Avatar Movie Review
James Cameron’s venture to the moon of Pandora started back in 2009, with his visual enthralling tale about imperialism & militarism. Cinema has never been the same after!
Genre: Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Laz Alonso, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, Carol Christine Hilaria Pounder & Wes Studi.
Run Time: 162 min.
US Release: 18 December 2009
UK Release: 17 December 2009
German Release: 17 December 2009
It’s “Throwback Thursday'' and before the September re-release of Avatar in cinemas, as well as the launch of Avatar: The Way of Water in December, I decided to post a review for Cameron’s visual epos. While digitally groundbreaking and effect-wise stunningly looking, Avatar was really nothing original in the story department. In fact, an amalgamation of different movies that are better told, this fantasy sci-fi was rather bland narrative-wise. Nevertheless, it is still beautiful to look at, with the effects still mostly holding up to date. So, let’s take a closer look at Jake Sully’s adventure on Pandora!
This is a review of the theatrical version, not the extended cut!
— WARNING, THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! —
When Jake Sully’s brother is killed during a robbery, the paraplegic Marine is being called upon to take his place in a mission, on the distant world of Pandora. In exchange for the spinal surgery that will fix his legs, Jake, with the use of his brother’s "avatar" identity, gathers knowledge, of the indigenous “Na’vi” and their culture, for the military unit spearheaded by gung-ho Colonel Quaritch, as well as, the greedy corporate figurehead Parker Selfridge. Selfridge plans to drive away the native tribe, to mine for the precious material that is scattered throughout the rich woodland.
The screenplay itself is no new tale, Cameron took the basic stories of Dances with the Wolves plus Pocahontas, packaging it into a sci-fi fantasy tale that took inspiration from Princes Mononoke and Lawrence of Arabia. The issue at hand is that due for this reason Avatar’s narrative is predictable from the get-go, offering no surprises or unexpected twists. Even worse, it can be pretty silly or over-the-top at times, making the source material this is based on, superior films. In short, the story is dull!
However, the socio-political topics covered, while pretty much on the nose, are still of importance. Avatar’s criticism of corporate capitalism and the preservation of nature is made abundantly clear from the moment the lead character lands on the habitable moon. On top of that, the plot delves into the issue of imperialism, as the Na’vi are painted as a fictional representation of Native Americans. Human nature, as proven by history, has seen people with more military or technological might, destroying weaker cultures, usually for their resources plus riches.
The dominant culture usually subjugates the native populace, in the name of civilization or religion. A strangely ironic take, as it is the technologically advanced invaders who are the aggressors, having lost touch with nature or spirituality.
Sam Worthington was cast as Jake Sully, a former Marine that has been disabled after an injury suffered in battle. After his brother is killed during a robbery, he gets offered his spot in the “Avatar” programme, to carry on his sibling’s work. Sully is the typical “white saviour”, meaning he is a member of the invading culture, leading the native people into a battle, without whom they are powerless. The learning arc of Jake is easily foreseeable, with his redeeming turning point not coming as a surprise. Worthington himself did a solid acting job.
Zoe Saldana is the female lead, playing Neytiri, the daughter of the Omaticaya’s chief, as well as the love interest for Jake Sully. Saldana had good chemistry with Worthington, selling their characters’ growing mutual attraction. Her role’s body was digitally rendered via motion capture, being a native of Pandora. Neytiri is a strong, proud female Na’vi, who sees the broken connection between nature and the invading humans. She teaches Sully to find spirituality, renewing his bond with mother earth.
Stephen Lang and Giovanni Ribisi embody the primary plus secondary villains. Ribisi, while portraying the head of the RDA mining operation on the moon, is the secondary villain - a metaphor for corporate greed, including disregard for the environment. Lang, on the other hand, played the primary villain, a more physical threat. Colonel Miles Quaritch is the head of security, who has a deep disregard for the native civilization, describing them as savages.
Sigourney Weaver portrays the counterpart to Ribisi’s Parker Selfridge. Her persona is that of Dr. Grace Augustine, an advocate for peace plus scientific curiosity. She is Sully’s mentor. Finally, we have Michelle Rodriguez, who embodies Trudy Chacón, a combat pilot sympathetic to the Na’vi people.
What made this a cinematic spectacle back in 2009, are the revolutionary visuals and 3-D techniques used. Delayed since the 90s, Cameron waited until technology reached the advancement needed, to represent his version of the story on screen. Still stunning to observe today, the effects look a little dated from time to time. Nevertheless, the design of structure and the physical movement of the floral world do look photo realistic. The strong blue, violet and turquoise colour tones add to the mystical look of Pandora, while the bioluminescence sells the alien look. The Na’vi plus the avatar bodies themselves are modelled after the actors.
The music, composed by James Horner, contains tones supposed to represent the Na’vi culture. That soundtrack was created with the help of ethnomusicologist Wanda Bryant. Other tones are reminiscent of Titanic, which comes as no surprise since this marks Horner's third collaboration with Cameron, having previously worked on the score for Titanic.
Verdict: In the end, Avatar gets a passing grade for its enthralling visuals plus groundbreaking technology used to bring the fauna and flora of Pandora to life. The cinematography, as well as the three-dimensional effects, are brilliant and made this the cinematic spectacle of 2009. The blend of science-fiction with fantasy is well balanced and it is great to see Sigourney Weaver team up with James Cameron again. The actors do the best with the material they obtained, and while mostly grounded and serious, some performances can come off as a little over-acted and cheesy. While the socio-political, religious plus cultural themes are noble, the overall message takes a dive, as the plot itself is a plagiarised version of Pocahontas and Dances with the Wolves, with no astonishment as the beads of the story, are already well known. Generally, this is a 7.0 out of 10.
Does my review reflect your thoughts on Avatar? Will you go see it again in theatres or are you waiting for the sequel in December?