PLOT: In the 22nd century disabled, ex-marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is called to take the place of his dead twin in the Avatar program. He travels to Pandora, a planet whose natives, the Na'vi are hostile to humans. Small wonder, since the humans are destroying their planet while mining for minerals. To try to win over the populace, human and Na'vi DNA are combined to create Na'vi avatars that can be controlled with a mental link. Sully takes over one of these avatar ambassadors and, in exchange for a promise to fix his withered legs, tries to gain the trust of the Na'vi people and convince them to leave their home. He falls in love with Na'vi princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) who teaches him their ways. Sully must decide whether to help his own people carry out their nefarious plan to destroy the Na'vi hometree or go against his race and help his new friends.
REVIEW: This film has been hyped to death. Groundbreaking! Amazing! It will change the industry! I'm sure you've heard it all. And in some ways, it's so very, very true. In others, it's a big fat lie. I don't think I've ever been this split over a movie. So split, in fact, that I'm going to give it two ratings.
Visually, AVATAR is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. Every word of praise the film has received for it's effects is absolutely deserved. The footage I saw on AVATAR Day a few months ago barely scratched the surface. I'm a gamer, and I'm particularly critical in terms of CGI visuals. I notice every weird arm movement, eyes that don't quite seem human...but with AVATAR, I have nothing to critique. Nothing. I was expecting to feel like I was watching two different movies, human and Na'vi. But they melded perfectly. So perfectly that I didn't think about the effects when a human hand touched a Na'vi face. The environment was, well, the only word to describe it is eye-gasm. (I'm aware that this isn't really a word, so please don't leave me nasty notes. I'll be too busy reading the hate mail for part two of this review to respond.)
The luminescence could easily have looked like a gimmick. Instead, it left me wide-eyed with wonder. I saw the film in 3D (though not in IMAX) and I honestly forgot I was wearing the glasses. If this is what we have to look forward to, I am officially on the 3D bandwagon. AVATAR is visually flawless. Flawless. And no matter what comes next in this review, I want you to know that you must go see this film. You must experience this incredible visual world that James Cameron has created. I'd see it a second and third time just for the creatures. (Multiple eye-gasms?)
But...there are some serious problems with the script. With the exception of Sully, the characters are absolutely one dimensional. Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) was pure evil. He did not have one redeeming quality. He's a video game boss in every way, up to and including his final, three part battle. Haven't we gotten past this sort of one note thing? The same goes for Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), the head of the company that is trying to oust the natives. The only thing that saved him was one look of hesitation before he decides to do something awful. And I attribute that solely to Ribisi's acting choices. It's not the fault of the actors. Not at all. The performances were strong across the board. (Though why the hell they didn't fix the constant accent slips that Worthington made in post is beyond me.)
Sigourney Weaver gives her usual, fantastic all to the role of Grace. The super-choppy transition between bitchy scientist and caring protector of the Na'vi is hardly her fault. I adore Sam Worthington, and he made me care about Sully within the first few minutes, but his transition was just as bad. Michelle Rodriguez took what was essentially a throwaway role (hardened army woman who is only there to deliver one liners) and made me care about her. Saldana...not only is she great at the kick ass chick roles, but she certainly has a future as a voice actor if she cares to pursue that. But Neytiri was written with no more dimension than an early Disney Princess. She does exactly what you expect her to do and no more.
We've seen this story a million times. Fish out of water. Outsider enters a new group, acts like an idiot, falls in love and wins them all over with his bravery. If you're going to do a story that is the plot of every RPG I've ever played and most of the fantasy novels I've read, try to do something different. And please, please don't pepper it with one liners like, Let's dance, Alright ladies, let's bring the pain, and my personal favorite, You're not in Kansas anymore. I'm begging you, oh film makers of the world, stop using that line. And why would anyone use Ranger Rick as an insult? The film is supposed to take place in the year 2154. I doubt anyone would still be familiar with the children's nature magazine. Especially since Earth is referred to as a dead planet.
But what really upset me was the whole noble savage idea. The romantic primitivism. A native culture must be deeply connected to nature and have great and powerful lessons to teach. Sure, they have their bad eggs, but as a whole, they are far more wise than we are. And our reactions to them must be either a desire to subjugate or a need to learn from their wise men/women. What happens when you write a culture like that is a complete flattening of the characters. We have the powerful shaman (Neytiri's mother), the rebellious, yet good-hearted (and usually royal) youth (Neytiri), the old and noble chief (Neytiri's father) and the young, headstrong warrior who is jealous of our hero. And then there is the usual the natives can't save themselves unless the guy from the more advanced society uses a sign from their gods to convince them to fight. And, of course, they can't win until the outsider tells them to unite. Because, of course, they wouldn't think of this themselves. I wish I could go deeper into the specifics here, but I don't want to give you any spoilers.
I'm having serious cognitive dissonance here. AVATAR is the most visually stunning movie I've ever seen. If I was just reviewing that, I'd give it a 10/10. If I left that out...if I watched it with my eyes closed, I would give it a 4/10. But, since I have to pick one rating, I'm giving AVATAR a...
RATING: 6/10 (The story is more important than the visuals to me, so don't give me trouble about my math skills.)
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