Review: 'Avatar'

Believe the hype. Avatar goes a long way towards arguing that artistic merit and epic storytelling go together better when you have an visionary at the helm.

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a paraplegic ex-marine who is given a unique opportunity. On the world of Pandora, a corporation has discovered a mineral with fantastic (and profitable) properties. Due to a toxic atmosphere, scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) has developed a mind-linked remote-controlled body to act as an ambassador, an “avatar.” While the intent behind the avatar project is explore the world of Pandora and interact with the local sentient species, the Na’vi, the goal is to make the mineral more accessible to the corporation mining it, even if they have to relocate the native people to do it.

People worry that technology will one day replace the need for actors. Writer/director/producer James Cameron reminds us that people, not technology, are still at the heart of storytelling. To bring the imaginary to life, manipulate it for the sake of a story and blur what’s real into it seamlessly, that has been the goal of many Hollywood types, and Cameron seems to have at last perfected it. Avatar is transporting from beginning to end and meticulously edited to make the story flow and forget about the technique. Much like the original Jurassic Park when people asked where Steven Spielberg found actual living dinosaurs, it isn’t any more of a stretch to believe that the fantastic the world of Pandora does indeed exist. Then there’s the better news: the characters and story are just as believable.

If someone was going to pitch the idea of Avatar to a studio, they might pit two animated features against one another to cover all the elements involved: “FernGully: The Last Rainforest” being attacked by “Exosquad.” Of course, this is a very generalized description and doesn’t begin to describe the characters themselves. For example, the world the story is set in, an Earth-like moon called Pandora, isn’t just the setting; it’s a character unto itself. Like the characters in the story, Pandora is a world that functions like an ecosystem should, and watching the film through the eyes of the hero, Jake, reveals how connected everything is, even when deadly enemies are pitted against one another. Call it a subtle conservationist message if you will (as opposed to the heavy-handed environmentalist message from the ill-fated remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still) but it’s still a good one: take what you need, appreciate what you’ve got, and keep in mind that one day, you, too, will be worm food.

Beyond the special effects and story, Cameron also knows that character is third main ingredient but no less important. Zoe Saldana provides the voice and movement for the native Pandoran we learn from the most, Neytiri, and it isn’t difficult to see why Jake Sully becomes so enchanted (okay, sure, there’s the whole chieftan’s daughter thing… why is it always the princess, hmm?) Sigourney Weaver plays Dr. Grace Augustine as a tough yet passionate scientist who believes in her work. And Michelle Rodriguez as pilot Trudy Chacon entertains as always… gosh, Mr. Cameron, write strong female characters much? Avatar may be late to the box office party this year, but it’s difficult to think of another film that sets its goals this high and achieves every one of them.

(a four skull recommendation out of four)
4 out of four skulls

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About Grim D. Reaper

Host of MovieCrypt.com. With my likeness being used in hundreds of films without permission, film critique isn’t dead until I SAY it is.
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5 Responses to Review: 'Avatar'

  1. Auntie Maim says:

    Bravo! James Cameron is “the Man” – again. I’m a Titanic fanatic, so I still think that film is his best work ever, but with this film, Mr. Cameron is now running with the big dogs of the Fantasy genre. Nothing new to him, technically – Terminator got him that sort of cred in the Science Fiction genre ages ago.

    My sister called watching this one “a religious experience” and cried more because it was over than she did during all the dying. She ranked it right up there with Tolkien’s LOTR (the biggest of the Fantasy big dogs). While nothing in Fantasy beats LOTR for me (or likely ever will) I will agree that Avatar is up at the top of the heap.

    Kudos to Michelle Rodriguez, too. For me, she was the coolest of the humans, surpassing our hero for general awesome ratings. Far too little of her, but the screen time she had was prime.

    As Grim said, it’s nice to see a special effects-heavy movie not rest on it’s FX laurels at the cost of ignoring character development. Then again, Mr. Cameron knows all about making characters that people will love (or hate) with wild abandon.

    On a final note, it’s a relief to hear Mr. Cameron setting the record straight about new advancements in technology not aiming for a future demise of the acting craft. FX tricks are amazing, and I love them, but I do NOT want to watch nothing besides cartoon films in the future; and no matter how cool the animated images of people are, they aren’t real people. Thanks for that reassurance, Mr. Cameron.

    For those of you who haven’t seen Avatar yet: don’t cheat yourself. Go. Now. Catch it in 3D, too, it’s worth it (I’m not wild about 3D, but you’ll love it for this one).

  2. Auntie Maim says:

    Oh, one more thing: thank you James Cameron for putting power armor suits in this movie! There are not enough of them with power armor, alas, and I love it so. Starship Troopers left all that out!

  3. disappointed says:

    I see this movie as an attempt to further advance the environmentalists point of view.

  4. Valentin says:

    Well friend, I guess you tossed all your movie education down the toilet by giving this movie such a high grade. Go with the flow dude, just go with the flow;)

    You see, the biggest issue here is – by giving it such praise, you have placed this film along with 2001: A Space Odyssey, Citizen Kane, The Battleship Potemkin, 8?½ and The Bladerunner. But none of it matters – just go with flow dude hehehe;)

  5. May I call you Valentin? Yes, I would consider “Avatar” as good as many of the films you just listed. A better question might be, why wouldn’t you? It isn’t just critics who seem to be praising this film; the world-wide box office suggests that the “film-uneducated” appear to enjoy it as well… hmm.

    And if THIS ticks you off, might I suggest reading my “Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day” review? If that doesn’t bake your noodle, I don’t know what will.

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