I’m going to do this in two phases: one for those who don’t want to be spoiled, but who have seen the previews, and one for those who have seen the movie or don’t care to be spoiled.
If you haven’t even seen the previews, then everything will be a spoiler.
First, though? People with little kids? NOT the movie to bring them. Seriously. I know McDonald’s has Avatar toys in the Happy Meals. And I know it looks like the big blue aliens could be construed as cartoons. But this is not a kid-friendly movie. Yahoo.com has it rated PG-13 for “intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking.” The smoking thing had me chuckling a little, but the rest? Yeah. Just… parents beware. It’s most definitely NOT a kid’s movie. I'm just sayin'...
General Review, Non-Spoilerish
The movie is gorgeous. It defies description. This was the 2nd movie I’ve seen in 3D (the first being My Bloody Valentine), and let me just say that was the perfect medium to truly experience this vision by James Cameron. In an interview with him, I learned that he’d actually written this movie before Titanic but that movie-making technology hadn’t just caught up with him.
So, he decided to change that. And he found the right people who knew the right things and he managed to create a way to show us a world that doesn’t exist—but that you’d be willing to bet the price of your ticket was real. This isn’t an animated movie with some live-action sequences. This is a full-blown, true-to-life action and ‘human’-interest movie.
Using motion-capture technology, Cameron filmed his actors acting, then used technology to transform their performance into the magic that we saw—the huge, blue Na’vi and the bioluminescent world with its fantastically exotic animals. Dinosaurish creations as well as horse-like creatures and flying (non-fire-breathing) ‘dragons’ that the humans called “banshees.”
The colors were amazing—even the war paint on the native bodies absolutely glowed. I couldn’t get my eyes wide enough. It is most definitely something that should be experienced in the theatre—and in 3D if possible. You’re not just watching a movie, you are experiencing it.
The soundtrack was classic James Horner. He’s been one of my favorite movie soundtrack composers since Glory. His enhancement to Legends of the Fall and Titanic helped to cement the moving scenes in my head. Some of his originality has been lost in the years since Titanic, but it was still beautiful.
The motion-capture technology made the time when the human actors inhabited their Na’vi Avatars fascinating. Facial features resembled the human counterparts. Emotion was accurately conveyed. Believability was on-par.
The story left a bit to be desired. It was very… predictable. It had been told before in many different ways by many different writers. And James Cameron is more of a filmmaker than a storyteller. The ‘message’ comes across a bit heavy-handed at times, and there are occasions you almost feel as though he, as a writer, is beating you about the head with the point he’s trying to make. But if you aren’t wrapped up in the need for originality as far as story and plot are concerned, you will be thoroughly entertained by this movie. The man is, after all, a director above all else.
Sam Worthington’s portrayal of a paraplegic Marine who takes his twin brother’s place (after his brother is sadly, unexpectedly killed by random violence) in a scientific activity (I hesitate in calling it an ‘experiment’ because everyone really knew what they were doing with the human-Avatar links) is fascinating. Worthington first came on my radar (and I suspect many others who don’t hail from Australia) after Terminator: Salvation.
This man was fantastic. He was a Marine grunt through-and-through, blue collar, “American” in his approach and speech. His evolution from observer to participant took you along on the journey so that you were ready to fight alongside him by the end of the movie. And his human form was damn easy on the eyes. They showed the passing of time by growing out his high-and-tight military haircut into scruffy, adorable length and I just wanted ruffle those dark half-curls.
Zoe Saldana played the Na’vi heroine. I saw her in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek as Uhura earlier this year. She’s very beautiful, and even playing a huge, blue alien, her beauty isn’t lost. But her emotion… good Lord, the way this woman conveys betrayal and grief is phenomenal. She broke my heart.
All-in-all an extremely entertaining, somewhat disturbing, a bit heart-breaking, and all-around beautiful movie.
I won’t go into the story play-by-play as I’ve done in different reviews. You don’t need it. Suffice it to say the indigenous people are one with their planet, connected on an almost neurological level with the plant-life. The human interlopers discover something of value on this planet and in order to get to it, the natives must go. All the usual tactics like “giving them things they need” don’t work—because the natives don’t need schools or medicine or money. Their values are different. Their needs are different.
Thus, the only solution is to remove them. War.
My disenchantment with James Cameron’s storytelling in this movie is that he chose basic tactics to get his point across. And his point, it appeared to me, is that humans as a whole were incapable of appreciating the sanctity of life. They used up their own planet and were now blatantly throwing around their power and might to take what they wanted from another planet, regardless of the cost.
It’s happened in history, time and again. In reality, it's tragic. In a story, it’s… unoriginal. Not compelling. There were three facets of humans: Corporate, Military, and Scientists. The Corporate peeps were after some mineral or rock or something that sold for a gagillion dollars back home. The Military personnel were basically a form of mercenaries—no longer fighting for freedom or protection, they were now fighting for money and so that they could keep doing what they do best: soldiering. The Scientists, however, simply wanted to learn more about the Na’vi, the planet Pandora, and the whole difference in the way these people lived.
The mission, as it were, started with Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) getting a second chance to be a soldier after a wound left him paralyzed. He took his brother’s place in a human-Na’vi hybrid Avatar that was created using his twin brother’s DNA. A really sweet, telling line was when Jake first saw the Avatar and whispered, “It looks like him.”
Jake has no scientific background, no prior knowledge of the Na’vi, nothing. He’s just a Marine who has been asked to do a job and he’s gonna do it. Through a total accident, he manages to get himself ensconced in the Na’vi village, and with childlike wonder (he has to touch everything and it’s adorable) and a basic no-bullshit approach manages to find a way to get a chance to become one of The People.
Neytiri, the chieftain’s daughter, teaches him and it’s through his training that we get to see the majority of the beauty of the Na’vi people. Jake takes us on this journey and we following willingly. By the time he has earned the right to choose his own 'banshee,' we totally understand it when Jake falls in love. Not only with Neytiri, but with the land and the energy and The People. We are in love with them, too. We love their unity and their grace. We love how much they love their earth.
Meanwhile, the Military is itchin’ to get to shootin’ something and the Corporate guys are lamenting over a bad quarterly report and so the Scientists are running out of time.
Had Cameron decided that the ‘thing’ the Na’vi settlement was positioned directly above was something that could have saved our planet—restored Earth, as it were… or perhaps cured a disease that in the future threatened to wipe out all of humanity, well, I would have found that much more compelling. And my heart would have been torn.
But instead, it was just about money. Money and power.
Had Cameron given us an insight into the Military motivation and drive to fight, to battle these people they perceived to be potential ‘terrorists’—had he given us a reason to care about their cause, well, I would have found that much more compelling. And my heart would have been torn.
But instead, they were depicted as trigger-happy fighters who could not wait to kill them some blue alien. Hooah. The only one who gave us any kind of humanity was Trudy, the helicopter pilot who decided at a pivotal moment that she couldn’t pull the trigger.
It was just so obvious that we were meant to LOVE the Na’vi and HATE the soldiers… it was dull story-telling.
What saved it was Sam Worthington’s heart-felt performance, his drive to fight for what he finally decided he loved. And his damn grin. That and Zoe Saldana’s emotional upheaval. I tell you, she was amazing.
There were moments when the foreshadowing was… well, in 3D. Big dinosaur creatures almost kill Jake… big dinosaur creatures stampede and kill the soldiers in a pivotal moment. Neytiri tells Jake of a ancient story where a hunter rode some wicked-big ‘banshee’ and united the people… Jake rides a wicked-big ‘banshee’ and units the people. Sigourney Weaver’s Scientists Grace is mortally wounded and she and her Avatar are taken to Eywa’s tree to see if she can be saved by being united with her alien body (she’s not saved)… Jake unites with his Avatar body.
A couple of moving scenes had me choked up. Neytiri finding Jake’s human body as he’s suffocating on the Pandora atmosphere and calls him, “My Jake,” and saves his life… Jake uniting (long story and has to be seen) with Eywa’s tree to plead for divine help… I mean, the emotions were there.
It was just that I thought Cameron took the ‘easy’ way out and decided to preach to us a bit. As though he were the modern man’s Tolkien speaking out against Industry. Eywa is the Na’vi’s diety, and there is a moment when he/she appears to have heard Jake’s prayer and brings nature and her elements to bear at a critical moment in the battle. It was touching, but… again, predictable.
The humans are driven out and Pandora once again belongs to her people. Happy ending… but… not. I wasn’t happy that the soldiers were killed so violently. I wasn’t happy that they were depicted as the bad guys. The only thing that gave them any kind of sympathy from me was an almost ingrained feeling of support in my American heart for anything military.
I was happy that Jake ‘won’ and that he was able to stay with Neytiri. He had nothing left as a human. No life, no mobility, no career. This journey he’d embarked upon had changed him at a soul level and he was one of The People now. It was right.
The detail and thought put into the Na’vi people—their practices, their traditions, their history, their language, their dress, even down to the way they moved—was staggering. The design and imagination that brought Pandora to life was awesome. And the blending of the two—the way the Na’vi ‘melded’ with the animals and the plants… Cameron created something fantastic there.
I think the lesson that we’re killing our planet is something many filmmakers have been trying to get across. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether the words are getting through. It’s also a repeated lesson that every race has a history, a purpose, a meaning to the energy around us, and it’s up to us to not turn away from that, or to attempt to eliminate (often times violently) those that we don’t understand or are simply different in practice and appearance from us.
And I’m not just saying ‘us’ as in Americans vs Others. I’m saying… everyone, everywhere, for every reason.
I wanted to find James Cameron after this movie and say, “Enough! Okay! I get it! And… thanks for making a visually stunning movie with Sam Worthington.”
It’s only through the magic of movies that a story could fall so flat and yet be so entertaining at the same time. Regardless if you agree with my assessment of the story, if you see this movie, you’ll have to agree that the visual aspect is most definitely worth the price of admission.