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James Cameron's Avatar Dazzles

Feb 22, 2010 (Updated Jun 1, 2011)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Amazing visuals.  Entertaining and interesting story.

Cons:Predictable at times.  Plot could have been a bit stronger.

The Bottom Line: Avatar is an entertaining movie with stunning visuals that is worth seeing despite some plot issues.


Avatar, the first movie directed by James Cameron since Titanic, has been making all kinds of money since it was released in December.  When I saw the first trailers for the movie, I wasn't sure that I wanted to see it, but after seeing a longer trailer, I decided I wanted to see the movie.  Unfortunately I had to wait until recently to see the movie because of my work schedule.  

In the year 2154, former marine Jake Sully arrives on Pandora, a moon in another star system.  A large company is trying to mine unobtainium, a very valuable mineral, but running into some problems with the native population, the Na'vi.  Dr. Grace Augustine is a scientist who has developed avatars, bodies that combine the DNA of their human driver and the Na'vi.  The drivers get hooked up to some equipment and are able to remotely control the avatars.  The Na'vi are fully aware of what the avatars are, so efforts to establish friendly relations haven't worked as well as hoped.  Parker Selfridge, the man from the mining company just wants the natives out of the way so he can mine more of the unobtainium.  Colonel Quaritch would be happy to just use force against the Na'vi.

Jake has become a driver just by chance and he isn't as fully prepared as the others.  After a trip into the jungle with Grace and Norm, another scientist driver, Jake gets separated from them.  He meets Neytiri, and she takes him to meet the leader of her tribe who is also her father.  A decision is made that she will teach Jake their ways.   As Jake spends more time with Neytiri and learns more, he becomes more attached to the world and Na'vi.  

At almost three hours, Avatar could be too long for some viewers.  I didn't mind the length, though a few scenes did drag a little bit.  Considering how long the movie is, the plot isn't as strong as it could have been even though there is a lot going on.  It does take a little while to get everything fully set up and introduced.  Most of the movie is focused on Jake and how he learns about the Na'vi.  Things connected to the mining operation are also important to what is going on.  Several elements of the story have been done in other movies, so there isn't a lot of originality to the story, though it is told in a different way.  A few things that happen are very predictable, something else that is a bit disappointing.  I think the plot is decent and makes for an entertaining movie even with the flaws.  

Pandora is a somewhat wild looking place, full of strange, exotic looking creatures and vegetation.  As Jake learns more about things there, he learns how all the living things on Pandora are connected.  It is stressed to him more than once how important all life is.  That does give the movie a bit of a message about the environment that gets slightly heavy handed at times.  I didn't mind those things being included.  I just think it could have been done with more subtly.  A few other more serious issues do come up as well.  Unfortunately, some stereotypes are present.  The scientists are shown to be more caring and interested in finding a peaceful way to work with the Na'vi while Parker, Colonel Quaritch and most of the military are shown to be trigger happy idiots who are content to kill anything and everything in their way.

Before seeing Avatar, I knew that it was made with a lot of special effects.  Director and writer James Cameron actually came up with the idea for the movie more than ten years ago.  He held off making the movie because he didn't feel the special effects technology was good enough.  Several of the performances - for the Na'vi and avatar characters - are done with motion capture.  I've seen a few other movies that have used this technology.  Sometimes this hasn't worked that well.  I think the best use of this technology was done for the performance of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and for King Kong.  The motion capture used in this movie works just as well, making the Na'vi seem realistic and life like.  I'm not surprised since WETA, the visual effects company that worked on The Lord of the Rings and King Kong, also did effects for this movie.

I tried to avoid reading too much about Avatar before seeing it, but from what I did read, I think many of the locations were created with CGI.  Pandora has an amazing look, full of lush vegetation and exotic creatures.  The various creatures and plants are very unique looking but still created in a way that makes them seem realistic.  The visuals in the movie are absolutely stunning and like nothing I've seen before.  A 3-D version of the movie has been made and that is the one I saw.  The regular 2-D version of the movie is actually no longer showing at the theater here.  The 3-D works very well for the movie, adding depth and dimension to the jungle settings.  The use of the 3-D seems more natural instead of something done as a gimmick.

Many scenes feature some kind of action.  Jake in his avatar form is right in much of the action, sometimes running from the unique creatures on Pandora and other times fighting.  The violence isn't overly graphic, though it does get intense during certain scenes later in the movie.  A images during that part of the movie are a bit upsetting or disturbing.  It does seem like a few of the action sequences were included strictly to show off the special effects while a few other sequences ran on longer than needed for the same reason.  Overall, the action works well for the movie.  Since it is rated PG-13, it really isn't a movie for young children.

Jake has only been using his avatar a short time when he ends up alone in the jungle before meeting Neytiri.  Their first meeting doesn't go that well, though she doesn't attack or kill him.  She is not happy about having to teach him things, but she does it.  As they spend more time together, their relationship gets stronger and they develop a more personal connection.  The relationship does add a bit of romance to the movie without that being the main focus of the movie.  There is a short love scene at one point that doesn't show a lot while still making it clear that Jake and Neytiri have sex.  Most of the Na'vi are nearly naked throughout the movie, so there is a lot of blue flesh on display.  The avatars of the drivers wear more, but once Jake starts learning the ways of the Na'vi, his avatar ends up barely covered as well.   

Jake is the main character and ends up being the most developed.  He has his own reasons for going to Pandora that have nothing to do with studying things there or mining.  His feelings for the Na'vi and Pandora change the longer he is there.  Sam Worthington handles the part well.  Grace is a scientist who has been studying and trying to work with the Na'vi for several years.   She is fascinated by the different life forms on Pandora and is always trying to learn more.  She has little use for the mining company or military presence.  Sigourney Weaver does a very good job with the part.  Norm is another scientist who arrives on Pandora with Jake.  Norm is just sort of around in several scenes without standing out that much.  Joel David Moore is fine in the part.

Parker is in charge of the mining operation on Pandora.  He is just focused on being able to mine more unobtainium, no matter the cost.  He comes across as a jerk.  Since he isn't in a lot of scenes, Giovanni Ribisi doesn't have a lot to do.  Michelle Rodriguez turns up in a few scenes as a pilot.  Colonel Quaritch is in charge of the military on Pandora.  He considers it a very hostile place and seems to enjoy using force.  He does not seem like a nice guy and he serves as the villain of the movie.  Stephen Lang does well with the part.  

Various Na'vi are shown, but only a few of them actually stand out.  Neytiri is a hunter and daughter of the leader of her tribe.  She is a very strong woman.  Zoe Saldana does a very good job with the performance which was all done through motion capture.  Neytiri's parents turn up every so often without being featured that much.  Tsu'tey is one of the hunters for the tribe.  He has a lot of authority within the tribe.  

Main Cast
    
Stephen Lang - Colonel Quaritch
Joel David Moore - Norm
Giovanni Ribisi - Parker
Zoe Saldana - Neytiri
Sigourney Weaver - Dr. Grace Augustine
Sam Worthington - Jake Sully

James Cameron - Director

Avatar has some issues with the plot, but it is still an entertaining movie and worth seeing at least once. 

This review is part of CaptainD's Good Movies EpiGuide 3 Write Off.

*This review was orignally posted after I saw the movie in the theater. It is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
 
 


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