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

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Avatar: 160 minute tortuous narrative with amazing visuals

  • Jan 9, 2010
Pros: True eye-candy.  The color blue and waterfalls (very personal favorite things).

Cons: The story is so bad my personal narrative got sucked dry for hours after

The Bottom Line: I had to say it is worth full price because the visual quality.  But I cannot stress enough just how bad, terrible, horrible, loathsome, even felonious the story is.

I must put this disclaimer at the beginning: I did not (for a couple of reasons) watch Avatar in 3D; I watched it 2D (I called it flat). If (IF IF IF) I opt to see it in 3D, then I will amend part of this review—only the visual part however. It is inconceivable that I will change my rating. (However, that there is a 2D version begs the question, why? I know not every location can handle the capacity of the extra dimension, but in places that can, why even offer?)

Jack Sully is a grunt soldier who’d seen several tours of duty on Earth (one of him leaving him a paraplegic). His identical twin was a PhD biologist and expert in a race called the Na’vi. These indigenous people live on a planet called Pandora and they happen to sit, inconveniently, above an ore that is apparently very important (though no one bothers to say why). There are two fronts in attempting to remove these large blue people from their home areas: the martial and the diplomatic. The military situation has, as anyone would imagine, the Na’vi angry, defensive, distrusting.

The diplomatic situation is driven by a biologist, Grace Augustine. The way she is able to do this successfully at all is by creating an avatar: a Na’vi looking thing but with human DNA. The avatar will only work with the human belonging to the specific genetic structure. This is why the untrained Jack becomes necessary to the biological/diplomatic flank.

The now marine avatar makes a trip to the surface with hit scientist counterparts. After engaging some horrific animals, the thug and scientists are separated and he is on his own to live a night in the hostile jungle where his real kind and hybrid kind are not welcome.

Jack is totally in the sights of a poison arrow belonging to Neytiri, the priestess-dauphine of her clan. Due to natural-spiritual intervention, she does not kill him. Instead, she takes him to her full clan, naturally suspicious of him and his motives. But since the natural spirit, Eywa, insisted that he be spared, the clan does not immediately kill him, either.

Once the mining company and their paramilitary force realize Jack’s unique position, they put him in the role of mole. He is to get full recon on the homeplace of this clan that just happens to sit on the largest deposit of the sought after (and horrendously named “unobtanium”). After falling in love with the priestess-dauphine, it becomes pretty obvious that Jack is in the impossible position between his training as a soldier following orders and someone who has not only fallen in love with his would-be assassin, but with the fact that his legs work in his avatar.

Jack undergoes warrior training and is ultimately accepted, somewhat begrudgingly into the clan as a full member because of his abilities and the nature-spirit blessing. The problem is that on the first full day as a member of the clan, the military moves in to make way for the mining company to try to obtain the unobtanium (ugh).

From here it is prep for battle, fight, withdraw, do a little spy work, prep for battle, fight, feint, attack, withdraw, gain a little natural intervention, withdraw, refuel, fly around using missiles, high caliber weapons, spears, poisoned arrows, and just very large hands, and repeat until either the large blue side with ancient weapons wins or the small pink side with lots and lots of firepower prevails.

Huge corporation tries to rape a planet. Conflicted thug becomes a star-crossed lover with tribal royalty leaving him torn between love and being blue or lots of rah-rah-rah and being pink. I believe a viewer will come to a conclusion about the victor, blue or pink, and why they win. Given this assumption, it is up to her or him to determine whether the telegraphed ending is acceptable.

It wasn’t.

I think I’ve seen almost every single frame of this movie somewhere else. Since special visual effects require very close work, sometimes frame by frame, it is just as easy to steal every frame from another movie and photoshop your stuff over it.

Dune: Huge corporation trying to rape a planet to get a stupidly named substance (but at least “spice” in Dune did something; unobtainium exists for only one reason—to telegraph the ridiculous plot). Dune was a desert and the people were little and had blue eyes. They knew the natural way of their planet that made their small number far more powerful. Pandora (also such a clichéd name I just knew I was being condescended to) is a lush planet filled with large blue people who knew the way of their planet and used it to augment their fairly small numbers. The hero has to ride a beast intent on killing him. The invading people are petrified to go to a place where their instruments don’t work. Ultimately it is the military presence that pushes forward to get the substance instead of the corporation. And on and on and on. There is so much Dune in the film that it cannot be an accident that one of the studios involved in making the film is called “Dune Entertainment.” If memory serves it is the third or fourth title credit at the end of the flick.

Matrix franchise: Jack obviously took the blue pill. Like “Neo”, he interacts with the separate world by attaching himself to a machine that essentially transports his spirit into this world. He leads his new tribe against an apparently unbeatable foe that has all sorts of horrible weapons—a totally hopeless cause that St. Jude himself would run from.

Gorillas in the Mist: this one was a double-theft. Not only is the story about a biologist that gets murdered trying to learn about what would be peaceful animals if not hunted: THEY STOLE THE SAME ACTRESS.

Dances with Wolves: military guy is taken in by a clan his kind is intent on killing—he helps them fight more effectively against his former mates.

Lord of the Rings: banding together peoples that might not otherwise liaise.

Star Wars franchise, Alien franchise (another double coup since Sigourney Weaver stars in those), Starship Troopers, Fantasia, The Lion King ,and even Cameron stealing at least the star-crossed lover relationship from his own Titanic. I realize many of the themes in all of these movies owe homage to other films.

Oh, and martyrs, martyrs, martyrs get your martyrs, they’re two to a penny.

The movies I list are only the most obvious to come to mind. Also, any movie can pay homage to other films. I can and do respect that. Homage and allusion help flavor films and can make metaphors more efficient if the filmmaker uses them well enough so as not to have to explain the metaphor from scratch. Avater does not allude; it steals.

I hated it.

I have this mantra that appears in several of my movie reviews. First a movie must be pleasing to the eye in some way (otherwise just write it as a novel). Then plot and acting follow in no particular order. If all three mesh, you have a masterpiece. If less than all three . . . it depends on the combination. If only one works, it’s crap.

Avatar is porn.

No character, not a single one, goes past two dimensions—I get the distinct feeling if I watched it in 3D I’d be even more mad at this aspect because the characters wouldn’t ever take on that extra dimension—looking like paper-doll cut-outs. At least in 3D true porn you would see . . .

I had a lot of time on my hands in the movie since I’d seen the story multiple times before to try to come up with a character quite as bad as Colonel Quarith in Avatar. He outstrips every other stereotypical character ever to wear a uniform (and a few well placed scars) in every non-XXX rated movie, ever. I would consider it a personal challenge to write a character that is more derivative of so many that came before him.

Given that I really only recognized two human actors without having to scan my memory, my guess is that lots of recognizeable actors read the script (mind you the script has zero visuals) and laughed until they vomited (I did easily recognize CCH Pounder, the high priestess, based on her distinctive voice, but she never acted as a human character, so the true emotive abilities were only vocal). David Duchovny probably recognized a few scenes he did in the Red Shoe Diary schlock. R. Lee Ermey (military smart-äss extraordinaire) likely used the script for target practice.

Ms. Weaver must have lost a bet. Giovanni Ribisi was in it because a movie about large blue things with lots of special powers had to have a Scientologist in it—luckily he played a bad guy.

The behaviors of the actors to follow this are completely hypothetical. Tom Cruise turned it down because he’d have to play a bad guy. Robert Duval may have liked playing the colonel but even he finally couldn’t bring himself to play an enema of himself from Apocalypse Now because Cameron wouldn’t consider letting him wear that smart yellow ascot. John Travolta is just to old and Kirsty Alley is not only the wrong gender she couldn’t work for scale because she’d eat up half of the special effects budget by just showing up.

There were only three good things but they are simply not enough to rescue the film. The main battle sequence is fantastic. I’ve considered buying a ticket to the 3D version and borrowing a Kindel. I’d read some novel or other for the fist 130 minutes of the flick, turn the device off for the battle sequence and leave after the fighting stops. The second thing was waterfalls. The movie was totally filled with waterfalls. There is nothing on this planet or any other that awes me like moving water, and waterfalls are the most powerful expression of that. And even they were stolen from The Mission. The third is also extremely high on my list of favorite things: the fact that the Na’vi language was not gibberish, it was a linguistically sound invention. I can’t say this aspect was stolen from anywhere because there are so many films that have created synthetic languages.

Avatar is propaganda. I’m in the camp that believes profits (and convenience) drive development that impacts local environments, often knowing at least some of this impact in advance. I believe, further, that if we had even a halfway habitable planet nearby we would stop or slowdown the already slow environmental consciousness activities. But propaganda can be subtle, mature; it need not be so blatant that the only thing that would make it any more ham-fisted is to have Ed Begley Jr. appear as himself on screen begging to save the rainforest.

Avatar is a gimmick. It is a 160 minute long one trick pony. Though I do not use the substance that follow, I know their behavioral effects anecdotally. Get high and sneak in some brownies—it’ll be fun. Drop a hit of MDMA or LSD (take lots of water though) and the colors will overwhelm you to the point of having to go to the ER.

Once again, with four-part harmony in the feeling: I hated it.


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November 17, 2010
I kept seeing Pocahontas and Fern Gully when I watched this one, excellent review, very fun read.
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Thats Right I Didn't like this movie
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Avatar: relegates Lord of the Rings to 'old hat'
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review by . December 18, 2009
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Paul Savage ()
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I name and describe everything and classify most things. If 'it' already had a name, the one I just gave it is better.
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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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