avatar – take a look at the trailer:

To be honest, it pretty much says what I just said above…

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Hi guys..
    I saw this epic last night at the Empire Leicester Sq in London, which is a superb venue in which to view this film. Huge screen, excellent sound and an extraordinary Dolby, 3 dimensional image. The whole effect is mind blowing.

    Reply

  2. A political/theological/psychological review of Avatar here: http://austeritygrub.blogspot.com/2010/03/avatar-triumph-of-will-2.html

    Reply

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