James Cameron’s “Avatar” Movie Review

James Cameron's Avatar movie posterAvatar is a technological and cinematic feat, but it isn’t the epic movie of the year that it’s being made out to be. I followed this film for the entire year of 2009, I know there’s people who followed it far longer than that, but my interest was such that I drove 3 hours to see the 15 minute sneak peak on “Avatar Day” several months before the premiere. I then defended it to the sprouting naysayers who clowned its look, telling them that the experience is something else in the theater with 3D. I was there for the midnight premiere at my local IMAX in 3D. I’ve since seen it in 2D and in a normal theater with 3D. So, my thoughts after seeing it 3 times in all 3 possible settings? Here we go.

Why you’ll like it:
Brilliant special effects, Zoe Saldana’s performance and for science nerds Cameron is quite accurate in his alien ecological speculation.

For the uninitiated “Avatar” takes place in the year 2154 when we’ve discovered Pandora, a planet in the Alpha Centauri star system that has the mineral to serve all of our energy needs back here on Earth. Scientists studying the planet cloned the native humanoids (“Na’avi”) and tweaked their DNA so that humans can kind of “log in” via a mental modem thereby able to deal with the Na’avi as one of them. Our main character is a paraplegic ex-Marine filling in for his recently deceased genius twin-brother. His goal is to negotiate with the Na’avi and get them to vacate their turf as it sits on this miracle mineral, but along the way our Marine’s desires begin to shift.

There is absolutely no denying that something spectacular was created, a vision from a true visionary director. I’ve never had such an amazing experience in 3D, totally immersed into the environment which is beautifully crafted and meticulously detailed. I bought in just enough to the detail of the Na’avi to believe their emotion and for myself to emotionally invest. Probably my favorite visual was the planet itself, the forest and plants were absolute perfection and will undoubtedly stand the test of time. I do have to admit that I think that the Na’avi will probably eventually look outdated, extreme close-ups worked really well but wide shots and general interaction sometimes still didn’t feel true. Nit-picking aside, this is certainly a visual buffet that has earned its reputation as a sight to behold.

Eye-candy aside, there is so much lacking in other areas that I was very disappointed that so much creative work went into something that produced such a rehashed story, flat characters and wooden dialogue. The storyline itself is nothing new and has been seen in “Dances With Wolves”, “Last Samurai” and several other stories about an outsider finding himself in an entirely new culture and soon adopting it as his own. What bothers me so much about Cameron’s version is that he borrows so heavily from native Americans that it feels like “Dances With Wolves v2.0”, I certainly don’t mind the concept being redone but I expect a more unique culture to be invented rather than native Americans with sensitive hair. Not only that, but the characters are largely one-dimensional and simple, the seemingly lone exception being Neytiri, that should’ve got Zoe Saldana an easy Oscar nomination and probably the statue itself. She was hands down dazzling to watch and exceptional in her performance. The dialogue would have gone a long distance with a simple rewrite if Cameron could allow someone to touch his script.

Graphics were amazing, but Cameron delivered not only a completely fabricated world but he brought an unexperienced level of depth with it by using 3D technology in a way that hadn’t been used and basically turned it into art in itself. Do not be surprised by newer films coming out that don’t have as good of a 3D experience, James Cameron put a lot of time into this experience and fine-tuning the technology, but other films are likely only to add it as an after-thought as a way to take advantage of the extra revenue (see: Alice in Wonderland).

Why you won’t like it:
The story is largely unoriginal, the characters are shallow and the dialogue is stiff.

Of all three versions the best cinematic bang for my buck was in IMAX 3D, that’s the way it was filmed and it clearly shows. There’s a lot lost in the 2D version, and the 16×9 3D version is still great but lacking the extra footage shot since it’s cropped off to fit the screen. The film itself is an adventure worthy of seeing, because it is a sight that will likely only be outdone by the sequel. The story isn’t fresh, but it is still executed by a landmark director in an easy flow narrative. See it mostly for the visuals, and for Zoe Saldana’s performance, it’s well worth your time, and my 3 sit-throughs.

4 out of 5 stars.

Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver
Director: James Cameron
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hr. 40 min.
Release Date: December 16, 2009