Movie review: Avatar

I had no desire to see “Avatar” thanks to a general reticence toward sci-fi and a lackluster trailer that did nothing to move the needle as far as my interest went.

But after hearing dozens of rapturous reviews and  “You gotta see this!” claims from family and friends – not to mention the film’s worldwide blockbuster status – I finally broke down, shelling out $12.50, putting on my bulky 3-D IMAX glasses and settling in for James Cameron’s masterpiece.

If “Avatar” was a car, it’d be a gleaming, state-the-art Maserati that looks drool-worthy, but one outfitted with a Moped engine, puttering along the road at its own glacial pace.

Let’s put it this way: I never fall asleep during movies, but during the film’s climactic battle, I found myself nodding off with a ferocity generally reserved for church sermons and college lectures (I hope you made it out OK, Michelle Rodriguez!).

Don’t get me wrong, “Avatar” is a wonderous work of technical magic, a true testament to Cameron’s dedication and quality control. I could not believe some of the images I was seeing were digitally created, and I’m usually an eagle eye at spotted obvious CGI. This entire film is practically CGI and it looks like Cameron decamped in some lush jungle to shoot.

The story, however, is strictly bush league. It seems as if most people have been willing to overlook the simplicity of the plot in favor of “oohing” and “aahing” over 3-D, and that’s fine, except when people start tossing around “Avatar” as a Best Picture candidate. We’re talking about a movie that mirrors the plot of the 1992 classic “Ferngully: The Last Rainforest.”

Sam Worthington stars as Jake Scully, a paralyzed former Marine who steps into a unique situation when his twin brother is murdered, flying to the planet Pandora to become the “driver” of an avatar of one of the planet’s native people, the Na’vi.

Since Jake’s DNA is the same as his brother’s he can take over the role despite knowing nothing about the people, the planet or the scientific program of which he is partaking.

Before long, however, Jake has ingratiated himself within the Na’vi and curried favor with the mad military dictator, Col. Quaritch (Stephen Culp), in charge of the operation due to his intel skills. You see, the reason we care about Pandora is because it is home to some mineral that’s worth a gazillion bucks, and the greedy, weaselly corporate bigwig (Giovanni Ribisi in a Cameron-staple role) will stop at nothing to get it.  

So Jake is torn between doing his duty as a soldier and his growing feelings toward the Na’vi, and in particular, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), the young woman tasked with teaching Jake the ways of her people.

When Quaritch decides to move on the invasion, it’s Jake who turns his back on the military in favor of trying to help the Na’vi retain their freedom.

Much has been said about Cameron’s strong anti-military and capitalism stance, parallels to race relations and other topical themes, but frankly, I’m not giving anyone that much credit, thanks to the simplicity of everything presented here. There’s no way the film is deep enough to warrant any of that criticism – look at it as some sort of nature fantasy before anything else.

Again, the film is a marvel on a technical level, although I will argue the 3-D here is presented more to add to the depth of field than throwing stuff out at you to make you jump. I’ve argued with several people who claim the 3-D is revolutionary that ALL of today’s 3-D films look pretty sweet – it’s just that most people haven’t seen many. I thought “My Bloody Valentine 3-D” was an amazing use of the technology and that film cost 10 times less than “Avatar.”

In the end, I’m glad I went to see what all the fuss is about, but I don’t feel that “Avatar” is the game-changing film that most people are claiming it is for a couple of reasons, namely that the average filmmaker isn’t going to get $250 million and carte blanche to make their passion project, and that the plot is too derivative to stand the test of time.

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~ by Elliott on January 13, 2010.

2 Responses to “Movie review: Avatar”

  1. Awesome review! I still have yet to see it, but its kind of hard to justify the ticket price. Everytime I think of Avatar, the term “polished turd” comes to mind. But like you, everyone and their mother keeps telling me to go see it. I think I’ll wait for the dvd and decide then whether its a good movie or not. I think when everyone sees it on the small screen without the 3D glasses, they may start seeing the same thing you are and what I quite possibly will. A boring, already told storyline that should have had a half hour chopped out. But even after that, I guarantee, the people who still think Avatar is great are probably the same people who still think Transformers 2 was a masterpiece.

  2. OK, finally went to see this today (1/26) and so can now respond.

    I guess I don’t have too much to add except the now-classic “It is what it is.”

    This flick (much like Ninja Assassin, actually) pretty much achieves precisely what it sets out to do. Blow you away with a completely immersive, over the top sound-and-visual experience? Check. Push your emotional buttons in that expert way that big Hollywood has become so adept at? Yep. Take a few undisguised shots at the military-industrial complex? Sure.

    Become the top-grossing movie of all time? Done. (Or damn near…)

    Even though the story was recycled, the dialogue/acting was serviceable at best (hamfisted at worst) and the characters were true cardboard cutouts, I felt in NO WAY cheated out of my $15 bucks (x2).

    Visually it was *that* good. And, I ain’t gonna lie, it’s nice to see the dirty fuckin’ hippies win one once in a while.

    Oh, an to Liam above: You are wasting your time seeing this if you don’t see it on the big screen (pref. IMAX) with the goofy glasses.

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