Saturday, December 19, 2009

A movie review: Avatar (2009)

Avatar (2009) (Viewed in 3D)

Director - James Cameron
Runtime 162 Min; PG-13
Jake Sully - Sam Worthington
Neytiri - Zoe Saldana
Dr. Grace Augustine - Sigourney Weaver
Colonel Quaritch - Stephen Lang
Trudy - Michelle Rodriguez
Parker - Giovanni Ribisi

The word “hype” is thrown around quite freely in the world of cinema, but in recent memory has there been a more hyped film than James Cameron’s $250,000,000+ blockbuster Avatar. Years in the making, hardly a week or two would go by without progress updates detailing the enormous task of undertaking new and untested grounds in CGI, 3-D, and movie-making in general. The world waited in anticipation as the self-proclaimed King of the World (A bit brash, but it probably felt true after his Oscar dominance in 1997 with the epic film Titanic) toiled away on his baby, waiting for this year’s award season to finally release what was billed to be the most spectacular achievement in filmmaking. From the man who brought us innovative techniques in films such as the Terminators, Aliens, and the Abyss we are given a new frontier. So? What is the verdict???

In order to answer that question we must first explore the world that Cameron has literally created, Pandora, and the inhabitants, of which there are many. I felt like a little kid again when I put on the (thankfully better designed) 3-D glasses and watched previews, building the anticipation as characters and scenes around them came to life. It would be a mistake to not first praise the visually stunning world of blues and greens and magical whites and floating mountains, of giant wonderful trees that tower up and out beyond comprehension with branches that span and tangle and grasp the world around it, or the rhino-like creatures that stampede about while flying dragon-like animals roam the sky, or breathtaking scenes of waterfalls and mysterious trees with beautiful dangling white strands. It is apparent from the very first viewing of this world where all that money went, and, conversely, it quickly becomes apparent where that money did not go (everything else.)

This is not a CGI-hater critique, as it may be known that I am not a general fan of the overused technique which often leads to terrible plots and even worse acting, and it calls to mind immediately the atrocious Transformer films of recent years. In fact, without the incredible visuals employed in this film it would not even be worth the time to write about, for the plot and acting in this film are mediocre at best. This may just be the one film of the decade that is saved completely by the astounding technical work and, mixed with the hype, will surely leave audiences feeling they got what they deserved.

That is not to say the film is anything special outside of the visuals, for it is not. This is too big for one film, and much like the epic and infinitely better Lord of the Rings films, this movie would have benefited greatly if it were released in two or three parts, with expanded scenes detailing some of the head-scratchingly overlooked details of this fantasy world infused with our own. In particular, so much attention is placed on the scenery that it would be impossible for the plot to not suffer. We are dealing with a storyline that involves humans conquering a foreign land to raid it of its natural resources, at whatever cost necessary, and in that storyline we have several plot lines of individuals that just cannot be fleshed out in one sitting. That many compare this to a Dances With Wolves theme and/or tie it to the political greenness and liberalism of today is without fault, as the messages of this film are loud and clear. I only wish Cameron didn’t take such a hard-line against our own people – maybe he should move to France if he dislikes his own country so much?

In the year 2154 a team of science based humans led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) are on a mission to infiltrate, study, and with the government breathing down their necks and the push of company man Parker (Giovanni Ribisi) and military might Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang), to harvest a precious resource found on Pandora no matter what the damage to the local Na’vi people, who live a life in harmony with nature causing no threat to anyone nearby. Team members, including Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who is thrown into the program without training after the death of his twin brother, venture to the world of Pandora where air cannot be breathed without masks by humans in the form of an avatar, a 10’+ and blue-tailed representation of the Na’vi people, and all from the comfort of their Matrix-like pod.

Through a series of events Jake is brought to the inner circle of the Na’vi people by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), a local Na’vi woman who just so happens to be the most attractive blue creature on the screen since smurfette. Jake is to learn their ways and ultimately to become one of them, and along the way he must fight his emotions for the people and the land and the ultimate goal of having them leave so resources can be harvested. The rest of the story is fairly predictable.

I’d like to take a moment hear to voice my frustrations with the film. To start, the main character is completely miscast. Worthington plays the role of a jaded marine butting heads with everyone around him with the grace of a bull in a china shop, lashing out in one moment then gleefully yelling as he swoops down in a helicopter over the Pandora countryside like a giggly school-girl. He has a temper and it shows throughout, but it seems misguided as he tries to earn the trust of the locals. I would have liked to see him as a strong actor, less campy, and more grounded with the film. My second biggest complaint, and this is oddly enough just a minor blip in the film, is the choice of foul language used for no reason, spread throughout. This is a PG-13 movie, so liberties are allowed, but the use of language should have some purpose to the film, not simply having a character shout out ‘I’ll shoot you’re bitch-ass!’ at random intervals. It may seem minor but it really bothered me, as it was almost on cue every 20 minutes to get some shock value, like, ‘hey, I spent $250,000,000 on this film and if I want a character to say ‘shit’ then that character is going to say ‘shit’.’ As pointed out by others, Giovanni Ribisi is not a good fit as the company man. He simply feels out of place and fumbling, and never reaches a high or low that would evoke some sort of emotional response from us.

This film would probably be pointless to see in anything other than 3-D, so please pay the extra few bucks and enjoy this magical world, but be prepared to lose a bit of the novelty as the film progresses, and don’t feel bad when you leave if your world hasn’t been turned upside-down – just be happy that you sat through something better than Transformers and 2012.

*** out of 5

No comments: