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Avatar

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

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It's Like Stepping Into a Dream...

  • Dec 18, 2009
Rating:
+5
It's been years since James Cameron released a film.  The last movie we got from James Cameron was the mega-huge blockbuster Titanic way back in 1997.  When you make the biggest grossing film ever, you normally have to follow that up with something big.  For James Cameron it's Avatar.  An idea he's been tinkering with for over a decade (since before he even released Titanic, in fact).  This is the time when Cameron's film could finally be done.  When he first got the idea for Avatar, the technology to do it... just didn't exist.  James Cameron is one of the biggest names in making action flicks because he's been able to raise the bar so many times.  There's Aliens and The Terminator and True Lies under his name.  But technologically, Cameron has also been able to raise the bar to new heights.  This includes Titanic in 1997.  Make no mistake, Avatar is just like that.  Put simple, you've never seen anything quite like it in film before.

Sam Worthington plays Jake Sully.  A parapalegic marine who just lost his brother and has been asked to take his place in a mission to Pandora.  Much of the resources on Earth have been used and just about dried up. But Pandora is loaded with resources.  They're protected, however, by the Na'vi, a race of creatures that at the moment, the military is trying to keep from killing in order to get what it is they want.  They have an idea of how to do it, though, thanks to a quick witted scientist named Dr. Grace Augustine played by Sigourney Weaver.  Using technology, Dr. Grace is able to put herself and Jake into a Na'vi of their own.  An Avatar.  The idea the military cooks up is to send Jake in as a Na'vi through the use of this Avatar, where he'll learn the ways of this race and of the people and perhaps convince them to abandon their land and give up their natural resources.  This way the military can avoid a fight.  Unfortunately, they're going to get what they want.  And if Jake can't coax them into moving to another land or something, then they're willing to do it by force. 

Except things happen that they can't foresee.  The most important of all being that the more Jake learns about their culture... the more he likes it and has even fallen in love with one of them.  When the military no longer wishes to wait and begins to start destroying their habitat Jake is faced with a choice... either fight with the Na'vi to help them defend their world, or complete the mission he's been sent out to do.  Ultimately Jake decides to help the Na'vi and this is where things in the film really get intersting.

If there's one compliment that can be given to Avatar right off the bat it's that it's rather ambitious creatively.  As I said in the opening, you've never quite seen CGI like this.  Whenever Jake slips into his Avatar and traverses the world of Pandora it comes alive.  It's as though you've slipped into a dream.  It is the best looking CGI to date in a film, but it isn't exactly careless in its use.  At times the CGI blends so well it's hard to tell what's real and what isn't.  The whole film isn't CGI, but much of the world of Pandora is.  And, of course, the entire race of Na'vi are, but they just look so damn real, in part because James Cameron has used motion capture with them.  And yes, there is a bit of new technology used here, as Cameron had to make his own cameras in order to be able to capture much of it on film.  From the moment you slip into the Avatar for the first time to the closing credits the film is just an incredible assault on the senses.

You'd be foolish to think this means James Cameron has forgone any plot.  Rather he hasn't.  There's a great deal of plot, which may be one of Avatar's small follies.  The pacing is slow.  You'll be grabbed, especially as Jake begins to learn the culture, but it takes a while for the real basis of the plot to finally come to fruition, and you'll have to suffer through a couple of bits of cheesy dialog before you can really get there.  There's a lot of story and a lot of character development.  The first half of the film is almost entirely devoted to character development and story.  This is good considering in the latter half you'll want to know these things... but sometimes you wish Cameron would get the ball rolling.  The plot of Avatar or its themes are by no means complex.  The film is just trying it's hardest to get you emotionally involved with the characters.  It works, you just might wonder why it takes 90 minutes to do it.

If you are looking for action, however, fear not.  James Cameron gives you action.  And plenty of it.  The first half is all used to build character, the second half is spent showing us as the Na'vi fight for their home planet.  It's just incredible how much effort Cameron has gone into to give you not just a decent story, but some decent action as well.  He's not reinventing the wheel in terms of action, but he is taking you for a ride with awesome special effects and dazzling cinematography.  The movie is almost three hours long, but once you reach the halfway point (and you'll know) you can settle in and watch as the time just whittles away.  If you wondered where this James Cameron was for Titanic, it was apparently because he was working on this film(perhaps James Cameron's Avatar made Titanic?  Just a thought).  

That's not to say Avatar is perfect.  But it is to say that many of its shortcomings are well hidden by the use of good film making.  The pacing, as I said, is a little slow.  And the dialog is all over.  There are moments where it's amazingly good and other times where it can border on cheesy.  The main villain also seems, for better or for worse, as if he were ripped straight out of an animated television series of the 90's.  He's a little cartoony at times.

Simply put, Cameron is using a similar formula he used for Titanic.  The first half is geared toward those who enjoy story and exposition.  And while there isn't a lot to swallow, there, it certainly works better than it does in Titanic.  The second half is filled to the brim with action.  But thanks to the bit of story at the beginning, it doesn't quite feel empty.  Cameron spends the first half basically gearing you up for the war that he's constantly telling you is coming in the second half.  And when that happens those who enjoy some action will be dazzled by what they see.  James Cameron may not reinvent the wheel, but he shows us that he is still a master.

In spite of some its lesser moments, Avatar is certainly worthwhile.  The pacing may take a toll on some people, but it's not long before the movie picks up.  And James Cameron isn't afraid to pull at your emtoional strings either.  You will care about the characters and when they're in danger you worry about their survival.  It's one of those films where you can just sit back and enjoy the ride. 

James Cameron may have left the scene for a while, but he's back now and I'm happy to say he deserves a warm welcome.  Avatar is imaginative and ambitious.  But most of all it's just all out good and fun.  The good definitely outweighs the bad here and it's worth checking out at least once.  It's certainly better than Titanic, and it's right up there with everything else James Cameron has done.  Needless to say, if you're not much for Cameron, there's nothing here that's going to make you change your mind.  For those who enjoyed his earlier works, however, you'll be happy to know that he doesn't disappoint here.

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March 07, 2010
Great film review about Avatar!
 
January 07, 2010
Excellent review Sean. This film was designed to provoke an emotional response from start to finish and it does so to a degree I haven't experienced for a long time.
 
December 21, 2009
I'm still having trouble deciding whether I'll be seeing this one. I'm trying to save what little movie money I have for some of the upcoming films (especially "The Lovely Bones" and Scorsese's new flick). Stellar review, as always.
December 29, 2009
I am also looking forward to SHUTTER ISLAND; it isn't often that a director as acclaimed as Scorsese would direct a horror/psychological thriller! I haven't heard of Lovely Bones though..
December 29, 2009
Shutter Island and The Lovely Bones were both incredibly good books, although so far the buzz surrounding The Lovely Bones isn't exactly stellar.  I heard that Peter Jackson drowned that thing in CGI.  If that's true I doubt I'll enjoy it as much.  Martin Scorcese hasn't ever disappointed me, though.
December 29, 2009
Yeah, I really liked "The Lovely Bones" book, but the film looks saturated with special effects. That's the very thing that hurt the film adaptation of "What Dreams May Come". Personally, I think that both films could have been made without any special effects. I'm kind of dreading what I'll think. Scorsese doing a horror film is, for lack of a better word, "awesomeness"! No expectations there, other than hoping it will be original.
 
December 21, 2009
Great review, Sean! I liked this one despite the devices that were too familiar for me. The pacing didn't bother me but the dialogue did a little bit. Excellent write up! I knew I had to stay away until I wrote up my own review.
 
December 19, 2009
Great review! Just saw it... I'm still breathless.
 
December 18, 2009
Of course @Sean_Rhodes would have the first review up of Avatar! :)  I'm not too big into sci-fi films, but this sounds like something I need to see.  I love the background that you provided about this film and can't wait to see what's been brewing up in James Cameron's head since the mid-90's.  Thanks for sharing, Sean! :)
December 18, 2009
A big group of friends and I went to a midnight release.  When I got home I couldn't sleep, it was 3:30 in the morning (Standard Mountain Time, anyway) and decided that while it was having a lasting impact I might as well write a little something up.  It's really a good film.  I'm glad people really like the review.
December 19, 2009
Very cool! I've only been to a couple of midnight releases, and I would've loved to have gone to this one had I known about it. I'm so out of the new movies loop that I didn't know about Avatar till it became a trending topic on Twitter shortly before it came out, and I was pleasantly surprised to see this review by you when I woke up this morning :)
January 04, 2010
Did you ever have a really good dream, woke-up and thought that dream world was better than reality and tried so hard to go back to that place? WELL thats exactly how I felt leaving the theater, almost s if I personally knew the characters.. Well done James, well done indeed!
 
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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Wiki

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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