Wednesday, December 23, 2009


AVATAR *3D* (A+)

This review is going to be long and elaborate. If you don't want to read (though I recommend you do), take one thing away from it: Go now, and see Avatar

My second viewing of Avatar was just like the officials in an NFL game going underneath that little hood to confirm a touchdown with the slow motion replay. The first time seeing Avatar I was sure it was a touchdown. But I had to get a second look, and upon further review, the ruling on the field stands. Both feet were in bounds with possession of the football. (I changed my rating from an A to an A+).

While I am joking around with the football reference the point I wanted to get across was the second time seeing Avatar was better than the first and it proved Cameron's brilliance as a filmmaker... I just needed that "slow motion look to confirm the ruling on the field."

James Cameron proves once again with his latest and greatest project yet (sorry, Titanic) that he is a legend. Avatar has been advertised everywhere an American consumer could rest their eyes in the weeks leading up to December 18th. Many were skeptical to see or even give Avatar a chance because of the bombardment of ads (kind of annoying) or because the movie looked stupid or cheesy. Let me clear that up right now. Matthew Deery, the film CRITIC (literally) thought...

Avatar was delightful...NO, no, it was brilliant...NO, no, no, no, there is no word to describe its perfection. So I am forced to make one up, and I am going to do so right now...Scrumtrelescent (SNL reference).

Avatar is Scrumtralescent for more than just its breathtaking visuals. The movie draws the audience in with the beautiful CGI and finishes the job with the rest of the production. James Cameron once again pushes the envelope of what audiences thought was possible in film. Remember in 1991 (I'm sure most of you do not) Cameron came out with a little movie called Terminator 2: Judgment Day that absolutely revolutionized the way computer graphics in movies were done. Look at how real the T-1000 looked and it was made in 1991! Just like Cameron pushed the envelope there he does the very same thing 18 years later with Avatar.

As many of you know Cameron wrote this script over a decade ago but waited until the visual effects game could catch up to the depth of his vision. He wanted to create a total new planet that was more than just a computer creation; he wanted Pandora to seem real. So undeniable as reality the audience could forget they were seeing a computer perfected image and enthrall themselves into the story. He wanted to saturate the audience with the setting and the alien Na'vi culture. I must say Mr. Cameron, mission accomplished.

I do not want to discuss the plot too in depth because I would rather stress that you all just go and see it. But for movie review purposes, here I go. In the year 2154 a paraplegic Marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) journeys to the planet of Pandora where the human race has began to settle. The humans covet a precious mineral that is scattered throughout Pandora. The largest reservoir is located underneath the living quarters of an indigenous population called the Na'vi. The humans are losing patience as their attempts to relocate the natives continue to fail. This breakdown in negotiations brings the humans closer to the final solution of taking what they want by force.

Sully is brought to Pandora to journey through the planet in a body that looks like a Na'vi. These empty Na'vi looking bodies are the avatars. Sully's mind is channeled through the technology of 2154 into this avatar. If this seems confusing don't worry because the movie explains it better than I do. In his avatar Sully is supposed to act as the bridge between the humans and the Na'vi to try and find a diplomatic solution to this quarrel. Sully ends up meeting a Na'vi female named Neytiri, played by the stunning Zoe Saldana, who helps incorporate him into the Na'vi culture. The story really takes off from there like a NASA mission to space, so GO SEE IT ALREADY!!

Where should I start with my praise? How about one of the best original soundtracks ever comprised by two time Academy Award winner James Horner. He also composed the soundtracks for two other Cameron films, Titanic and Aliens. The Titanic soundtrack remains the best selling soundtrack of all time. Horner has been a staple in great movies over the years and has composed music for legendary films like: Apollo 13, Braveheart, Troy, Glory, A Beautiful Mind, and the list goes on and on (seriously, the list of his work will blow your mind).

The soundtrack in Avatar is so beautiful. The music in this film really helps viewers to feel the emotions of the story. It is very tribal so to speak, but with a new age twist. When the characters are playful or blissfully flying on their winged banshees the score sets the mood pitch perfect. When the scenes are that of devastation or sorrow the music drags down the viewers emotions to be on the same level as the characters.  The soundtrack was one of the reasons I moved my rating up to an A+. If you see Avatar again (or for the first time) really pay attention to how the musical score helps move you with the direction of the character's emotions. Bravo James Horner.

I think next I should discuss the original never seen before visuals. Both times I saw Avatar were in 3D (second time on the IMAX), but the visuals in this film are not only amazing because of the "third dimension." I'm sure a 2D version of this movie is unreal too. The computer constructed Pandora itself is mesmerizing and completely allows audiences to forget they are sitting in a theater watching this planet's story unfold on a screen. The life on this planet is displayed throughout the Pandora environment. One very important story line is how alive this planet really is. Every living thing on Pandora is an important piece in this vast ecosystem. 

When Sully and Neytiri are flying on their winged banshees it is by far the most breathtaking movie sequence I have ever seen before (this was also Cameron's favorite part in Avatar). The elation of the characters directly matches my own euphoria watching them glide over the Pandora landscape. This is when the soundtrack combined with the amazing visuals really catapults the viewer into a movie viewing experience like none other. I seriously got chills up and down my spine while watching Sully and Neytiri soaring through the air so freely.

One thing this project succeeds at better than any I have seen before is creating computer generated alien characters that audiences can relate to on many levels. The Na'vi don't seem like just another alien race, they are creatures that the audience can instantly connect with. You feel their humanity, their love and respect for their planet, their unity as a tribe, and their sense of pride. The realism and facial expressions of the Na'vi are so real it feels like these computer generated characters are real people. The technology is what sets this element of the film apart. Instead of trying to describe it this crazy technology and how it was exectuted, just watch this.

The acting from Sam Worthington and Zoe Salanda as the main characters is dynamite. These two are what drives this story and the actors portrayals of their characters help push this project to be as great as it is. Their chemistry and growing relationship is apparent on the screen and draws the audience into their forbidden romance. The best thing about these acting performances is how extremely unique and challenging it was to pull off. The actors essentially had to act in a blue screen environment with motion capture sensors all over their faces and bodies. If you didn't click on the link in the previous paragraph, here is the link again. To really understand what I am talking about and the brilliance of James Cameron, that short video will help.

The acting from the human characters was pretty well done too. Giovanni Ribisi was a nefarious corporate head in charge of all the human colony operations. His character was ruthless in his mission to obtain the precious mineral the humans are seeking. Stephen Lang was a pretty good antagonist in this movie too. His character was not evil but an ignorant gung-ho military man who saw the Na'vi as inferior savages. His character seemed comic book like which worked well with the nature of this tale. The two performances I did not particularly love were from Sigourney Weaver and Joel Moore. Both actors were on at times and off at others.

James Cameron rocked his role in this project as writer/director/producer. Cameron's use of visuals really were something to be admired. And I don't just mean the computer generated environment. He still had to choose how to shoot the entire movie as the director.

Cameron is a better filmmaker than he is a writer. This story was pretty basic, but that isn't a bad thing. A group of colonialists don't understand the natives and try to force their culture on them and take their land mixed with a forbidden love story between characters from the two opposing sides. As my friend Barrett put it, a reiteration of Pocahontas.

This is where some people are turned off by this story. It has themes of America's role in Vietnam, Korea, and Iraq. The Na'vi resemble Native American or African people, and behold they are saved by a white man. The story emphasizes how important nature is and how humans have a knack for destroying it to get what they want. Cameron himself is even a huge advocate for environmentalism.

But to say the story is not as good because the film incorporates those themes is hogwash. Every civilized culture for the past 300 years has acted how the humans do in this story, not just Americans over the past 60 years. Who cares if the indigenous Na'vi resemble Native Americans or Africans? They are supposed to be natives, just like the previously mentioned peoples. What other native people should Cameron draw upon for influence when making up this story?

As far as the environmentalist theme goes, I don't see any strong references to global warming or any political messages in Avatar. I think this element in the plot really boils down to greed and not an underlying theme of save the planet from James Cameron. This greed is what makes the humans attack the natives hence driving the Na'vi revolution... revolution, maybe Cameron is a Communist. The Communist's had a revolution once didn't they? Plus, he wrote the script 15 years ago when all this global warming-save the Earth stuff was much less prominent.

Even though this tale is one that has been told before, it has never been told like Avatar. Cameron's use of symbolism, foreshadowing, and the reprisal of subplots wraps this whole movie up like an early Christmas present. His writing on the larger scale is great, but some of the details and dialogue are a little off. Some of the dialogue in the script seems forced, especially the use of some cheesy one liners. There were a few other elements that weren't perfect but nothing to detract from the total picture.

Overall, Avatar is a captivating piece of cinema. Every piece of this puzzle is well constructed and executed. The second time through this movie was even better than the first because I was able to catch all the small details and truly appreciate the wonder of this whole project. James Cameron does arguably his best work as a filmmaker, and none of you should miss it.

If you couldn't tell already I want you to go an see this movie very badly. If you haven't seen it yet let me give you this recommendation. Allow yourself to become engrossed by this picture. Allow your brain to be transported away to this foreign land and let this visual masterpiece enchant your senses. If you turn off the events in your life and allow yourself to be taken by the film Avatar, it will blow you away.

Thank God James Cameron didn't die years back while filming Abyss.

I think one of the coolest things surrounding Avatar is how everyone who has seen it updates their status on Facebook about their feelings for the film. I have never seen so many updates concerning one movie before. I just found that interesting.

Seen it? Any thoughts?


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