Jeff's Reviews

Thoughts on every movie I've ever seen.

Avatar (2009)

Directed by James Cameron

Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang

Author

Epic. I knew I could count on James Cameron.

Incredible and revolutionary special effects. The world we find ourselves in is completely new and completely real. Despite the fanciful colors and unusual life forms all around us, you can tell that efforts were made to make everything plausible. The experience is completely immersive. Combine the effects with Cameron’s uncompromising attention to detail, and every shot is a treasure. Close-ups feature alien skin blemishes, fully rendered computer displays, and ample background action. Wide shots feature carefully generated and unique rocks and flowers and branches and vines. The Na’vi look real, even borderline sexy. Their bodies and skin look natural and realistic, and their movements are completely believable, not too theatrical or fluid like most CGI characters have been up to this point. Human and Na’vi interact flawlessly. Sully’s atrophied legs are perfect. And 3D images on a 2D computer display in a 3D movie? What a novel idea.

Aided by the effects, the action is motivated and intense and real. It grabs you. When people in the theater clap and cheer, I know it’s not just me. And like most Cameron movies, the action in this one picks up just when you think it’s winding down. IMAX 3D is the way to see this movie.

A touching story about love and sacrifice, with just the right touch of humor. Yes, I guess it’s all a little derivative. This is the same story as Dances With Wolves, isn’t it? Did the Na’vi have to be a combination of Native American Indian and tribal African? Is there any other believable way to portray an indigenous people? Their kindred connection to forest spirits reminds me of Princess Mononoke. People being mentally transported to an alternate reality, falling limp in one when arriving in the other, reminds me of The Matrix. But it all still works for me.

My biggest plot question revolves around Sully’s invitation into Na’vi society. Given that they distrust all humans to the point of killing them on sight, why did they offer to teach Sully everything they know and share their most sacred secrets with him? Just because he was a warrior and not a scientist? Just because Neytiri had a crush on him? Just because there was a “sign” from the gods? The Na’vi may be primitive in a lot of ways, but are they really that stupid? Taking a risk on Sully almost cost them their entire civilization.

Engaging performances all around. Worthington’s matches his trademark understatedness with the appropriate intensity. This is the kind of protagonist I find most interesting to watch. Saldana’s voice is perfect. Her screams and hisses and cries are interesting and appealing and suit her Na’vi character perfectly. Sigourney Weaver, despite her soccer mom looks, is a familiar and welcome face. Stephen Lang is wonderful as Colonel Quaritch. It occurred to me that Cameron protégé Michael Biehn would have been perfect for the General. Interesting that he was in fact considered.

And Cameron’s got his stamp on it, for sure. The technology vs. nature theme, the giant robot suits right out of Aliens, the love affair with the color blue…

A special experience. When the car ride home seems clunky and primitive, I know I have just seen some amazing science fiction.

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