Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Movie Review: Avatar

Directed By: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana and Sigourney Weaver

I eventually caved and decided to give Cameron's much-hyped film a chance. My reluctance to see this film was due in large part to overhype and the fact that it was supposed to be the greatest CGI film ever (which is not exactly something that gets me all fired up about movies). I prefer my sci-fi and action with a great script and characters, thank you very much. FIlms along the lines of Alien, Aliens, Minority Report, T2: Judgement Day or even last years Star Trek update. Regardless, I gave in to the hype and went to see it (in 3D, naturally).

The script borrows from numerous other sources, especially Dances with Wolves and Fern Gully. Its themes of colonization, the destruction of Mother Earth and governmental power have all been done before. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington, much better here than he was in 2009's worst film, Terminator: Salvation) is a former Marine (?) who is now bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He is set to replace his deceased brother on a government mission to befriend and, ultimately, betray the Na'vi on the planet of Pandora. Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) wants complete access to a valuable type of rock which is important for something (don't ask me to remember, but it's the equivalent of America wanting Iraqi oil). Jake is given an Na'vi body which he controls with his mind while sleeping. He and Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) slowly learn about the Na'vi way of life as they become integrated into the social network of these nature-loving blue aliens. And, because it wouldn't be a James Cameron film without a love story threatened to fail due to catastrophic events, Jake falls in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) who is chosen by her people to teach Jake the ways of life on Pandora.

James Cameron deserves credit only where it's due and that belongs to his direction. Arguably, there isn't another director working today so dedicated to his own personal craft. Avatar was a labour of love for ten years and Cameron's dedication to the film is undeniable. Without question this would be a challenging film to helm, with a three hour running time full of CGI and motion capture censors, elaborate sets and some relentless action scenes.

The script, on the other hand, leaves much to be desired. Cameron has clearly borrowed from so many other sources that it hardly seems like it would have been a challenge to write the script in the first place. The dialogue is typical Cameron mumbo-jumbo and lame one-liners, however, some of the cast manage to make it work, mainly the always reliable Sigourney Weaver. It's no small wonder that Cameron wasn't nominated for Best Original Screenplay this year.

The cast is decent. Sigourney Weaver is definitely the standout in terms of performance and talent. I cared about Dr. Grace Augustine more than most of the other characters. Sci-fi is where she's at her best and she suits the film perfectly. Sam Worthington, as Jake Sully, is alright but I couldn't help thinking that, in the hands of a better actor, Jake could have been so much more. However, it's undeniable that Worthington had chemistry with Zoe Saldana as Neytiri. Saldana, who impressed everyone in her role as Uhura in Star Trek, is only mediocre here, prone to overacting on more than one occasion. Maybe she thought she had to try harder to emote in order to be recognized under that CGI mask? Cameron recently commented that motion capture acting will "empower" future actors. How so? Who knows what he means. I don't see what's so empowering about having your face hidden and all those subtle, emotional nuances of your performance wiped clean away with a CGI brush.

As for the CGI and other various special effects, I might be a bit of a curmudgeon but I don't get what all the fuss is about. Yes, some of the visuals are spectacular (I like how the spirit of Pandora is viewed only as little white jellyfish things that land on you), however, it's nothing I haven't already seen in other films with a strong emphasis on CGI. For example, The Lord of the Rings' Gollum is just as great, if not better, than Neytiri. Plus, Andy Serkis is a much more talented actor. When we first get to see Jake in his Avatar form he looked pretty lame and was nothing exceptional. It's only when he was in Pandora and surrounded by other CGI effects that it looked good. This isn't the future of CGI. It's very much the just the present state of CGI.

Despite the overhype and the mediocre script and performances, the film itself was still had some enjoyable moments. While the running time makes the story drag in the middle, it's pure adrenaline and entertainment, which is what a blockbuster film should be. Watching the film in 3D definitely added to the experience and, if nothing else, Cameron's love for his project is evident in every frame. Just take it for what it is: a blockbuster.



  1. I'd venture that at this point it might have just been way too hyped, and that there's no way it could have lived up for you. High points for making the effort to see it on a big screen though!

    It's not the best written movie, but I think for what it is the writing is "good enough".

  2. Yeah, I hate when things are overhyped to the point where you can barely tolerate hearing about the movie anymore.

    Yeah, I got free passes so I decided it would be okay to see it in theatres for free. ;)

    What rating did you give it?

  3. Buckle up baby - I gave it top marks. I watched it opening weekend, so the hype wasn't quite at the fever pitch it is now. Here's what I wrote back then...

    Also, if you're interested, I actually talked about it for a few moments in the podcast episode I posted today (A little after the 32 minute mark).

    It's not my new favorite movie, not even my favorite of the year, but part of me thinks that people are starting to slam it just to feel smart.

  4. haha. I assure you I'm not slamming it to feel smart. In fact, my review was still relatively positive.

    I'll check out your review. What was your favourite film of the year, then?

  5. There was a snark factor missing from your reaction that set you apart from those that are slamming it to feel smart. Don't worry - your post is a good one.

    My favorite film of the year...funny you should mention, I posted about THAT too...

  6. This is probably one of the most realistic reviews of this movie that I’ve seen!

    The script and the majority of the feel were extremely predictable, which made the three hours a bit difficult to sit through (after finishing my popcorn, I got a bit restless and started fiddling with the 3d glasses and the wing broke off!). It was a real let-down after 6 months of hardcore advertising.

    The thought and creativity behind the rainforest, the wildlife and the environment is what really made this film memorable, and I think is what attracted a lot of people to the screenings, rather than anything else.

    Please don’t be too critical of Sam Worthington though! I agree, the acting was dodgy, but what can you expect with a tough script and all the CGI. He can’t be judged on this performance, and I think we’ll see good things from him in future. He just needs a decent movie – not something hacked together over the last 10 years or a lost-cause sequal…. So maybe just not a JC film!

  7. Thanks.

    As for Sam Worthington, I stand behind the belief that a truly strong actor can usually rise above the material. Worthington isn't bad so much as just bland. Granted, James Cameron and his lousy screenplays don't help, but he could have still been more of the epic action hero, as expected. I'm also basing my comments on him from Terminator: Salvation where he was not very good, at all. He may still prove himself yet, though, you are right.