Directed by: James Cameron Rated: PG-13 Runtime: 2 hr 42 min
Studio: 20th Century Fox Screenwriter: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Giovanni
Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez, Joel David Moore
Avatar smashed box office records in 2009 by earning 2.6 billion more than the budget the studio gave director James Cameron to create. That is an insane amount of ticket sales worldwide! Is it justified?
A decade earlier, The Matrix was released and hailed for its innovative story-telling because there had never been anything like it previously. Avatar’s hype is cut from the same cloth. The newer CGI and motion capture technology then enabled James Cameron to create and develop a movie that set a bar for what future films could do.
In Avatar, humans seek out a mineral on the lush jungle alien planet of Pandora. The smallest amount sells for a fortune back on Earth. Their efforts are stalled by the natives of Pandora, the Na’vi. Earth scientists create avatars to move more freely on the planet, whose air is toxic to humans, and to aid in communication efforts. At first, the company that runs this operation wanted the help and cooperation of the Na’vi, another reason for the avatar program.
Avatars are genetically created shells manufactured from human and Na’vi DNA. The human mind is essentially uploaded into the avatar body, becoming a life model decoy (to get Marvel on you). The head of the Avatar program is Dr. Grace Augustine (Weaver), an exobiologist.
Greed and impatientness win out, and the company plots to use their hired mercenaries, led by Col. Quaritch (Lang), to force the natives from their home. The Colonel enlists the help of avatar driver and former Marine Jake Sully (Worthington) to give him intel while learning the Na’vi’s ways. In this, the plot is tired. It’s a regurgitated mash-up of Pocahontas (1995) meets FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992). Or any civilization that has been colonized or almost wiped out from a more significant, more powerful, outside force.
That outside force also endangers the history preserved in the environment of Pandora in which all life is connected. The Na’vi refer to this as Ewya and revere this connection as sacred. It’s at this point that the plot is redeemed some. All the Pandoran creatures look alien, which creates this more believable sense of being far from Earth. Even plant life aids in this. What sells most viewers on Avatar isn’t the story but the visual. The stunning CGI is the lion’s share of the film.
Neytiri (Saldana) is the daughter of her clan’s leader and is tasked to teach Jake Sully their ways. While Jake Sully’s character interacts with just about every other character in this film, it’s the interactions with Neytiri that show the acting depth. From the facial movements to the jumping from trees to interacting with the wildlife… it’s all motion capture. There is nothing else to play off of onset; it’s all added later digitally. It’s so well acted! Worthington and Saldana give such impressive performances emotionally and physically; it makes you forgive the central plot trope. Instead, focusing on the trope of environmentalism.
Unlike previous films that single out corporate greed and human waste and consumption issues, Avatar is different. The action and character development move the film along at a pace that doesn’t make you remember you are watching an almost three-hour film. It makes its points without having to over-explain them. Which I find refreshing.
If you can forgive, or don’t care, about the plot being built upon the same troupes as so many other films before it, have a go and watch this. If you like action/sci-fi or any of the thespians cast in this film, you won’t be disappointed. As a personal observation, mind what device you watch this movie on. I started watching this on my iPad before switching over to a TV. The colors on the iPad were terrible! So if you watch this understand the colors should pop and have a richness to them. If they don’t, watch on something else, or you will cheat yourself out of the essential experience people flocked to the theaters to see. Avatar should be on your watchlist regardless.
There are two sequels for this film to hit theaters in the next few years. More than a decade later, will Avatar’s reliance on CGI still wow and impress? Time will tell.
—a pen lady