Notable Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Joel David Moore, Giovanni Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez
Review: As I write this review, Avatar is well on its way to be the most successful movie of all time. (It did) It just broke Titanic’s international record over the weekend, and dead in Avatar’s sights are the domestic box office record along with the worldwide gross record. (It did) Congratulations James Cameron, you are now officially fighting with yourself for dominance in the movie box office records. This is only two years after The Dark Knight had its tremendous run to send it into second place. I never though we would see a movie gross that much for a few more years at least, but apparently James Cameron thought it was time to make another run at the record. Surely, for a movie to gross that much money it must have done something right. And it did. James Cameron was able to create a world so vivid and lifelike, people were struck with depression after the movie was over because they realized, well, it was in fact just a movie. Now I have heard of a viewer getting lost in a movie, but Cameron took that to a whole new level. Perfect CGI mixed with an insane 3-D experience created one of the most amazing movie experiences I have ever seen, despite having a story that has been told over and over again.
(If you have seen the movie already, feel free to skip the paragraph. It it a bit lengthy, but describes the main plot of Avatar.) Avatar takes place on the fictional moon Pandora. Humans have established a mining base on Pandora because of the abundance of a mineral called Unobtainium that turns a tremendous profit on earth. The only problem is that the indigenous people of Pandora, called the Na’vi, do not want the humans to continue ravaging their homeland for the mineral. The Na’vi try to fight against the humans, shown by the spears implanted in the tires of mining vehicles, but their technology is no match. They still pose a problem though, so the Avatar program is established by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) in the hopes to establish some sort of peaceful truce between the natives and the humans. The Avatar program takes Na’vi DNA and the DNA from the human, and creates a Na’vi individual with the features from the that human. The human who supplied the DNA then gets in a machine, and is transferred into the body of the created Avatar so he/she can blend into the tribe. The subjects for the program are highly trained in the Na’vi culture so they can try to prove they are no different from any one of the Na’vi people. The story centers around marine Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington (Terminator Salvation), who takes the place of his brother in the prestigious Avatar program. Another scientist named Norm (Joel David Moore) introduces himself as a friend of his brothers shortly after they arrive at the station, saying they would be working together in the program. Jake’s only training was reading a manual about what to do, which is much to the dismay of Dr. Augustine. Jake is also handicapped, having no feeling in his legs, making the Avatar program only more appealing to him. When he arrives, he receives nothing but hostility from Dr. Augustine, but doesn’t let her discourage him from continuing on. He is also approached by Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) and informed that if he helps the military sector of the base he will be shipped home and given a transplant of brand new working legs. The catch is he only has a small amount of time to gather any information that can aid in a peaceful solution, otherwise the military is going to take the Na’vi homeland by force for the Unobtainium mine it is sitting on. On Jake’s first trip into the jungle as his avatar, he is separated from Norm and Dr. Augustine. The helicopter cannot locate him in time and he is forced to spend the night alone in the jungle. While being attacked by one of the many species on Pandora, Jake is saved by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). She sees an ancient sign in Na’vi culture that might mean Jake has a special meaning, so she decides to take him back to the tribe. As time goes on, reality and Pandora start to blur together for Jake. Does he betray the Na’vi people he’s grown to love? Or turn on his human employers that offer him a chance to get out of his wheelchair. I won’t say a word because I highly recommend you check this out for yourself. Compared to many of the films released in the last few years, this film got one of the best reactions from me despite a few setbacks I could not ignore.
Although there were a few setbacks to Avatar, they were not enough to make the movie a failure. It was still an excellent movie, but these were the problems that kept the movie from becoming one of the elite. First off, the movie was too over hyped in my point of view. Yes, its success is greatly documented just in the gross alone. But until I saw the film, all I heard was how Avatar is the greatest film in years. My expectations were built up so high, that maybe the only place it had to go was down. For instance, I thought the plot was nothing special because it was all aspects we have seen before. Avatar really brought nothing new plot wise. My first reaction to the plot as I was reflecting on it can be condensed into “The Matrix meets Pocahontas.” It mirrors The Matrix in that both characters are “jacking” into a different world, be it the matrix itself or Pandora. They are both taken out of their bodies to do so. Then, the love story mirror Pocahontas‘ plot rather closely. Both include an English man falling in love with a Native American (the Na’vi are mirrored exactly after a Native American tribe), knowing it would not be accepted by their society. The details are so insanely similar that they are impossible to ignore. For instance, take a look at the first initials of each male character from both movies. There is John Smith from Pocahontas and Jake Sulley from Avatar. Coincidence? Possibly. The list goes on and on though. If you don’t believe me, check out this article following the paragraph. But the similarities were just too hard for me to ignore when I was watching the film. I feel that if a film is going to be a top-tier film, it shouldn’t be reminding you of any other movies. It should have its own voice. When I think of Avatar I want to think of that movie specifically and how it did its best to wow me. Not about how it’s been done before. Also, I know it’s small, but I was really bothered at how quick Dr. Augustine accepted Sulley. It took literally two scenes for Dr. Augustine to go from belittling the death of Jake’s brother to his face, to waiting for him with open arms when she meets him as an Avatar. She does a total emotional 180 so quick with nothing to provoke it. It made 0 sense to me and was on my mind for way too long now that I think about it.
With that said, Cameron is still a genius. What he lacked in plot originality, he made up in delivery, visuals, and characters. Seeing this film in IMAX-3D was more than just going to the movies. It was an experience. I believe that if I saw Avatar with no 3-D my rating would be worse by about .5 of a point. The 3-D visuals gave the movie depth not like a flat screen could. There was a layered effect that made it seem like you were actually looking into the jungle itself, not just a picture of a jungle. A jungle let me remind you, that he made himself from scratch. All the plants and animals were created by Cameron and his team. The scenery was breathtaking, the animals looked lifelike, and the image was crystal clear. The jungle was especially astonishing at night, when the plants would light up from the touch of the Na’vi or the other creatures. Visually, I though it was some of the best work I have ever seen. To think that none of these were sets where the actor’s could be flown out too. That right there is an accomplishment in its own right. Cameron took an empty warehouse, and with a crack CGI team and some state of the art cameras created Pandora.
The acting holds the same impressive nature. All of the Na’vi in this movie were actually real people. They were covered in motion capture suits that would record every single movement that was made. They also wore headgear rigged with a special camera that captured every single facial feature made by the actors, to be replicated exactly by the actor’s avatar. That wasn’t just a computer making the Na’vi move. Those were real people in a warehouse that had to pretend they weren’t standing on a balance beam on the floor. They had to pretend they were actually running across a log suspended high above the jungle floor. For an actress that doesn’t get her real face on the screen, Zoe Saldana gives a great performance. You would never know it was her, though, unless you read the credits because all her acting was in the form of her Na’vi counterpart Neytiri. That isn’t to discredit the other performances in the film also. Worthington, Lang, Weaver, and even David Moore deliver more than stellar performances even though some had more screen time than others. Stephen Lang’s colonel character is so intimidating and ruthless I loved seeing him on-screen. Sigourney Weaver plays her own strong willed character that even gave Lang a run for his money. All this talk without mentioning Worthington’s name too in what could possibly be his defining role, or at least propel him even farther if you are counting Terminator Salvation. I am extremely excited for his next role as Perseus in the new Clash of the Titans after seeing him in Avatar. Getting back on track though, Cameron obviously is a tremendous director for being able to get such great performances out of such a heavily CGI based movie. I also give him a break on the plot because while it was nothing new, it’s Cameron’s own spin on it. The story has been done a million times over, but Cameron’s is one of my favorites. So while Avatar loses points for the story, it won me over with the great lengths Cameron went to bring his own version to life. My last comment is about the final battle scene. It is one of the best fight scenes I have seen created in a while. It was done better than many complete action movies, which is quite the compliment coming from an action lover like myself.
All and all, Avatar was an exceptional movie. Cameron brought his vision to life on the big screen to give us a great twist on a story used many times before. Cameron manages to balance drama with action, leaving you desiring nothing more from either side. Mix that with CGI unrivaled to this point and actors committed to their craft, and what do you get? You get an end product letting you taste every single succulent ingredient. Nothing is overpowering here. Kudos Mr. Cameron, you have struck gold again.
Final Rating: 8 Oscars this film will probably get out of 10