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Movie Review: Avatar (December, 2009)

Director: James Cameron
Screenplay: James Cameron
Release Date: December 18, adiposity 2009
Actors: Sam Worthington, this web Zoe Saldana, geriatrician Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Joel Moore, Giovanni Ribisi

If there’s one movie you should see this winter, Avatar should be it. When the Golden Globe nominations first came out last week and Avatar was up for Best Motion Picture Drama, I was confused. Was it really that good? Most people hadn’t seen it yet. After seeing it, I can understand why it was nominated. Many of you may not know much about Avatar. If you’re a film buff, you’re sure to have heard about Avatar at least once in the last year. Avatar is James Cameron’s first feature film since his monstrous hit Titanic, 12 years ago, a film that took 3 years to make, and was shelved for most of its life since its inception. This is due to the fact that the technology at the time was not advanced enough to support Cameron’s vision of life on Pandora. It was not until Cameron saw Gollum in The Lord of the Rings that he felt technology had advanced far enough to start work on Avatar, and in the years while working on the film, new technology was created in order to give emotion to the faces of the natives of Pandora.

So what is Avatar you ask? Jake Sully (Sam Worthington, Terminator Salvation), a paraplegic marine veteran whose brother was killed in his transfer to the space station, is asked to take the place of his twin brother in a mission on the distant planet of Pandora. When he reaches his destination, Jake discovers the reason why he is there. There is a mineral rock worth $20 million an ounce that is found underneath the home of the Na’vi, the native humanoids of the planet of Pandora. The corporation has set up a very large unit with full military manpower and machines, headed by Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi, Gone in Sixty Seconds), the main representative of the corporation. He’s close to sending in the troops to move the Na’vi by force if the Avatar group is unable to make any progress on their relationship with the Na’vi. The Avatar group is headed by scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver, Alien), whose interest is in direct conflict with Parker Selfridge, as she has a desire to learn about the Na’vi, how they live and the amazing world they have created, especially in respect to their deity, known as Eywa to the Na’vi. Dr. Grace Augustine’s group has created Na’vi bodies that are biologically connected to the DNA of herself, Jake and Norm Spellman (Joel Moore, Bones). When they create a body link to these Na’vi bodies, they become them – they can eat, feel, drink, walk without ever leaving the machine that links the two together. On a run to collect samples in the forest of the flux of Pandora, Jake runs into a bit of trouble and unexpectedly finds himself rescued by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), the daughter of the leader of a Na’vi clan. Through a sign, Neytiri senses there is something special about him and takes him back to the clan, where he is taught the ways of the Na’vi and soon becomes one of them. It is this journey that we get immersed into the world of Pandora and attached to the characters that we meet throughout the film.

So why must you watch this film? I tend to walk into films knowing very little about the story, and I think I tend to fairly judge the movie when I have less than idea of what the film is about. Well, what did I think? The story is definitely cliche, it has been done every which way. Through The New World, Dancing with Wolves, we have seen this movie in so many different forms. I admit I don’t really enjoy movies about natives very often, but I did like this one. I think it is mainly because the location is at an alien world, and it required technology to integrate with the Na’vi family. The screenplay was decent but not excellent. James Cameron’s strengths are definitely in his script writing (though better than George Lucas‘ especially when it comes to romance, but I digress). To this day, when I think of the script for Titanic, I cringe. (And I love the movie too.) So why should you see this film? Let me list a number of reasons.

Number One: Avatar is a visual feast, no doubt about it. Expect to be stunned into silence by the breathtaking scenes and forests of the alien planet Pandora. The new technology that James Cameron uses is something to behold. The facial expressions, the movements of the blue native humanoids are realistic and seamless. The CG, of which I usually complain a great deal when a scene looks fake, was nothing short of spectacular. I did not have much to complain in this department. The colors of the world of Pandora are simply amazing, so much so that I felt that wearing the 3D glasses kind of ruined it for me. Speaking of the 3D, it was very well done, and one could feel as though they were actually there. You could almost touch the plants that Jake was encountering, you were so immersed.

Number Two: The characters. Though Avatar is clearly plot driven, there is not much focus on the characters themselves. However, through the story, we grow to be very attached to Jake in his avatar body, and that of Neytiri (whom I could not distinguish was Zoe Saldana at all, but did a wonderful job, especially in a very poignant scene towards the last quarter of the film.). Stephen Lang’s Colonel Miles Quaritch was something of a caricature. With a penchant for violence and utter demolition, I felt he was mostly one note. I suppose that’s how his character is supposed to be. Michelle Rodriguez (Lost), army pilot Trudy Chacon balanced the lunacy of Colonel Miles Quaritch, as she is the opposite of the Colonel, showing she has a heart and a strong dislike of destroying lives. Though we don’t see much of Trudy, and I am not a Michelle Rodriguez fan, I liked her character. I don’t have much to say about all the actors, as they all did a great job with what they had to handle and it’s always nice to see Signourey Weaver on the big screen.

Number Three: Okay, so we can tell James Horner music usually a mile away. This time, there is enough variation to make the soundtrack unique enough. The music really adds to the epic feeling of the film, as Horner similarly demonstrated in “Titanic”. Without the music, the mystic of Pandora would not have been the same, nor the buildup to the battle. The song however, “I See You” by Leona Lewis is dreadful. In the very first few notes, all I hear is “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion, whom I actually like somewhat. But Leona Lewis, I am not that fond of, and I’m even less fond of the song which seems to be a retread of the overplayed Titanic song.

I don’t know if Avatar is great enough to get a Best Picture Nod at the Oscars this year (it will get a nomination, no doubt), especially with the likes of such amazing movies as Precious and Up in the Air, but at least I can envision it, whereas before I was unsure. In addition, I always think year after year, how can one compare such different movies to come up with a “Best”? All I know is that Avatar is a wonderful film that when you go to the theatre, time will pass by quickly and the movie will end before you know it. The movie, at a running time of 2 hours and 42 minutes is very long but believe it or not, could have been even longer. I am looking forward to the “Director’s Cut” already. Now, why Avatar was nominated, and Star Trek was not, I’m not sure. So far, three people have told me that though they really enjoyed and liked Avatar, they still preferred Star Trek.

I plan on seeing this movie again. It deserves a second viewing. I’d like to see it without the 3D though, so I can fully enjoy the colors. I think James Cameron has a definite hit, but with a $300 million budget, one has to wonder whether or not Avatar will make all its money back, and if they do make a profit, by how much? Will this be another Titanic?

Highly recommended going to the theatre to see. Avatar on IMAX or Digital is the only way this movie should be enjoyed. 4 Banshees / 5 Banshees

Links:
IMDB
Making A Scene: Avatar via Hulu. Suggestion – do not watch this until AFTER viewing the film.

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