Sunday, December 20, 2009


"Avatar" is an extensive, expansive film. Here is James Cameron's most immense movie by far, returning to outside of Earth's parameters again. What he does is create an environment and setting instead of a "backdrop" by focusing in on it. He wants to cover its every expanse, to capture the essence of a beautiful place. And that place is Pandora, where apparently human relations have gone on for a while. They are led by the authority on the subject, Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), who wants peace among the tribe on Pandora and the humans. Giovanni Ribisi (who was derided by The Playlist, but who actually I thought was funny) wants otherwise, attacking Pandora for a stone that is worth quite a bit. His operations are headed by Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who often comments about how Pandora is a lot harsher than human combat.
All of this probably would have run smoothly but for Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who wasn't supposed to be along for the journey but was a last minute substitute for his deceased scientist brother. Sully is a "warrior" but widely regarded as inept among humans and Na'vi alike. His job for his "side" is gunman on a plane, but he ends up spending a lot more of the time in avatar form as a Na'vi. He excels immediately at being his double. But after he gets chased away during a mission and meets Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), he finds himself struggling at being Na'vi. A good portion of the film is dedicated to his training at the hands of Neytiri, and this is where, if in any places, the film could have been trimmed (as one of my fellow moviegoers said it was a bit long). It felt a little redundant and it made use of animals like that of "Harry Potter." Another of my fellow moviegoers said it had to be this long to portray such a subject, and I think he's right.
"Avatar" has been called a "space epic" and this is most definitely true. It lives up to the term. Cameron builds an amazing landscape, filled with idiosyncratic plants and vicious creatures. It's the anti-"Moon"; while that film was compacted into tight spaces, this film spills out over miles. Not to say that there are not similar motifs among the films. For example, the use of "video logs" (or in "Moon" "video link", as Ebert would say) reminded me of "Sunshine." Also necessary to note and probably noted before (in Ebert's review) is the use of a fictional language, subtitled in papyrus font. This draws obvious comparisons to "Dune," among others. I also thought of Conrad Richter's "The Light in the Forest" and one of my fellow moviegoers brought up that "Avatar" was an Indian captivity narrative, which is true. I should note also that it is better than "District 9," the other science fiction splash this year, the more beloved of the two films. Ebert thinks the same way, and cites the last scenes in "9" causing it to fall into dullness, whereas in "Avatar" everything seems justified. I agree. The films also (noted by an IMDB user I can't find) shared the Indian captivity narrative style "mastery" of foreign tribe/species.
But perhaps the most revolutionary concept is that of the eponymous avatar. My fellow moviegoer noted that this is a metaphor for experiencing the arts. Another good point. It's also somewhat of a comment on both dreams and video games and how we would like to live them both, but alas neither are real. Jake experiences Pandora as a Na'vi so much that he finds his regular life the lesser entity, an interesting flip of sorts. Cameron also uses this as a device for tension, since (unless one participates in a spiritual ritual) a human must be "plugged in" ("The Matrix" reference, not only here, but in the beginning, and I believe this is noted by many, some indirectly as well, like another IMDB user I can't find) for the avatar to have life. And not everyone will respect this time where the human is the avatar, especially when that avatar just beat up the security cameras.
To comment on the screenwriting or the acting (as the Playlist did) would not be helpful, since as my fellow moviegoer said, these things are supposed to sort of be wallpaper to the rest of the movie. But then again, I'm guilty to the same offense. The script and acting did in some ways take away from the enjoyment of the movie for me, but there are some junkies of sci-fi who don't give about those things and are swept away by special effects. In the end, "Avatar" for me is not perfect, but it's engrossing, engaging, not afraid to dish out numerous concepts and "technobabbles" (courtesy of the Angry Video Game Nerd), not slight, and really puts you into an environment. B+


Laughing Stars aka The Stark Raving Bibliophile said...

I linked to this review at my blog. Thanks! :-)

aspergiansarah said...

This was a really cool movie. Very creative, and it didn't seem very long at all. It's a breath of fresh air since a lot of action movies are so *stupid* nowadays.

I wasn't pleased with the inevitable romantic tension, though, even though I liked both the characters. Too obvious- tough girl hooks up with guy, they have the fallout before the battle, blah, blah, blah. It would of been an awesome twist if the blue lady turned out gay or something.

She was pretty intimidating though- I really didn't think folks should cross her when she hissed like that. I liked the pilot. Also, I liked Sigourney way more than I thought I would.

It would of been nice if I'd gotten to see more of the aliens. I thought the monkey-type things with the mean faces were awesome. Cameron should get credit for pulling off the humanoid aliens (N-something, I don't remember,) they could of ended up like smurfs or something. I agree, this was worth a theater ticket.