|By Zach Patterson||Sunday, 17 Jan 2010|
As I continue to try to catch up on stuff I wanted to review over the holidays, I come to the biggest movie of the winter, Avatar. There isn’t a lot I can say about it now that hasn’t already been said, but at the same time, this is a great movie that I wanted to talk about for a few.
I think it’s good that I’ve waited a few weeks to review this movie, because often times it’s nearly impossible to review a movie fairly when it’s made a billion dollars (literally, in this instance). In what might be the clearest opposite of the big-budget bomb I touched on previously, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, a movie meant to appeal to almost nobody, Avatar is the big budget monster that manages to have a little something for everyone. As a result, you get the gamut of reactions, from the near-universal critical acclaim, to the “dudes on the street” who tell you it’s an unoriginal pile of shit, and then the fanboys who have raised it to ridiculous levels of hysterics over how good it is.
The one thing that most everyone will tell you after seeing it is that it was an amazing visual movie with likely some of the best CGI ever committed to a film. Through most of the film, I had no idea where the line between live action and CG was because it’s integrated into almost every scene along with live actors, and there’s no real disconnect like you normally see when an actor is talking to something that isn’t actually there. In addition, the depth and realness of the sights and sounds is simply unrivaled. I felt like I was watching a nature documentary of a foreign world for a good deal of the movie. It also doesn’t hurt that seeing it in 3D is nothing short of an enthralling, engaging experience. What quickly started as a bit disorienting soon became one of the most immersive movie environments I’ve seen. It just makes everything feel real, which also helps the whole “CG is fantastic and real” thing.
As I also mentioned, the movie often feels like a nature documentary because everything about Na’vi and the world around seems so real. The language sounds legitimate, the world and the animals seem exotic but realistic, and the race themselves feels “real”. Additionally, the world seemingly bristles with life, as plants and the environment move, light up, or blossom as the view sees it. Also, one part of the script/direction that I really dug is that the main character Jake is so completely clueless about the culture coming in. Everyone else is pretty well studied in the culture and the world, but he’s there because he’s convenient, essentially. As a result, his ignorance plays into a nice way for the viewer to learn what the culture is about and who this alien race is without it feeling like the movie is force-feeding you information.
One very valid complaint is that the actual story here is rather unoriginal. It’s been done many times, be it Ferngully, Pocahontas, Dances With Wolves, pick your “man experiences new culture, sees the destructiveness of his own people, and tries to save them” and it’s probably a valid comparison. However, even though it’s not the most original story, it’s very well told, and never fails to entertain throughout its lengthy running time. I feel like there were several easy things to change that could have made the story have less weaknesses, however. Like, for example, don’t name the precious resource “unobtainium”. And the “bad guy” humans were decently relatable at first, but by the end seem to be cartoon characters, as there’s no attempt to humanize them. They just draw a line: this dude’s bad, and now he’s extra crazy! All that said, the movie is really entertaining even though the story isn’t perfect. To draw a parallel, the original Star Wars certainly isn’t an original plot and has rather one-dimensional bad guys, but it succeeds because it just an imaginative universe that thrilled with great technology, great cast, and excellent direction.
I think one of the reasons the movie is so entertaining is that James Cameron is simply one of my favorite directors, and it was great to see him back after a long layoff. There were references to his past works all over this movie, in a good way. The mechs recalled Aliens, some of the final battle recalled parts of Terminator, and parts of the romantic angle of the movie felt a bit like Titanic. But more than that, Cameron just knows how to pace a movie, cast extremely well (Sigourney Weaver was a nice touch to this movie), and keep an audience engaged. While at this point, the movie might be getting overexposed and overhyped, it’s still a modern classic that is a fantastic reason to go see a movie in theaters, and I’m betting will hold up well over time.