Avatar (2009)

Still #1

  • Director: James Cameron
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang
  • Screenplay: James Cameron
  • Music By: James Horner
  • Cinematography: Mauro Fiore
  • Running Time: 162 Minutes
  • Premiered: December 18, 2009
  • DVD Release: April 22, 2010

Synopsis: A Paraplegic Marine dispatched to the moon Pandora on a unique mission becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home. (From IMDb)

Review: Avatar is one of my favorite science fiction/fantasy movies. The plot is wonky and unoriginal, but the visuals are fantastic. It is a beautifully rendered film. This was, and still is, the first film to gross US$2,000,000,000, making it the highest grossing film in history. The previous record-holder was Titanic (1997), also written and directed by James Cameron. Though The Avengers: Age of Ultron is predicted to cross the $2 Billion Dollar mark, so Avatar might not hold this distinction much longer. This science fiction extravaganza is set in the year 2154 and is set on Pandora, an earth-sized moon that orbits around a massive star. Pandora happens to have a rich deposit of Unobtainium, a mineral Earth desperately needs. Hence, Earth sends in former US Armed Services members in order to help The Company harvest the mineral. The native inhabitants are the Na’vi, approximately 12-feet tall blue skinned humanoids. In order to negotiate with the Na’vi, some scientists developed Avatars. An Avatar is fully functioning, if slightly modified, synthetically grown Na’vi that is controlled through the mind. Ex-Marine Jake Sully is recruited to take over his deceased twin brother’s avatar, since only Jake’s identical DNA will bond with the human-Na’vi hybrid. Jake is supposed to infiltrate the Na’vi and find a way to convince them to move. Instead, he finds himself falling in love with Neytiri, the Na’vi warrior Princess who serves as his guide to all things Pandora. Complications soon arise.

Anyone who has seen Titanic knows that James Cameron has many cinematic talents, original screenplays is not one of them. While Avatar is an enjoyable film, the screenplay is incredibly similar to: The Lorax, The Last of the Mohicans, , FernGully: The Last Rainforest, Dances with Wolves, and The Last Samurai. The main protagonist, Jake Sully, even has the same initials of John Smith, another intrepid invader who falls for the tribal Princess after learning her customs.  It is essentially Pocahontas with newer technology, blue skin, and superior graphics. Anyways, all of this films have four major elements in common. 1) the message that all of nature is connected and featuring an antagonist with a supreme disregard for the native inhabitants and their culture; 2) a soldier is betrayed by his fellow comrades and bands together with the natives he has come to respect and love. Essentially, he becomes the new war leader and helps the natives successfully defeat the foreign invaders; 3) an idyllic landscape/rainforest that is populated by exotic creatures. Said landscape is brutally attacked by the invaders in their endless lust for more riches and power. This serves as the reason for the war with the natives; 4) a star-crossed romance.  Avatar was not eligible for the Academy Award for Best Screenplay due to its rather blatant plot borrowing from other movies.

Despite the unoriginal screenplay, Avatar still manages to remain a magical cinematic experience. This is mainly because of a talented cast and groundbreaking visuals. Cameron originally wanted to make this film in 1999, but the technology had yet to catch up with his ideas. After seeing the CGI rendering of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Cameron determined that the visual technology had finally advanced far enough for him to create his next masterpiece. I saw Avatar in theaters about five times, mainly because the visuals were simply amazing on the movie theater screens. Especially on the IMAX screen. What is perhaps the greatest achievement is the seamless transition between the live-action and the CGI rendered imagery. The Na’vi are convincingly created using motion capture technology. They all look unique, lifelike, and expressive. And Padora is a gorgeous CGI masterpiece full of majestic forests, exotic/weird wildlife, and floating mountains. All the landscapes look incredibly realistic, which is quite an achievement since most CGI landscapes always seem slightly off. The floating mountains are partly based off some of the formations found in China’s Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. If for nothing else, Avatar is worth watching just for the visuals.

Cameron hired linguist Dr. Paul R Frommer to create a unique language for the Na’vi. Frommer created a language with approximately one thousand words and none of them even remotely resemble a known human language. The result is a slightly alien sound that helps to set the Na’vi apart from the Avatar infiltrators. Apparently Sam Worthington, who plays Jake cully, found the Na’vi language easier to master than the American accent. One of my main quibbles is with the concept of Unobtainium. First of all, this is a ridiculous name for a mineral. Second, this magical mineral is supposedly a material that is perfect for any application but either does not exist, is extremely expensive, or violates the laws of physics. So it is the perfect mineral for a science fiction movie. Thirdly, this is the same substance used the horrific science fiction apocalyptic movie The Core. Fourthly, the sample shown in the film looks suspiciously like silver spry painted fool’s gold, also known as Pyrite. Though that seems appropriate since the movie is about the consequences of a foolish company’s quest to conquer an alien planet.

The acting in Avatar is quite good; it cannot be easy to act while jumping around in motion capture jumpsuits. Zoe Saldana continues to excel in playing gorgeous alien warrior princesses. She is blue in Avatar and green in Guardians of the Galaxy. Saldana is a great actress and I am glad that she has found her niche. Very few actresses can convincingly play alien female characters, but she manages to make all her characters feel real. This was Sam Worthington’s break out role and he does a credible job playing a paraplegic who is given a new lease on life. He does a wonderful job portraying Jake’s changing state of mind and his moral/ethical dilemma with the actions of his fellow humans. Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang are as phenomenal as always. Weaver plays a sarcastic and jaded scientist to perfection. Joel David Moore portrays the same awkward but intelligent character he plays on television. Anyways, the film was excellently cast and the chemistry between the lead actors is perfect. Despite the recycled screenplay, Avatar is a fantastic science fiction film and is just gorgeous to watch. Though I think I need a personal IMAX screen, the visuals just are not the same on my 15 inch computer.