James Cameron's epic sci-fi fantasy film released in 2009.

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Just Cause Everyone Says It's Good Doesn't Make It Good

  • Jan 4, 2010
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Simply put James Cameron's "Avatar" is terrible.  The story is one cliche after another, with plot elements that all worked better in previous movies.  Basically this film is "Dances With Wolves" with substantially better graphics but with a story that is a mere shadow of Kevin Costner's touching and powerful Academy Award winning film.  Everything is telegraphed well in advance, from the total lack of subtelty in the foreshadowing of the Toruk to the bad video game feel of the hand to hand combat between Stephen Lang's Col. Quaritch and Sam Worthington's Jake (which, by the way, I liked a lot more when it was final scene of "Aliens").  Beyond Jake, who as the protagonist is required to have his character evolve, the only person who shows even the slightest character development is Giovanni Ribisi's Parker Selfridge, and I credit the actor and not the script for that (his name is "Selfridge," get it, "selfish," huh, huh, get it?).  Cameron, as a director, is good, but unlike his previous action films, ie "Aliens," "Terminator 2," and "the Abyss," in which a story that could collapse under its own weight is helped out by a fantastic ensemble cast, here we are given Sam Worthington who does not seem capable of the same feat of acting strength performed by someone as charismatic as Sigourney Weaver, Bill Paxton, Ed Harris, or Arnold Schwarzenneger.  The same can be said of the supporting cast who, outside of Weaver and Ribisi, seem largely incapable of being anything beyond snide (Michelle Rodriguez), dopey (Joel David Moore), or bitter/angry (Stephen Lang).

That said, the film does have certain remarkable qualities.  As previously mentioned, Cameron is a very talented director and has an eye for action.  When he stops the characters from talking and lets the story be shown instead of told the film gains a certain grace, a sense of momentum.  The non-hand to hand fighting is well choreographed and avoids the obviousness the rest of the film falls victim too.  Then there's Zoe Saldana, a breath of fresh air in this otherwise stale afair.  She is capable of showing a wide range of emotions and sentiments, even beneath a computer generated frame, and is an actor who, if her character were switched with the static and predictable Jake, might have carried this film to greatness as Weaver and Linda Hamilton did in previous Cameron vehicles.  Which brings me to the trademark of all Cameron films: cutting edge technology.  "Wow" is the only thing I can say about the graphics; as with all of his previous films Cameron hits a homerun in the visual department.  The film looks real, it looks like it was filmed on Pandora, not in front of a green screen.  In the end, though, Saldana, Weaver, Ribisi and all the computer graphics in the world don't make up for a story that has been told a thousand times, and told better most of those times.   

And one final comment.  Cameron hired USC professors to invent a real language for the Na'vi and to train Weaver how a botanists work is done to make the film as realistic as possible, and yet he throws the basic elements of physics out the window.  I have no problem suspending my disbelief at a movie, I believe the avatar technology is possible, I believe faster than or near light speed travel is possible, and I absolutely believe in the existence of sentient lifeforms on alien worlds, but that does not mean I will simply forget 6th grade physics.  Gravity is a law, not a suggestion.  I would even be fine if Cameron put in a throw away line like "the unusual biodiversity of Pandora allows for certain laws of physics to be bent or broken," but we are given nothing, just floating mountains, mocking the intelligence of everyone in the theater who has gone beyond elementary school.

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February 04, 2010
Well said. I think we agree on many aspects of this film & you're review mirrors mine in many ways.
January 30, 2010
It has not been seven weeks at number one because someone says it's good. It's because the film is good. Sorry you didn't like it, minority opinion not withstanding.  Our intelligence was not mocked.  Part of science fiction is the suspension of disbelief, which ironically you implied in your last paragraph.  Minus stars for this is just rude. 
February 01, 2010
I have to stand by my initial statement that this movie is terrible. I believe that in ten years, when the technology of this film is being used to sell us soap and Coke, then we will look back and realize that this movie has, at best, a paper thin plot. To me the story is at least 80% of a film and this movie's story is hackneyed, cliched and generic. As stated in my review I am fully capable of suspending my disbelief, but but the floating mountains were a step too far. I cannot think of an example in which they logically work: are they due to magnetic flux? if the magnetic field is strong enough to float hills of that magnitude how does it have no affect on the hulls of the ships or the iron in the blood of the humans; are they gravitational? if so then why is gravity normal on the lifeforms, such as the humans or Na'vi. I feel insulted that Cameron would not apply basic logic to this situation. I know that I am in a tiny minority that didn't like this film, but simply by being at the top of the box office does not prove that it is "good." Movies like "Star Wars: Episode I," "Wolverine," and even "10,000 BC" were capable of being #1 at the box office. Whether a film is "good" or "bad" is far too subjective of a concept to be stated with any determination. Lots of people hate "Citizen Kane," or "Seven Samurai," or "The Rules of the Game" despite what all the experts and film geeks say. I hate this film, just as much as I love "Rules of the Game," but that doesn't make me right or you wrong, or this film good or bad, it's an opinion, rude has nothing to do with it. I am not insulting a being, I'm stating how a feel about a work of art, and as with any work of art the mere drawing out of a reaction is the whole point. It would be rude if I ignored the movie, if I passed it by and dismissed it, but I gave it my full attention, let it into me so that I might relate my own existence to it. And in the end I disliked what was presented to me.
February 01, 2010
OK, man, good points all. I was just commenting on your title. I liked Avatar for several reasons: it gave hope to those disabled as the "hero" was in this story. Perhaps there will be a future where disabled men can participate in society freely thanks to science. Another was the simple life of the Nav'i and the structured mercenary machine they were up against.

You said the film had some redeeming qualities which would by saying that be at least a 1 star.  Just sayin'

Sorry if I came across strong. Keep writing those reviews!
February 01, 2010
As for your scientific questions, why is it when Kirk goes to Warp 4 he isn't splattered all over the tarmac as so much organic molecules? It's all suspension of disbelief.
February 01, 2010
I understand where you are coming from, and that I am one of about a dozen people who don't like this film, and I am glad that so many people enjoy it. If watching this movie, as so many obviously have, gets one kid interested in making art, in pushing the boundaries of science, of expanding our understanding of what it is that makes us human then I am happy. But like I said, to me the story is at least 80% of the movie and by using that standard the best I could have given this movie is 2/10 since I found the story most unsatisfactory. The movie does have several redeeming qualities, but in my mind all of those are overshadowed by the story, the best directing or acting or editing in the world can't save a bad story. I just don't get how the movie is any better or different than "Dances with Wolves," same basic story but without explosions and with better acting. In regards to your warp speed question, and this is my main complaint about the floating mountains, Star Trek offers us a throw away line explaining how warp technology works by saying that when moving at warp speeds the ship enters into a dimension called "sub space" wherein the rules of standard physics do not apply thus allowing for faster than light travel. I am totally happy to suspend my disbelief but I am only willing to to believe that which is beyond our capabilities or understanding, not to throw away the knowledge I already have. Time travel: theorectical but implausible; faster than light speed travel: theorectical but implausible; avatar technology: theorectical but implausible; floating mountains: not theorectically possible. I just want Cameron to put a line like that in, to say something simple and throwaway and not assume I won't notice. On an unrelated note, I am looking forward to your series of reviews about classic films, it should be most interesting and I love going back and seeing how well the one-time standards of the industry hold up today. Thanks for your comments.
February 02, 2010
I have to say I liked the title to this review! I love "going against the grain." I am usually very suspicious when the majority of people (the public mind) likes something. I don't trust nor respect a mass intelligence, at least not here in the USA. I view the world with a critical eye and try to remind myself not to easily believe something without researching it.

In this case, I am clumped with the mass that enjoyed this film. I want to watch it again before I write a review as well as research some details. It won't get a 5 rating, but I am debating between a 3 and a 4.
January 06, 2010
You're dead-on in regards to the story (perhaps South Park's "Dances With Smurfs" captured this best), but for me, the story is just one piece of the entire movie experience. I didn't get too bent out of shape that the story is a derivative of something else I've already seen, as the rest of the pieces more than made up for it. In some ways, I thought it was good that you didn't have to think too hard to follow this story so you could spend more energy just taking in the Pandora world. (although, I too would have liked at least some explanation as to why the mountains could float...) Anyway, even though I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, I really enjoyed reading your take on it. Thanks for the review!
January 30, 2010
I'll have to watch the movie again but I think there is an explanation for the floating mountains. I'll get back to you.
January 05, 2010
I've been fighting off everyone who's wanted me to see this because it seems to be just one overblown visual effects extravaganza. Ever rave review has include the fact that it's unoriginal and has been done many times before. For someone like me who prizes originality and is bored by speical effects, this movie seems like a waste of time. And yet I'm afraid I'll miss something if I don't see it.
January 05, 2010
At the very least you'll see what the fuss is about and be able to debate its points. I want to go back and see it in 3D. :) My next review project concerns writing reviews of the classic films, like Gone With The Wind, Wizard of Oz, that kinda thing.
January 07, 2010
I saw it twice, one with the 3D and the other w/out; while I thought the 3D thing was great, I liked the way the movie felt when I saw it w/out the 3D gimmick, made me dissect the story much more.
January 08, 2010
Maybe I HAVE to see it in 3D so that the unoriginality of the story won't bother me so much and I won't constantly be thinking how many Maurice Devereaux or Jet Eller movies could have bee made for what this flick cost.
January 30, 2010
See it yet??
January 30, 2010
Nope. The negative reviews I've read have comvinced me that this movie is everything I dislike in a film. I'll wait.
February 01, 2010
Aw, man! I think on Amazon the negatives are outnumbered 10 to 1. Big screen watch is what's needed. But that's fine.  You know me, I'm easily pleased but I do have some standards.  2010 had a lot of effects but the story didn't hold together.  Avatar does hold together, I disagree with others who say it's derivative -- a guy who is disabled, is downloaded into an alien body and sees the world in the other guy's shoes, so to speak.  I think it was great.  Gee, I'll even send you a Fandango card!
February 01, 2010
I have one, that's why I'm being careful about how I use it. The fact that everyone is saying that the big screen 3D are the only way to see it is turning me off more and more. it sounds like a special effects extravaganza. Now if it can hold up on my 25" Tv, then I'll know it's good.
January 05, 2010
You are a much more critical movie viewer than I will ever be. I was totally taken in by this movie, suspended any ideas of scientific laws (who can be REALLY be made into an avatar, for example), and just had a good time. Although I liked the character of Jake, I would have appreciated a bit of background to see whether, by joining the tribe, he was leaving anything behind. In general Jake seemed to be a real military guy who was enraptured by the island people. The scenery was astounding. This was an eye-opening movie for me --and shows me what the next century of movie-making will be.
January 05, 2010
I've watched movies over 40 years and the last time I got tingled like this was with Star Wars. Amazing film.
January 04, 2010
Glad to see the "other side of things" in this review. I really have no interest in seeing this movie. Even though I haven't even seen it I feel like I agree with what you said completely, lol.
January 04, 2010
Are you a well-versed scientifically?  Because that science fact completely flew over my head while I was watching to movie and still continues to do so :P  I thought this movie was pretty cool, so I think that we're going to have to agree to disagree, but I still enjoyed reading your review.  Thanks for sharing, Justin!
January 04, 2010
The characters did mention magnetic and other forces which is most likely why the floating mountains. Pandora does have areas where instruments go haywire, that kind of thing.  Yeah, I agree to disagree, too.  Minus four is pretty harsh.
January 04, 2010
I dug the film, so I'm not going to nit pick at those things too much. Of course, I'm also no science fiend, so it didn't bother me much! Nothing wrong with going against the grain if he feels that way. You can take a Voltaire stance on it, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" ;)
January 05, 2010
True, D., very much so.
More Avatar (2009 film) reviews
review by . December 29, 2009
Avatar: relegates Lord of the Rings to 'old hat'
 I bow to our friend, who prefaced his astonished and profound appreciation of the Avatar movie with "It drives me nuts.." (that they have to include the dominator thing.....) "But...."      The conversation that ensued resulted in all 8 of us (4 couples) going to IMax for the experience (that one couple's second viewing). We came out of there with 'sea legs' and we're still re-orienting.      It's significant in my little Universe …
review by . December 18, 2009
The Greatest Science Fiction Epic of All Time!
James Cameron has outdone himself!  He may have actually outdone the whole entire film industry.  Never in my life have I seen a film so brilliant and beautiful that it made me rethink the whole way in which I look at film.  Avatar is what movies are all about; transporting you into the film and making you feel as if you're really there.  Mr. Cameron has accomplished that with they way in which he has revolutionized the 3D genre of filmmaking.  Avatar isn't just another …
review by . December 19, 2009
Watching Avatar is in every way as impressive as when you first saw the dirty spaceships in Star Wars or - I would imagine - seeing color or hearing sound on celluloid for the first time. It's not so much that you haven't see 3D before - previously, it's always felt like its purpose is to continually poke you in the eye with objects - but this time, it immerses the viewer in a way that breaks down the barrier between where the edges of the film stop and the audience sits.      …
review by . January 23, 2010
First of all, it is stunningly beautiful.  The computer genius it took to produce will being helping everyday technology along for years to come. My daughter the biology major and I both were awed and intrigued by the detail of the plant life. The face painter in me saw some beautiful paintwork in the detailing of the avatar that can be traced back to early 2000’s and the rise of some awesome body and face painting artists in Europe. Looking at the faces of  of the Na’Vi tribe …
review by . December 20, 2009
Breathing New Life into Occupied Territory
If you've seen Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai, Glory, 10,000 BC or any movie where an indigenous population is roused to rebellion with the help of a sympathetic white defector who might also represent the enemy then you haven't seen Avatar. I say "haven't" because where James Cameron's imagination soars is that he's taken this highly treaded theme and turned it into a work of science-fiction. If it's been done before in this genre, I haven't seen it.      I don't …
review by . January 12, 2010
posted in MovieSucktastic
 Is “Not Bad” good enough?      That’s really the question when it comes to assessing the quality of Avatar, James Cameron’s first film in over a decade. His first major theatrical release since Titanic, it has been obvious for a long time that Cameron and the studios had every intention of making Avatar as much of a blockbuster epic as its Oscar-winning Leonardo DiCaprio-starring predecessor.    After two successful …
review by . January 05, 2010
   Okay, I know I'm going to get a lot of opposing opinions but this is my opinion of Avatar.   I don't normally do movie reviews but felt compelled to do so in the case of the new movie "Avatar" which my wife and I recently drove twenty miles from our home to watch. Some theaters around the country show the movie in 3D (with the glasses) but that isn't available in our area. First, let me clarify that this movie was created by the very talented and successful producer/director …
review by . December 21, 2009
The late 2009 big buzz in movies is a scifi action film called AVATAR.  The plot is the classic big guy against the little guy, underdog theme.  It is reminiscent of how Native Americans are portrayed as being victims of European expansionism.  An "avatar" is a character controlled by another person, much like any video game you might play -- the character you control is an avatar.  It follows your commands, but when you stop telling it what to do, it does nothing.  …
review by . March 25, 2011
posted in Forbidden Planet
The long awaited James Cameron film Avatar hit theaters this past weekend. While opening weekend raked in an estimated $77 million in domestic ticket sales and an additional $159 million in ticket sales in 106 countries overseas -- excluding Japan and China who are still to come. This weekend Avatar did reach the #9 spot for All Time Worldwide Opening Records and the #2 spot for Top December Opening Weekend Records. However, some reports have come in saying that the blizzard that hit the east coast …
review by . June 05, 2010
   The recent blockbuster, "Avatar" has gained loads of attention with regard to its brilliant blend of fantasy and reality.  Through surreal graphics and a provocative storyline, the film kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.  I was so enthralled that I completely forgot about the clunky, expensive, 3-D glasses donned on my face!  Nevertheless, as much as I enjoyed the screening,  I left feeling disappointed with the ending.      …
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Justin Freiberg ()
I love art, all forms of art. Be they painting or film or literature or dance or scotch Ilove all the beauty that man has brought forth on this planet, from the earliest cave drawings to thepure blinding … more
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Avatar is a 2009 American science fiction epic film written and directed by James Cameron and starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez and Stephen Lang. The film is set in the year 2154, when humans are mining a precious mineral called unobtanium on Pandora, a lush moon of a gas giant in the Alpha Centauri star system. The expansion of the mining colony threatens the continued existence of a local tribe of Na'vi—a sentient humanoid species indigenous to Pandora. The film's title refers to the genetically engineered Na'vi and human hybrid bodies used by several human characters to interact with the natives of Pandora.

Development on Avatar began in 1994, when Cameron wrote an 80-page scriptment for the film. Filming was supposed to take place after the completion of Cameron's 1997 film Titanic, for a planned release in 1999, but according to Cameron, the necessary technology was not yet available to achieve his vision of the film. Work on the language for the film's extraterrestrial beings began in summer 2005, and Cameron began developing the screenplay and fictional universe in early 2006.

Avatar was officially budgeted at US$237 million. Other estimates put the cost between $280 million and $310 million for production, and at $150 million for promotion. The film was released for traditional two-dimensional projectors, as well as in 3-D, using the RealD 3D, Dolby 3D, XpanD 3D and IMAX 3D formats, and also in ...

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Director: James Cameron
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Release Date: December 18, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screen Writer: James Cameron
Runtime: 162 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox
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