Avatar Review

James Cameron doesn’t make small films. His films make grand sweeping gestures; they achieve epic heights – if not always in their narrative, than in their ambition and scope. Was the storytelling of Titanic spectacular? No, but we got to witness the Titanic breaking in half and sinking into the sea. That counts for something. Aliens? How many directors, especially today, would have just rehashed the elements that made the first one a science fiction masterpiece and put the sequel on another small freighter? Probably most of them; but not James Cameron, he took the story and opened it up to a planet, and amped up the action by increasing the odds from one alien to an entire hive. The man thinks big. The narrative often suffers, but the spectacle we get out of his work remains unrivaled.

Especially in Avatar. It might be the ultimate Everlasting Gobstopper of a film, if ever there was one. With layer upon layer upon layer of candy coating for the eyes to salivate over, the unfortunate truth of the matter is that the story at the center of it all is little more than fruit flavored sand. There’s really no substance to be had. While Avatar doesn’t make the colossal mistake of substituting spectacle for substance that The Phantom Menace made, it only succeeds that failure because it didn’t throw in any truly loathsome characters or attempt to rewrite a mythology that people know and love. Avatar blazed its own trail of lore, only stealing its plot from prior sources.

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic marine, has the unique opportunity to pilot an avatar, a giant blue genetic blend of human and Na’vi, the indigenous people of the wondrous, bioluminescent planet of Pandora. His assignment is initially met with resentment by his supervisor, longtime field scientist, Dr. Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) and colleague Norm (Joel Moore). He starts as their military protection, but after a fateful encounter in the forest, Jake (in avatar form) is adopted into the Na’vi clan and trained as one of their own under the watchful eye of Jake’s inevitable crush Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). Thanks to his good standing with the Na’vi, the commanding Marine officer Colonel Quatrich (Stephen Lang) commissions Jake to convince the Na’vi to move their village so the mining company (headed by Giovanni Ribisi) which sponsors their presence on Pandora can reach the valuable ore underneath. Jake and his friends eventually go native and a climactic battle between the Na’vi and the humans ensues.

Elements of the story come from a wide range of sources including history (Pocahontas, the general colonial interaction with Native Americans) and countless films (the mythology of Star Wars, Dances with Wolves, etc.). The point of Avatar was never to create an innovative story that no one had ever told before – the idea was to create something no one had ever seen. The entire emphasis on Avatar’s presentation has always been on the visual side, whether it’s in 3D or not. The soundtrack isn’t all that striking and furthermore it closely resembles that found in other films. The story is simple, and while Worthington and Saldana prove themselves more than capable of delivering performances far beyond the needs of a story, the amount of time spent acting versus action beats or montages of Jake and Neytiri galloping about through the jungle doesn’t tilt in favor of showing them off as thespians. The voiceover really only makes things worse.

Even without the 3D element, Avatar is truly a sight to behold. At times it may feel like you’re watching the longest videogame cutscene of all time, but it’s also the most beautiful. James Cameron spent a long time perfecting the technology used to create the world of Pandora, and it paid off. He’s created a luscious planet filled with resplendent beauty thanks to the diverse wildlife, the bioluminescent foliage, and the sheer size of the vision itself. With Avatar now on Blu-ray you get to enjoy a facet of the film that a theater can’t quite capture, the crystal clear hi-def picture that you just don’t get on a projector. Something gets lost, and with a hi-def screen you get it back. It’s no longer as big, but it really looks more startlingly crisp than ever before. Unless you have a 3D flat screen, this might be the best format you’ll ever see this film in.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Remember when the Lord of the Rings films started making their DVD debut and the first ones out were barebones sets with little or no extras? That’s what this is. It’s for the people who absolutely must have Avatar to own right now. I mean RIGHT NOW. But if you wait another few months you’ll get to buy the super duper packed edition that features the hours upon hours of extra content we all know James Cameron is sitting on top of. So if you’re content buying a copy whose only perk is a DVD and Blu-ray combo, then buy this. But if you want more, like anyone remotely curious about the film’s production, you’re going to have to hold out…or double dip. But double dipping is stupid.

"Avatar" is on sale April 22, 2010 and is rated PG13. Action, Adventure, Animation, Drama, Sci-Fi. Written and directed by James Cameron. Starring Giovanni Ribisi, Joel Moore, Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Zoë Saldana.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


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