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Avatar

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

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I See You, Avatar

  • Mar 9, 2010
Rating:
+4


I was waiting to write this review for a while because I had only seen it in 3D. I was utterly amazed because it was the first 3D movie I had ever seen. I wanted to go straight home and write a review giving it a +5 rating. Upon talking with others who had seen the movie and reading various criticisms and analyzes of the film, I began to doubt my initial reaction. Was I letting the CGI effects and the 3D elements hype the movie to a level it didn't deserve? So, I was determined to watch it again but this time in plain 2D. Even without all the "razzle dazzle" provided by the 3D glasses, I was truly enamored not only by the CGI effects, which are creatively and tastefully made, but more importantly by the characters, story, plot, and music. I did notice aspects of the film that annoyed me, hence dropping my rating by one point, but overall I stuck to my initial reaction--the film deserves the hype.

First, the setting of the movie is utterly stupendous. The creation of the world Pandora in outer space gave me hope that real life does exist in other galaxies and planets. Wouldn't it be marvelous to travel to someplace originally so innocent and untouched by humanity's technical machines? I also appreciated that their world wasn't so different from Earth's before humans "civilized" the wild. For example, there are flying creatures called Ikrans (or the mythic phoenix like Toruk) that reminded me of pterodactyls from our prehistoric age, Pa'li, similar to our horses, and thanators, which reminded me of rottweilers. At one point Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington) prays to Eywa, the Na'vi's god, to search one of the character's memories in order to understand that his former people, the humans, do not live in a green world like this anymore. It's all metal. Moments like this made it easy to not only be amazed by this beautiful world but able to relate to the struggle of its peoples.

Another aspect about the fictional world Cameron created which caught my attention, and probably every viewers' notice, is the specific and unique ecology to Pandora. Their world is all about the connections (physical, spiritual, emotional, mental); everything survives through these connections regardless of whether it's plant, animal, or humanoid. Pandora is not just the setting of Avatar--it's a religious philosophy. It's the ideal lifestyle. Pandora teaches the viewer to coexist harmoniously with nature and different peoples rather than trying to dominate and exploit them.

Next, all the characters whether heroes, villains, or supporting were very compelling and well played. Sam Worthington, our protagonist, is an ex-military paraplegic. It's not common to see a physically disabled individual as a hero, especially if she or he were formerly military. Thus, his character immediately caught my attention. I wanted him to find new meaning to his life and to show both the military and science personnel that he wasn't useless. With my second viewing of the movie, I noticed more scenes about his legs, such as the thrill when he first enters the avatar and his disappointments when he returns to his useless shell of a body. It was difficult to understand how he feels because I've never been in a situation where I couldn't use my legs. However, these life experiences and weaknesses allow him to add much to the Avatar project. The female hero Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldana, is truly his equal, and she has to be. The movie wouldn't have been as good without her and not because we would have lost the romance. The Na'vi peoples need their own heroes. As a viewer, I do not want to see an outsider come in and tell the people how to save themselves. I want their own warriors to have equal control of the situations through their ideas and feelings. There are countless points where Neytiri refuses to take Jake's shit and leaves him during key points of the film. She has her own mind and could be ruthless when it was necessary to protect herself and her peoples. In fact, there were countless moments when I felt like this was a Beauty and the Beast parody where our Beauty, Neytiri, teaches our Beast, Jake Sully, how not to be such a monster (or in his case a moron).

The villain Colonel Quaritch was played by Stephen Lang. He truly was a diabolical bastard that I couldn't help but hate. There is no shred of redemption to his character. He represented all that can be wrong about the military, especially when taken to its extreme. And remember, not all marines are like Colonel Quaritch, as Jake Sully explains in the very beginning of the film. Outside of Earth, the marines and other military are hired as mercenaries for global/universal corporations. Cameron remembers this and juxtaposes the angry and cold-hearted villain with an interesting female military pilot named Trudy Chacon played by Michelle Rodriguez. First, I appreciated a female perspective in the military. Secondly, even though she had qualms about the mission on Pandora, she was as tough as the colonel. She was just as ruthless and kills to protect the good and innocence that is inherent in Pandora and its people. Both Colonel Quaritch and Trudy Chacon complement and contrast not only each other but the military force hired by Administrator Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) and the RDA corporation. Out of the easily identified villains, Parker is the only one that initially hesitates about the course of actions on the planet, which makes sense since he is leading the project and could lose millions. However, there isn't much depth to his character nor were his qualms about what takes place ever fully explored or developed.

A nice and refreshing focus of the movie are the scientific personnel who are researching the Na'vi and heading the Avatar project. These people are funded under the RDA corporation (for whatever reasons) and are the moral consciousness of the film. The most intriguing character was Dr. Grace Augustine played by Sigourney Weaver. She was as important a role in Jake's transformation as Neytiri (both who acted as teachers--one to nature and culture and the other to science). Again, she isn't your traditional doctor. She gets in peoples faces, especially Colonel Quaritch and Parker Selfridge when they both mess up her research and are making the wrong moral choices. She is all about learning and understanding the Na'vi. It was especially interesting to see a scientific professional that believes in a higher power or god, in this case Eywa. Too often scientists are pigeonholed in the media as being atheists who are trying to disprove the existence of God. Norm Spellman (played by Joel Moore) was another attribute to the film because of the passion he adds to his profession and, thus, to the film. Even though he is trained to be a purely research scientist, he is willing to physically fight for what he believes in.

The final characters I want to comment on are some of the Na'vi supporting characters. First, there are Neytiri's parents: Eytukan (Wes Studi) and Mo'at (C. C. H. Pounder). Eytukan is the leader of the Omaticaya tribe and his life mate is their spiritual leader. Though they are supporting roles, they deliver scenes full of emotion and passion. C. C. H. Pounder was especially compelling for her believable performances that had tears welling up in my eyes throughout the movie. She is an extremely important supporting female character because she is on the other end of the spectrum for strong female roles. She is not a warrior, but she is strong of heart, belief, and conviction. She is the softer, more feminine side of the females in the movie, and yet she is still a wise leader of her tribe. She shows that there are all types of ways to fight a war, and just like Dr. Augustine, she uses understanding and compassion to win her battles. A final key player is Tsu'tey, played by Laz Alonso, who is Jake's biggest rival both for the affections of Neytiri and being respected as one of the Omaticaya tribe. Tsu'tey and Jake are great characters to juxtapose next to each other because they are essentially one and the same--strong hearted warriors. They were just raised differently. It's interesting to watch their relationship develop even though its not taken to as deep or fully a level as it could have been. 

This finally brings us to the story and plot, which many people have said is flawed. To some degree, I agree with their sentiments. This is not an original story. Even though I have never seen Dances with Wolves, I have seen countless other films and read books that remind me of this very story, such as The Last Samurai, Dragonriders of Pern (book), Ferngully, and Princess Mononoke (to name a few). To be completely honest, I think it's extremely difficult if not near impossible to come up with truly unique ideas that haven't been created or expressed in some form. Humans have been around for too many creating things and ideas that entire time. Instead, what makes stories and films stand out to me these days are the styles, approaches, and ways themes are represented in a new manner. What makes Avatar so strong is the fact that Cameron took all these aspects into consideration when making his film. Hell, he started to develop his story in 1994 and even created an unique language for the film starting in 2005. The last time I can recall something being done on such a large scale was Gene Roddenberry's vision of Star Trek and the Klingon language. Cameron was trying to achieve a different approach to an age old story of imperialism, and he does that with slight changes, including the already mentioned lead physically disabled star of the movie. The approach and style of the film was easily made different with the CGI affects, which were not used in Princess Mononoke or Dances with Wolves.

Regarding the themes of the movies, there are an immense number to choose from (some more compelling or interesting than others):

  • Love and hope can conquer all adversity, especially when working with your family and friends.
  • Love blinds us to our differences.
  • Love and understanding changes our natures and personalities to be something better (curing the madness).
  • We are all interconnected with each other (plants and animals included) to the world and universe at large.
  • Humans have a propensity to fear the unknown.
  • Multi-million dollar corporations, such as RDA, will stop at nothing to earn more money and power.
  • Greed and superiority over those we consider inferior is inherent in our natures.
  • Corporations still colonize other worlds and peoples to rape and pillage their natural resources (especially when their own source has been depleted).
  • When we open our minds to other cultures, we can learn to coexist.
  • We have a choice to dissent against evil even when it's in charge.
  • "When one life ends, another begins."
  • Scientists can be as kick-ass as the military.
  • Nerds are our future!
  • If we don't stop the destruction of nature, there won't be any innocent beauty left.

These are only a few of the themes and motifs mentioned in the film. Of course there are comparisons to be made to the decimation of the indigenous peoples of America when European settlers took over their lands. These same comparisons can be made to the war in Iraq and the treatment of their peoples as well. In the end, it's an age old message that I cannot get enough of simply because it's a mistake humans repeat throughout history. We have not learned our lessons. We still fear those who are different instead of celebrating those differences. It's sad, but this type of genocidal brutality occurs all around our world. If we ever get tired of hearing this message, or in this case seeing it transported to the big screen, then I fear there is no hope for our world. We need to approach life and peoples with compassion and understanding--emotions highlighted in the film.

To balance all the "thinking moments" of the film, Cameron includes tons of fast-paced action and fighting scenes, especially in the battles between the Na'vi and the military. These shots are essential parts of the film not just because it keeps us from feeling preached to but because they are the true visualizations of the horrors of war. It allows us to connect not only with the science fiction/fantasy element of the film but our own bloody histories of appropriation and slavery.

The camera angles in this film were extremely important. I agree with other reviewers who claim that it was easy to forget some of the CGI effects (most noticeable with the Na'vi peoples themselves). When there were close ups of Neytiri, I could see the actress behind the blue, cat-like exterior. In fact, I felt that way with a lot of the characters. These affects were achieved through the specially designed cameras that allowed facial expressions of the actors and actresses to be captured digitally. Then, the animators used these clips when creating the CGI scenes. The similarities are uncanny! Many of the nature shots were featured with close-range and long-distance cameras. The expanded shots of the planet, such as the floating islands (also known as Hallelujah Mountains), were amazing! In fact, these mountains were inspired by the real Chinese Huang Shan mountain ranges. The long range shots were the most important for the 3D affects--it allowed the world to come to life and jump off the screen.

As far as some of the names are concerned, such as Pandora and Avatar, there are indeed many significances to them, but not in an extremely apparent sense. First off, Pandora is not the woman we recall from Greek mythology. She is not the "downfall" of humanity unleashing everything that is evil in life, such as greed, avarice, lust, and anger (to name a few emotions that escaped her jar). In Cameron's retelling of the myth, Pandora is Neytiri--and she is fighting to keep all these bad things away from her people and her world. She is a warrior goddess that uses her strength both in heart and mind to keep the lid on the ever troublesome jar. Personally, I enjoyed this new interpretation because it embraces modern day feminist theory. Similarly, the word Avatar has a meaning that people who don't understand the Hindu religion wouldn't know. According to Wikipedia, "in Hinduism, Avatar refers to a deliberate descent of a Deity from heaven to earth, and is mostly translated into English as 'incarnation,' but more accurately as 'appearance' or 'manifestation.' This realization changes my perception of Jake Sully and the reasons behind Eywa's marking him as someone special--he is a manifestation of their deity. He is sent there for a specific purpose--to help save the people, especially if you consider Jake Sully's role as being one of Vishnu's avatars, who often come back to the world to bring dharma (righteousness, social, and comic order) back to the world. An often quoted passage that represents the purpose behind an avatar is as follows:

Whenever righteousness wanes and unrighteousness increases I send myself forth.
In order to protect the good and punish the wicked,
In order to make a firm foundation for righteousness,
I come into being age after age. (The Bhagavad Gita, 4.7-8)
 

There are references in the film that supports this belief of an Avatar coming into being age after age to protect Eywa's people, most noticeable explained by Neytiri when she is telling the story about her great great grandfather and a previous Toruk that he rides.

The last major element to the film was the music. James Horner did a fantastic job, which was to be expected considering his past successes with such films as Braveheart, Apollo 13, Glory, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and A Beautiful Mind. My favorite musical moments were when the Na'vi are intertwined in front of the Sacred Tree of Souls. The chanting reminded me of the live production of The Lion King. There were some especially heart-wrenching musical scenes during the battles and subsequent deaths. I was tearing up both because of the horrors that were happening and the music that fit the tensions of the moment. The only song that felt out of place was Leona Lewis' "I See You," which was written by James Horner and Simon Franglen. Luckily, it was placed at the most appropriate part of the film--the end credits. Having such strong and obvious lyrics during the actual film would have soured my experience on Pandora. It had to be pure instrumental music! There was already too much going on to include lyrics.

This finally brings me to the negative aspects of the film and the reason I rated it a 4 rather than a 5. First off, Jake Sully's internal monologues were overdone as the movie progressed. At the beginning, he has a lot of important things to say, especially when setting up the back story. One of the most memorable quotes he says early on is: "When one life ends, another begins," which is brought full-circle by the end of the film. However, his monologues quickly began to interrupt the action and flow of the film. They didn't add important details, such as the part when he asks "What are you doing" in regards to his relationship with Neytiri. It was obvious by his expression that he wasn't sure what he was doing. It was not necessary to spoon-feed the audience his thoughts. If Cameron had cut out 70% of the unnecessary monologues, I'm sure he could have shortened the film by at least 15 minutes if not more.

I was also disappointed with certain things that happened at the end of the movie that ruined the character flaws and developments of some of my favorites. I am unable to expand on these details further, though, because it will spoil  the movie for those who have not viewed it.

However, this is not the main reason I was a bit disappointed with the film. In fact when I first learned about its production, it became extremely important and compelling for me simply because of the content matter. I study postcolonial theory in my literature classes, and I saw much of what I've learned expressed visually in this movie. Unfortunately, I saw a lot that I disapproved of. I get sick and tired of seeing a white man come into an indigenous population in order to save them from his own Anglo society. Why can't the indigenous peoples win their battles and wars with their peoples? Why do they need a white man to take charge? In fact, there are many heroes that have fought the colonization of their peoples--think of Cochise, Crazy Horse, and Geronimo, to name a few from Native American history. Often, it feels as if white people appropriate another culture's history in order to redeem themselves for past wrongs, the "white man's guilt." Yes, the Anglo society has done shitty things to numerous groups of minority peoples, and they often try to excuse many of those actions as things of the past or create reasons for them, such as war mentality. You can't wash away your guilt with a simple "I'm sorry" or by giving the people you decimated a little bit of reservation land. Instead, scenarios are created in which the white man is not the villain but instead becomes the savior, as is the case in Avatar. These fictional situations do not wash away white man's guilt. Nothing will. Some hurts and pains are timeless. They are something you live with in order to learn to be better. Therein lies the problem--I don't think we as a nation have learned this message because we are still perpetuating the same evils to this day. It's disheartening to see this type of history constantly repeat itself.

Racism, genocide, hatred, exploitation--they all continue to affect and change our world for the worse. Yet, many white people think they have paid for these crimes or, at the very least, should not be held accountable for others' mistakes and prejudices. The excuse is often--I don't participate in that type of behavior. The problem lies in the fact that racism is institutionalized in our very way of life. You participate in it even if you don't realize you are. I studied a woman in one of my cultural studies classes named Beverly Tatum that had an analogy that explained how this type of behavior works: "I sometimes visualize the ongoing cycle of racism as a moving walkway at the airport. Active racist behavior is equivalent to walking fast on the conveyor belt. The person engaged in active racist behavior has identified with the ideology of our White supremacist system and is moving with it. Passive racist behavior is equivalent to standing still on the walkway. No overt effort is being made, but the conveyor belt moves the bystanders along to the same destination as those who are actively walking. But unless they are walking actively in the opposite direction at a speed faster than the conveyor belt - unless they are actively anti-racist - they will find themselves carried along with the others." Basically, Cameron is on this conveyor belt. He created a movie that featured the traditional white male who saves the helpless "savages." Cameron perpetuated the dominant myth of our society: That only a white man with the technological knowledge can win such a war. A more unique and honest adaptation would have been told solely through Neytiri's eyes. She would have been the hero of her tribe. She would have led the Na'vi to freedom from their oppressors. Jake Sully would have been following her lead rather than being the leader.


Upon further reflection, I decided that the movie was not a simple case of appropriation and racism. I didn't feel that the Na'vi were helpless and needed the white people to help fight their battle. In fact, they go against Jake's wishes and fight the "Sky People" despite his and Grace's numerous warnings. Pandora is their home; they refuses to let someone else drive them away no matter the cost to their peoples. There are many heroes and other tribes that join the Omaticaya's battle. In fact, I saw this movie as encouraging groups of indigenous nations to come together to fight a common colonial evil rather than letting the outsiders divide and conquer from within. By having the 15+ tribes come together, they actually stood a chance against the overwhelming "oomph" of white technology. Finally, if you look at the meaning of the word Avatar and the idea that Jake Sully was sent by their own god to save her people, well, you can't argue with god's chosen one...no matter who or what they look like. Still, Neytiri stood out as the true hero of the film because she is the one who finds Eywa's avatar. She is Jake's protector and teacher. Her role in the film and in Jake's development  (as well as the slight twist in the ending) is only comparable with Grace's character.

In the end, this is an amazing and well planned creative piece of film. I recommend it to lovers of science fiction, fantasy, action, adventure, and of course romance. It's appropriate for the age group recommended and maybe even younger depending upon what your child is learning in their history classes (and what video games they play). Regardless of whether you see it in 3D, IMAX, or regular 2D, you will enjoy the film. Personally, I think it's a matter of preference with only slight differences provided by the 3D enhanced scenes. The messages and themes of the movie translate through any screen. Overall, this movie is not only purely entertaining but a historical lesson for the world.

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June 06, 2012
*lol* Yeah, it was me and my sister's first 3D movie too. After she saw it though, she threw up. I guess the 3D effects were too much because she vomited sometime afterward.
 
July 11, 2011
I don't know how I only now discovered this one but great work Adri! Beautiful read.
July 12, 2011
I'm so glad you found this review. It's my all time favorite film review. I researched it a lot and put a lot of passion into it.
 
November 05, 2010
I just tried to rate it again and the numbers went down again!  What's going on?  Did I rate it the second time a while back before I was absent and forgot or what?  Anyhow, you know I loved this review and it made me watch it and I absolutely loved it - I just wish I had seen it in the theater; I know that would have been awesome!!
November 05, 2010
That is so weird, Brenda! Since this is the new Lunch rating, I thought the bug was fixed! *cries* Oh the computer gods must be laughing at us now, lol! I flagged it, and Debbie said the tech guys will look into it. Isn't it so weird!?!? LOL!!
 
October 18, 2010
Lots of food for thought, and an excellent essay on this interesting film! :o)
October 18, 2010
Thanks so much for reading the review, Quinn! It's probably my favorite movie review that I have written purely because I put so much thought and research into it. Glad you enjoyed it and that it provided food for thought!
 
September 22, 2010
This was a well thought out review Adrianna. I really enjoy this film along with my kids.this film does again echo Cameron's trademark film themes of corporate greed and the love-hate relationships with technology. Indeed, like the love between Jack and Rose in Titanic,' this love between the movie's Jake and Nevtiri, is solid that could only wither when 'death doth them part.' And in war, there will always be those who'd be willing to fight as long as it's a just war, as exemplified by Michelle Rodriquez' Trudy. Aside from that great review!
September 28, 2010
Hi Jen!

Thanks so much for reading my review of "Avatar." I must admit that this is one of my all time favorites because of all the time and research I put into it. 

I do enjoy Cameron's trademark themes too. I actually enjoyed "Titanic" and cried. Good character films that get you into the story are always fun!
 
September 10, 2010
Why is it that I gave you the big thumbs up but the rating went down? Hmmm---anyhow, you gave an excellent review of this movie! I normally have no interest in this kind of film, but with this fantastic review, now I would love to see it! Love your descriptions and thoughts on this...wow you are good!
September 14, 2010
Hi Brenda! Thanks so much for reading and rating my review. I'm not sure why it wouldn't have gone up...and it's really weird that it went down! Thanks for mentioning this to me. I'm going to flag this and see if Debbie can fix it. It could be an error with Lunch.

I'm so glad my review inspired you to maybe watch the film. I think you will really enjoy it! And, thanks for the wonderful compliment on my writing. I was quite passionate about this film review. :)
September 29, 2010
Hi Brenda!

Just wanted to let you know that the Lunch tech team fixed the bug with review thumbs up. You should be able to leave a rating now, and it will stick. I'll shoot you a message on your homepage too to let you know!
 
June 12, 2010
Great analysis of the film, Adrianna. I am interested to see this again on DVD as I wonder if the impressive 3D visuals have the same sort of impact on a regular TV.
June 13, 2010
Thank you very much, Simon. I enjoy writing movie reviews, but I'm always a little nervous about it because its been years since I have worked with films on an analytical and educational level, which is the quality/standard of writing I hold myself to. It's helpful, though, that this film gave me so much to work with!

As far as watching it without the impressive 3D visuals, it still had the same impact for me. I enjoyed the themes and the story even if they have been done a lot of times over.
 
June 03, 2010
Finally watched this one not to long ago, when I was watching it I remember thinking I have seen this. Then I realized I was thinking of Pocahontas and FernGully, excellent review.
June 03, 2010
Yeah, I had the same deja vu when I was watching it too.
 
April 12, 2010
In the event that I should ever be tested on Avatar... I think I'll use your review as a study guide. 

Aside from that, this was a fantastic write up.  I may go back and revise my own review (I think I may have been taken in by the wonder).  The story was definitely something we've seen before.  I actually read in an interview that Cameron was very inspired by Princess Mononoke for this one as well as other films.  Most people immediately draw comparisons to Pocahantas too.  But I don't think it's really the ideas themselves that are important.  I think it's the execution of those ideas.  I really liked this movie.  Although I didn't go quite as crazy as some fans... dressing up like a Na'vi and all that.  That goes a little too far for me heh.

Great write up.
April 15, 2010
Thank you so much for reading it, Sean. Your compliments mean a lot to me! I still have to go back to one of my previous write-ups and edit it as well. Egads...I wish I had more time! This ranks as one of my favorite movie reviews I've written, if not THE favorite at this point in time. :)
 
April 06, 2010
Great job! Loved reading your review. It pretty much summed up my own opinions on it. I also believe there was a political message to it.
April 06, 2010
Thanks for reading my review! There were so many ways to analyze the political elements of this film!
 
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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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Details

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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