Sunday, February 07, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW: Avatar

Number of Nominations: 9 (Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Director – James Cameron, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Picture, Achievement in Sound Editing, Achievement in Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects)
Availability in the US: In Theatres (Check Showtimes)

How can I write what I really feel about Avatar without getting death threats from its supporters? Avatar seems to be a “love it or hate it” type movie; I’ve met very few people who did not have strong feelings one way or the other about it. That said, I didn’t love it, and I didn’t hate it.

Avatar certainly has its strong qualities. I’ve never seen such an amazingly rich, believable CGI world as the planet of Pandora. James Cameron has certainly lived up to his reputation for an attention to detail in this gritty, realistic science fiction drama. From the beautiful flora all over the planet’s surface, to the breathtaking Tree of Souls, to the scary creatures inhabiting Pandora, to the expressive and sleek Na’vi, not a single frame of the film looks or feels fake or fails to disappoint visually. In 3-D the characters and sets really jump out at you, and the audience feels like it is a part of the action.

The visual beauty of Avatar is unfortunately overshadowed by the trite, predictable plot. Avatar tells the story of the planet Pandora in the year 2154, inhabited by the tribal Na’vi people. A private corporation has set up bases on Pandora and is attempting to win over the “hearts and minds of the natives” in order to gain access to rich deposits of unobtainium, a very rare, very valuable mineral. The natives are unconvinced and have begun fighting back against the occupation. Avatars look just like the native Na’vi people but are inhabited and controlled remotely by scientists at the base camp. Jake Sully, a former U.S. Marine who’s lost the ability to walk, travels to Pandora to replace his deceased scientist brother in the Avatar Program. He manages to get in good with the daughter of the chief of the Omaticaya tribe and starts to learn their ways and become one of them. For obvious reasons, the Na’vi don’t trust the humans—who they call the Sky People—and their suspicions turn out to be well-founded.

If any of this sounds familiar then perhaps you’ve seen something similar on the evening news lately. The plot of Avatar is little more than a thinly veiled allegory for the Iraq war. The parallels are numerous (too numerous to bother listing here) and fairly obvious. While I have no problem with a commentary on the war, the whole concept is trite and predictable. The film even includes the standard James Cameron Two-People-From-Different-Worlds love story (Jack and Rose anyone?) as Sully and the chief’s daughter fall hopelessly in love despite the obstacles and her people’s disapproval.

If you absolutely must see Avatar, definitely spend the extra few dollars to see it in 3-D. The plot and acting are barely enough to keep you awake through the two-and-a-half hour snooze-fest in 2-D. The 3-D makes it barely worth your while though, especially in the epic battle scene at the climax of the film which, admittedly, had me on the edge of my seat. Personal opinions aside, Avatar is likely to do pretty well on Oscar night. The Academy smiled on James Cameron’s last film Titanic with 11 Oscars, and Avatar has won many of the awards that tend to be early indicators for the Oscars. It is certainly deserving in the technical/effects categories, but it would make a very disappointing Best Picture when there are so many deserving candidates.

Grade: B-

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