Personally, I am not a fan of big budget movies as they tend to either pander to a mainstream audience, or worse, are pieces of overblown crap rushed into theaters in order to make a quick buck. James Cameron’s newest film “Avatar” in lesser hands (i.e. Micheal Bay) could have easily fallen into either of those pitfalls, but luckily, only dips its toes in the former.
The film centers on a crippled marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) who is stationed on the alien planet of Pandora. There he takes place in the experimental avatar program which lets humans control a hybrid of both humans and the indigenous alien life forms of Pandora created from the DNA of both species. The program is supposed to improve diplomatic relations between the two races in order to help the humans mine the lands extremely valuable natural resources. The military plan is to use Sully as mole in order to gain information on the ten foot tall blue skinned aliens as well as hopefully getting them to move off their land instead of having to destroy them.
As Sully uses his avatar to roam the jungles of Pandora, he meets Neytiri (Zoe Sanders, recently seen as Ahora in the “Star Trek” reboot) who is a princess in the native tribe. After helping him survive an attack by the jungle inhabitants, she introduces him to her clan which allows Sully to get closer to his mission objective. As he continues to immerse himself in the tribe, his loyalty is divided and he is forced to decide between his new family and his own race of people.
Adding an interesting layer of subtext to the film is the way Luke goes back and forth from his avatar “dream” life into his “real” life. By going to sleep in the avatar’s body Luke is allowed to wake into his real, paraplegic body. As the story moves forward Luke begins to increasingly identify with his avatar identity. Since the world of Pandora is made up mostly of CGI work, it is easy to think of it as a dream world rather than part of an actual reality. Gradually though it beings to feel more like home to Sully than the military installation than his “waking” world. The “real” world and the “dream” world eventually crash together (as they tend to unfortunately do), resulting in a brutal battle for supremacy over Pandora between the two races.
Sully’s character arch is guided by supporting characters Grace, (Cameron alumni Sigourney Weaver) the mastermind of the avatar program, and Steven Lang as the bad ass military man Colonel Miles Quaritch. As the two main supporting characters both Weaver and Lang turn in very strong performances that greatly outshine the acting chops of Sam Worthington. The only complaints I have with the film come from his performance and obnoxious narration. Although the film has a predominantly “go green” message behind it, it manages not to be overtly (read: obnoxiously) liberal by allowing Grace to be an adamant cigarette smoker (something which is these days seldom seen in mainstream movies). The always lovely and sometimes lesbian Michelle Rodriguez also co-stars as military helicopter pilot alien sympathizer Trudy Chacon. The ever competent Joel (Spiral) Moore plays as Norm Spellman, a scientist in the avatar program, and made wonder why he did not have a bigger role in the film.
In lesser hands the film would have been a horrible mish-mash of childish action pieces meant to fill the pockets of people who do not care about the craft of film. Cameron is up to the task as usual. You can see the plot points from a mile away, but the journey “Avatar” takes you on overshadows it’s predictable short comings. The movie takes it’s time to set up Pandora is a living, breathing world, so much so that it becomes a character in and of itself. The 3D effects of “Avatar” enhance this aspect of the experience by making full use of the 3D to bring the audience into the films world, making them feel they are part of it. I was afraid that the 3D would be either a gimmick (i.e.: the needless “My Bloody Valentine” remake) or pointless (i.e.: the over-rated “Up”) but I was pleasantly surprised throughout the films run-time.
Although the plot is derivative of other films (i.e.: “Ferngully: The Last Rainforest”, “Dances with Wolves”), Cameron’s meticulous addition to detail makes for the best fantasy/adventure film since “Lord of the Rings”. James Cameron changed the face of film making with the CGI work he used in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and he has done it again here. Everything from glowing phosphorescence of Pandora’s lush jungle world, to its native creatures, and the facial expressions of the aliens, shows a degree of true craftsmanship and make it well worth the price of admission.
In conclusion, it has come to my attention that certain people have criticisms of my reviews here on CrimeCrawlers. Unfortunately for all of us, their criticisms are said in private quarters. Any valid criticism will be taken into account, as I am not so insecure as to shy away from it or so arrogant as to think of them as above reproach and would hope that other writers are smart enough to feel the same way about their own reviews. I sincerely invite those who have an issue with my thoughts on these films to use the comment section below, unless they truly only feel comfortable posting their thoughts where they can go unchallenged.
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