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

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Dances with Wolves Meets Aliens

  • Jan 1, 2010
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If you've read any of the reviews of Avatar, one thing you keep hearing is that this is essentially Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves mixed with James Cameron's Aliens. The plot is almost an exact replica of Dances with Wolves, with the disillusioned marine joining the alien natives and fighting against the white occupiers. Only in this version, the natives are blue-skinned aliens rather than Lakota and the occupiers are space marines along the lines of the troops in Aliens rather than Col. Custer's cavalry. Since I love both of these movies, and being something of a sci-fi geek, I had high hopes for Avatar. However, I found myself somewhat disappointed.

First the good. The special effects were indeed impressive. The aliens, the Navi, really do look realistic, even when next to live actors. I generally thought the computer-generated plants and animals looked like real living organisms rather than cartoonish creations. The planet where all the action takes place, Pandora, is beautiful. Cameron's concept design and art departments must have had a lot of fun. I love the bioluminescent plants that glow at night. Even though I wasn't crazy about Avatar the movie, I would definitely want to take an eco-tourism vacation to Pandora and learn more about the wildlife.

Now, the disappointments. Avatar's plot is just too unoriginal, too cliche. I'm not accusing Cameron of copying any particular movie. Obviously, the concept of the "noble savage" have been around for a while (at least since de Montainge utilizes it during the late 1500s). However, Avatar just bears too strong a resemblance to too many other movies, from FernGully: The Last Rainforest to 1492: Conquest of Paradise. However, Cameron's embellishments to these prior plots are only skin-deep - literally. Despite living light years away on another world, the Navi are almost identical to Western stereotypes of the Noble Savage among Native American tribes: from the braided hair to communicating with animals to the communal/egalitarian society to the use of bows and arrows. At least design some other weapon besides bows and arrows (a boomerang might have been a neat idea for a primitive weapon)!

Second, I felt the special effects really overwhelmed the movie. Of course, as mentioned above, the special effects were very impressive - but that's not enough to make a good movie. Too many times, it seems like somebody in the art department had a bunch of crazy ideas and nobody really bothered to ask whether they would advance the plot. For example, the movie features floating mountains. Really? I'm willing to suspend my disbelief (after all, I was willing to accept the Force in the Star Wars Trilogy), but I don't get why the movie really needed floating mountains as opposed to really tall ones. (incidentally, if you want to see a really interesting an original idea of what an alien planet might actually look like, check out the documentary Alien Planet).

Finally, the villains of the movie, the human occupiers, were generally two-dimensional characters (despite the 3-D glasses I was wearing). They were simply greedy corporate raiders and mercenaries - something we've seen dozens of times before. Almost no internal conflict, no remorse whatsoever (only the "good guys" are allowed to feel remorse). This is the type of movie when you really enjoy seeing the "bad guys" getting beaten at the end - they really do deserve it. However, there are no memorable "bad guys" in Avatar who rise to the level of a Darth Vader or Gollum or Khan (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) or even a Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince). This is important, because I think one of the things that separates good fantasy/sci-fi from great is the presence of a deep, complex villain.

So, did Avatar live up to the hype? Unfortunately, I don't think so. Don't, get me wrong - it's a good movie and decent entertainment, certainly worth renting when it comes out on DVD. The moral of not conquering other peoples and respecting the environment are worthy. I just don't think that, 10 years from now, we'll be raving about this movie the same way fans still obsessively watch The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. There's no spark of originality or really cool characters that make Avatar worth watching again - much less make it last for decades.

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More Avatar (2009 film) reviews
review by . March 09, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
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review by . January 30, 2010
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review by . November 12, 2010
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review by . February 21, 2011
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review by . December 29, 2009
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review by . December 21, 2009
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review by . December 18, 2009
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review by . December 18, 2009
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Dominic J Nardi ()
I am a recent law school grad with an interest in Southeast Asia legal issues. Unfortunately for my checkbook, ever since high school I have been addicted to good books. I have eclectic tastes, although … more
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About this movie


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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