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Avatar (2009)

Avatar (2009)

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. 

‘Avatar’ Official Trailer by 20th Century Studios via YouR

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.

Sam Worthington as Jake Sully in ‘Avatar’ Image Credit: IMDB/20th Century Fox/Disney

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. 

‘Avatar’ still Image Credit: 20th Century Studios via New York Film Acadamy

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. 

‘Avatar’ still Image Credit: 20th Century Studios

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

6 thoughts on “Avatar (2009)”

  1. Saw it in the original 3D. Sadly, people are missing out on that now. While Cameron does indeed borrow tropes from other movies (I think of Avatar as “Dances With Aliens”), he’s a master at visual storytelling, and he created this film for 3D.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 3D didn’t take off as some people thought, did it? I’ve never been able to handle 3D movies or games without getting sick to my stomach, so thank you for bringing up that point. I should have mentioned shooting in 3D in my review but didn’t. “Dances with Aliens” that’s funny and very accurate! Do you think the sequels will be done with 3D in mind again? TVs have upgraded so much since then, but I don’t think they are built with 3D viewing in mind anymore.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. 3D has faded again, like it did in the 50s, so it’s hard to say what will happen with it in the future (VR viewing could bring it back in a new way). Sorry it gave you headaches! Most 3D movies have been shot in 2D with 3D added later, but a few like “Avatar,” “The Polar Express,” and “Hugo” are intentionally conceived to take us “into” the scenes.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. So glad to see someone else mention Fern Gully in a review of this – it is essentially just Fern Gully modernised. Apart from the spectacular CGI and colours, don’t forget this was the first big, modern-3D film, which played a huge part in its box office takings (more expensive tickets for 3D). I saw it twice, if not three times in cinemas in 3D and it is definitely richer film in the full 3D spectacle.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. See, I feel old when I bring up Fern Gully! As for the 3D, as I mentioned in another reply, I’m sorry I didn’t add that aspect to my review. I get nauseous when I watch 3D anything, so since I didn’t see Avatar in that format, I blanked on that critical point of its production. I asked this in my other comment reply, too; do you think 3D will be just as crucial with the sequels? Or have we moved past the hype 3D was supposed to have on TVs at home?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Hahah – I know what you mean about age and Fern Gully! We’re probably of a similar era. 🙂 And I didn’t mean the 3D thing to sound like a criticism. I have a friend who also gets a bit vomitty in 3D

        It’s hard to know about 3D overall. I live in a small regional city and we rarely get 3D films here anymore – I think the rush of films trying to cash in on it but with really sub-standard 3D production has left a lot of people thinking it’s a rip-off overall.

        So my impression is that audiences are less likely to shell out for 3D currently. So probably less a factor now than then.
        I definitely would, because I know Avatar knows how to use it. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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