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Avatar (2009)

December 21, 2009

VERDICT:
9/10 Hype Machines 

Amazing the things you can do with a quarter of a billion dollars and a green screen.

Avatar takes place in the year 2154. Paraplegic ex-marine Jake Sully is sent off to the planet Pandora to serve as ambassador/mole to the native inhabitants – the Na’vi (aka: the blue chick on the right) – by jumping into a machine that allows him to live vicariously through a genetically engineered Na’vi of his very own and pose like he’s one of the locals. So he infiltrates their ranks, learns the way of the Na’vi, he starts to fall for the tribe leader’s daughter, he starts to get why they’re so pissed off at the human race, but the U.S. Military wants him to sell them out for the monetary benefit of mankind in exchange for fresh pair of legs, so he’s kinda torn about the whole thing.

Decisions, decisions in the 22nd Century. 

So, yeah, it’s a man vs. nature movie, and while it’s definitely got a Princess Mononoke (awesome) mixed with FernGully vibe going for it, Avatar is nonetheless in a league of its own.

But the real question is, does it live up to the hype?

Well, dear readers…yes. Yes it does. And thank God for that.

This is the first big time blockbuster that James Cameron’s made in a good long while, the last one being good ol’ Titanic back in ’97, and it’s about damn time. Even though the surprisingly lame trailers weren’t really doing this thing any favors in regards to making it into the movie to end all movies that Cameron was totally sure it was going to be, the fact of the matter is that when James Cameron makes a movie, screw the trailers, you get your ass out there and see that movie. He’s not the most humble of directors, but he’s got one hell of a track record and good lord does this guy know how to tell a great story.

Now, James Cameron knows how to do two things very well, arguably better then any director I can think of off the top of my head, these two things being Epic and Awesome. I’m talking Lord of the Rings epic and awesomeness on the scale of Aliens + The Abyss + T2. Not to say that it’s better than LotR or Aliens or T2 (though definitely better than The Abyss), but I sure as hell have never seen anything like Avatar before and it’s been a long time since I’ve found myself watching movies with mouth agape for long stretches at a time.

First off, James Cameron has made Michael Bay his bitch and there is nothing he or his robot army can do about it. The special effects here really are the best I’ve ever seen and until someone finds a way to actually have the audience be transported into the movie Last Action Hero-style, this is the one to beat. 

This is also coming from someone who is very much against this whole 3-D revival, but Avatar is the exception to the rule. My problem with 3-D is that it’s a gimmick, it’s about tricking the audience into thinking they’re about to get poked in the eye every five minutes, and that’s just annoying. But Avatar is different because the gimmick is gone.

There are a lot of unique characters in this movie, but the one you can’t take your eyes off of is Pandora itself. Anything I write here isn’t going to do it justice, but let’s just say that if NASA told me Pandora was real, I might just believe them. It’s all in the details, whether it’s the wildlife, the creatures, the foliage, the Na’vi, their culture, the landscapes; everything feels at once familiar and foreign and it’s amazing how well it all works. It takes a lot of things that are commonplace on Earth and makes them bluer, stranger, deadlier and twice as tall as they normally are. Might not sound like a selling point without those stupid glasses on, but like me, you may very well end up being one of the many in the audience muttering, “Wow,” under your breath.

But aside from the technical aspects, the story here is pretty swell, too. It gets a little predictable in the last twenty minutes and it’s not all that hard to see the direction things are going in, but it is a wild trip all the same. The aspirations of this movie are absolutely astounding and, as a result, you’ll probably find yourself getting sucked into Jake Sully’s story pretty quickly. 

And the acting’s not bad, but it’s not a dealbreaker either. Sam Worthington (who somehow went from J-list to A-list in record time) plays our hero, Jake Sully; he’s pretty good. Zoe Saldana plays his main Na’vi squeeze, Neytiri; she’s pretty good. Same thing goes for pretty much everyone else, that is except for Sigourney Weaver. Man, Sigourney Weaver is such a badass and is the best actor here by a long shot. This is freakin’ Ripley we’re talking about, she’s not screwing around and she’s the real standout on the acting front here.

The dialogue is pretty good, too, but again, not great. Granted, it’s gotta be pretty tough to write dialogue as awesome as these visuals.

Okay, time to wrap this up. Look, Avatar is an experience. Don’t see it if it’s not in 3-D and for God’s sake don’t wait for it to come out on DVD or Blu-ray; I assure you, you’ll regret it. It’s still not on par with T2 or Aliens, but I don’t think I’m ever going to see a movie like this again. It’s entertaining from beginning to end (which is saying a lot considering it’s two and a half hours long), it’s got a solid, original story, and it’s a downright technical masterpiece that will have you seeing double. It is just so damn good to see a movie like this actually live up to my expectations.

All hail James Cameron, folks. He’s earned it.

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. delaney55 permalink
    December 21, 2009 1:47 am

    I was hoping this was great because I love James Cameron movies! We don’t have IMAX here in KS – sucks by the way – but we are headed up to KC, MO for the holidays and they DO have one so we will be off to see it like it should be and not with the funky and lame 3D glasses you have to see movies like this in here in Wichita.

    Thanks for the head’s up! 🙂 WooHoo!

  2. December 21, 2009 11:12 am

    I thought Stephen Lang was the real acting standout to me. But don’t get me wrong, Sigourney Weaver was still kick-ass.

    • December 21, 2009 11:27 am

      Yeah, I thought Lang was alright, but I thought it was more his look than his performance that was cool. Just didn’t have Sigourney’s attitude.

  3. December 21, 2009 1:31 pm

    Sigourney Weaver eats steel pylons for breakfast

  4. December 21, 2009 4:27 pm

    “Where’s my cigarette??!!” Possibly the best first line by any character this year.

    Nifty review. I found myself very much in the same mindset that you’re in after the credits rolled. the easiest way I can think to sum it up, is that the chance to see films like AVATAR are the reason I go to the movies.

  5. December 22, 2009 11:38 am

    Good stuff Aiden, I agree with just about everything you’ve said, certainly 9/10.
    The only problem I’d have with it, and the only point i’d disagree with you on is ‘original story’ – this is something we’ve seen a dozen times before storywise, none as close as Ferngully you mentioned yourself.
    It is as straight forward as the trailers suggest – guy gets alien body, switches sides, the end.
    That, and Geovani Ribsi/Steve Lang’s characters. They could’ve been less hackneyed and one-dimensional. ‘I’m a nasty businessman, money is the only thing that matters’ / ‘I’m from the military, I must kill everything’. I found it a little hard to believe any government would give either of these such responsibilities.
    These points aside, the film is superb, and two and a half of the most entartaining hours I have ever spent in a cinema.
    Films always boast audiences will be ‘immersed’; but this is the first time I felt truly so.
    The tech and creature design were excellent, and ten minutes in you completely forget that the Na’vi don’t actually exist.
    Like Aiden, I urge everyone to go see this in 3D in the cinema – an absolute must see.

    • December 22, 2009 11:47 am

      Hell yeah, Ross McD. Haven’t heard from you in years, man.

      Yeah, I’ve been mulling over the whole original story thing for the past few days and I’m starting to settle on your take. It’s just that everything else about it felt so completely new and amazing that it in turn an otherwise familiar story got that extra boost of originality (or faux-originality). Good call, I totally hear ya.

      But what a feakin’ wild time this was. I’d see it again in a heartbeat, I just hope someone else pays the 16 bucks for me.

  6. Darren permalink
    December 22, 2009 1:23 pm

    I was blown away by the visuals – probably the best looking film of the year (possibly decade).

    Still, I’m a little uncomfortable with the whole “white guys leads a tribe of primitives to victory” aspect of it all – if you read it as an allegory for any of the conflicts Cameron is clearly drawing from (the Native Americans, the US’s current overseas entanglements, Vietnam), the message seems more than a little muddled.

    I thought the movie would be infinitely improved if you dropped the whole Avatar aspect. You’d probably have to come up with a different title (Pandora?), but I think the movie would be vastly improved.

  7. December 22, 2009 5:21 pm

    Ribisi’s character wasn’t as one-dimesional as Lang, he showed regret.

    However Avatar is the “it” movie from now on. LOTR and TDK have nothing on this.

  8. December 22, 2009 5:27 pm

    Interesting that I agree and disagree with Fitz all in one go…

    Fitz, you’re spot on that Ribisi’s villain is the more complexed and interesting one. in a lot of ways, he actually reminded me a lot of Paul Reiser’s part in ALIENS.

    How-ev-er…

    Giddy as we all are about how cool AVATAR is, I wouldn’t dare suggest it has knocked LOTR or TDK off their individual perches. Both movies defined an entire genre and have stood up (LOTR especially) as paramounts of filmmaking.

    Let’s let the dust settle for a week or two before we start annointing a successor, shall we?

  9. Mark Redmond permalink
    December 30, 2009 9:29 am

    Sorry, this movie left me very disappointed. Special effects can carry a movie only so far, maybe an hour, but after that the lack of any kind of original story left me bored. One review I read stated, “This is just Dances with Wolves in outer space.”

    As AMC says, “Story matters here.” Apparently doesn’t in the mind of James Carmeron.

  10. pablochiste permalink
    January 3, 2010 9:02 pm

    I too was left feeling unfulfilled. Check out my grouchy review on http://pablochiste.wordpress.com/2010/01/03/jar-jar-binks-the-movie/

  11. Sarah permalink
    May 3, 2010 12:19 am

    It was RDA that wanted Jake to sell out the Na’vi, not the US military. The RDA was the private company that was mining the unobtanium, and the military was there for protection of the base/conquering the natives.
    I think that’s how it was. That is the impression I got when I played the game. I could be wrong.
    So yeah, take that how you will ^-^

    • May 3, 2010 10:40 am

      Haha, I’ll take your word for it. How was the game?

      • Sarah permalink
        May 3, 2010 1:36 pm

        The game was just sorta meh. It pretty much just Ghost Recon on Pandora.

        I liked it because it had nice looking levels (or areas/whatever you want to call them) and it also had a sort of encyclopedia explaining everything about Pandora and why humans needed Unobtanium and stuff like that.

  12. October 2, 2010 5:04 pm

    I’m with Ross McD all the way on this one.

    I can add that the story never left me bored because however trite I found it, I still connected to that world through the amazing visuals – I mean, yeah, they are jaw-dropping, even without the 3D (if you’ve got a big enough TV) – and I connected to the characters as well. Most of them are such bunched-together stereotypes it hurt my brain the first time around, but the situations are still fresh because of Pandora. Absolutely with you on Pandora being one of the major characters, if not The Major Character of this film.

    I thought the story was predictable half an hour into the movie and it saddens me because I do feel that if Cameron had spent just a little more time on building original characters and dialogue, the movie would have been an instant classic and might have actually deserved to compete against LotR for The Epicest Movie of All Time. As is, in my mind, it does not. If you think about it, it’s as though he used every single beat from Titanic and just plastered the Avatar universe over it. Lazy, lazy, lazy.

    Alright, I’m not going to slam this movie (more) because I’ve seen it a few times since I saw it in the theatre and it is what it is, a relaxing, don’t have to concentrate to follow the plot, nothing but blue-tinted escapism with a love story attached, and that’s okay, so long as you remember that essentially it’s bubble-gum cinema disguised by an amazing CGI vision. (Just compare the characters and story to Pulp Fiction, Fight Club, KKBB or even Breakfast at Tiffany’s and in those four you can find onions instead of oranges.) Do you agree?

    • October 4, 2010 1:19 pm

      Agree with you completely. I felt a lot stronger about this movie when it first blew out my retinas in the theater, and the visuals really did elevate an otherwise trite story we’ve all heard before, but it doesn’t compare to LotR in the least. Doubt I’ll ever see it again, which probably says a lot, but that first time really was great. Good point about the Titanic plot, too. Doesn’t seem all too far-fetched in the least

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