Well by the time this review hits your screen, chances are you will have already read a ton of reviews regarding “Avatar.” This was a movie that many have waited years for. This is also a movie that many wanted to be brilliant despite the fact that the trailer disappointed. Within the context of the trailer, the CGI blue people just looked weird and the dialogue seemed incredibly cheesy. Then reports started to swell about the estimated $300 million production cost and the other $300 million in publicity. Of course, none of this was helped by the fact that director James Cameron doesn’t screen his films. Either way…good or bad, the suspense was killing everyone who was waiting for this one.
Well, the film opened and is playing everywhere on both standard and 3D screens. I went into it thinking I would hate it, but feeling obligated to see it since it won the New York Film Critics Online award and a Golden Globe and Broadcast Film Critics Award nod for best picture. Here’s the final verdict:
The film is good, but it is a long way from great.
However, it almost seems as if none of that matters because the film is just so different, so inventive, and so gorgeous to look at. It follows the life of a young marine who replaces his brother in a mission in fictional “Pandora.” The mission is to connect via “brain waves” to his own avatar (a large blue alien thing) and infiltrate the Pandora locals who have their own customs, beliefs, and language. Once in the tribe, he is charged with persuading the locals to move from their land in order for the mean marines and scientists to mine the precious metal that survives under it.
That’s actually about it for the story. Now of course, we know the obvious: he falls for a female alien thing and then is confronted between good and evil and the entire price of the mission he is on. In a nutshell, that is the entire story that James Cameron takes a fairly fast-paced three hours to tell.
The script is clunky, clunky, clunky. It is better than some of Cameron’s other works like “True Lies” and “Terminator” and is about on par (if not slightly better) than “Titanic.” However, “Titanic” had a great amount of heart behind it. “Avatar” does not. I left the theatre admiring it and even liking parts of it (the first two-thirds) but not loving it or wanting to see it again. It is admirable and beautiful, and yet…oddly cold and I really didn’t care about the characters at all. I cared about the aliens and what it means to be forced off your land and the war that followed (a nice commentary by Cameron) but I could care less about the “love” story between the two lead characters. That’s not to say that they aren’t both really pretty…it’s just that the script doesn’t give the pretty people anything to do.
The script and some of the choices even take veteran actors like three-time Oscar nominee Sigourney Weaver and make her look a bit odd and out of context. It takes a good twenty or thirty minutes to shake off the dialogue and the almost robotic reading of it.
BUT WHO CARES? Well, I do. That being said, this movie could be dead silent and it would still be good. It is almost as if the script, acting, and directing choices have (rightly) taken a backseat to what you are actually seeing on the screen. It is one of those rare cases where the screen and everything on it (and in it) are the real stars. I would advocate that everyone who wants to see “Avatar” go see it in the theatre and make sure to shell out the extra two bucks and see it in 3D. I would normally never advocate a gimmick, but here’s the thing – this movie wont work on the small screen and it wont work as well in 2D. It’s simply not made for that medium. It sort of reminded me of “There Will Be Blood” in that regard. Much in the same way that Blood had to be enjoyed on the big screen to truly appreciate those vast oil fields, “Avatar” must be seen on the big screen to truly enjoy its views.
The colors, the visuals, the layering…it is all SO RICH in this movie. You truly see where every single dollar of that 300 million went. Of course, the studios are projecting that the movie will have to make over $750 million to cover all of the associated costs. That’s a huge chunk of change that may be a bit hard to swallow.
I would have felt fine giving “Avatar” a higher grade had it not been for the final act, though. The last third is just one long battle scene after another and the final “love” scene looks as if James Cameron took the final “love” scene out of “Titanic,” scratched the names out and had the “Avatar” actors read it…with a slightly different twist. Even the music in “Avatar” is oddly reminiscent of “Titanic” and seems to swell in the exact same ways before departing and moving in slightly different directions. One thing that separates the two films is the acting. Sam Worthington is hot, but as an actor, he’s not in the same league as the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart. Of course, he’s far better (as is co-star Zoe Saldana) than, say, Billy Zane.
All of this isn’t to say that I wouldn’t recommend the film. I would! It’s beautiful and actually stands a decent chance at winning Best Picture. However, it all depends on what is truly important to you in a film. It’s not a perfect movie. It’s not even close. However, it’s a damn good time on a Friday night and will make you go “ooh” and “ahh” at least a half dozen times.
Happy Holidays Everyone!
Release Date: Dec. 18, 2009
Running Time: 160 mins.
Country Of Origin: United States
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Lola Herrera, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Peter Mensah, Laz Alonso, Wes Studi, Stephen Lang
Director: James Cameron
Synopsis: The story’s hero is Jake Sully, an ex-Marine confined to a wheelchair. Bitter and disillusioned, he’s still a warrior at heart. All Jake ever wanted was something worth fighting for and he ultimately finds it in the place he least expected- on a distant world. Jake has been recruited to join an expedition to the moon Pandora, which corporate interests are strip-mining for a mineral worth $20 million per kilogram on Earth. To facilitate their work, the humans use a link system that projects a person’s consciousness into a hybrid of humans and Pandora’s indigenous humanoid race, the Na’vi. This human-Na’vi hybrid – a fully living, breathing body that resembles the Na’vi but possesses the individual human’s thoughts, feelings and personality – is known as an “avatar.” In his new avatar form, Jake can once again walk. His mission is to interact with and infiltrate the Na’vi with the hope of enlisting their help – or at least their acquiescence — in mining the ore. A beautiful Na’vi female, Neytiri, saves Jake’s life – reluctantly – because even in his avatar body, Jake represents to her the human encroachment on the Na’vi’s unspoiled world. As Jake’s relationship with Neytiri deepens, along with his respect for the Na’vi, he faces the ultimate test as he leads an epic conflict that will decide nothing less than the fate of an entire world. (From film.com)
Wayne Bell is a guest contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. He moved to Fayetteville in 2003 for his Masters Degree and you can almost always catch him at Little Bread Co. or Hammontree’s. For more of Wayne’s contributions, visit his author page.