Friday, December 18, 2009

James Cameron's Avatar

Chances are if you run in the same circles that brought you to read this in the first're going to go see this film. Unless you've been under a rock for the past year or so, you already know about the latest Cameron flick, Avatar.

Good movies get made thanks to James Cameron, it's as simple as that, and Avatar is just another one of those good movies to add to his lengthy resume. I'm not going to focus on the budget, I don't care how expensive it was to make, I didn't go into the movie hoping for just eye candy this time. Honestly I didn't know what to expect, I knew the hype was too good to be true, and lately I've been critical of most movies I've seen, so yeah, I wasn't quite skeptical, but I was cautious let us say. I came out very fulfilled on every level.

The storyline itself is actually very straightforward, I wouldn't go as far as to say it was "simple", but it wasn't exactly a multi-layered cake you have to chew through each level in order to appreciate. I would liken Avatar very much to a hybrid of Dances with Wolves meets Last of the Mohicans, and given a sci-fi flavoring of Aliens with the emotionality of, I dunno, some emotional movie. Of note, this is not a military sci-fi epic, there is a militant force in the movie, and they are lavished a good deal of attention to detail, but they are but one of many, many facets that are throughout the movie.

The central theme of the movie is that of cultural preservation and ecological harmony. Perhaps it's because I've become enamored with the works of Hayao Miyazaki over the years that I see his influence all over Avatar. There are several strong female characters who are independent and fully capable of standing on their own, there is a strong tie between the beings themselves and the flow of nature, many visuals like floating mountains wrapped in vines, and creeping tendrils all give homage to facets from Miyazaki. The end of Avatar reminded me very much of the end of Valley of the Wind, and the scene with the forest spirit at the pool in Princess Mononoke was very much like the scene with Sigourney Weaver's character at the Pandoran 'life tree'. This movie has thought behind it, sure there's some explosions and firefights, but they're part of the overall picture, they aren't the picture.

You of course have the humans coming in a messing it all up over a natural resource grab and a general debasement of the indigenous peoples in order to justify the use of force. Our protagonist is a character study in itself, and we see the lead role, Jakesully, go through many changes both inside and out. He's not the only though, there are several intriguing characters along the way, both human and alien that you take an interest in. Performances range from the fairly flat in the more stereotypical roles, to the complex.

Visually, the movie is absolutely amazing, end of story. Pick an aspect, any aspect of the film, and it will be the best you've ever seen of that type on screen. Even simple things like view screens, monitors, and dashboard readouts were just breathtaking. The alien world in its myriad of flora and fauna was fully realized and just felt right, not fake or made-up at all. The human element wasn't overdone, fortunately, but it was contrasted with industrial and military elements. I'm sure most of the movie was CGI, but it didn't matter, after a while you forget what's what and just become immersed in all of it. Since the movie had an actual story and characters you actually cared about first and foremost, the rest of the "eye candy" just kind of falls into place after that. But yeah, it looks fantastic.

My one letdown was that the "evil" corporation in the movie [and at this point I should tell you I am about say a spoiler, but it's something, but it doesn't really "spoil" anything anyway, the corporation in the move was not Weyland-Yutani. Now, they never said who they were actually, but it didn't say W-Y anywhere, so unless they pull that one out in the extended DVD release or something, it's not them. Weyland-Yutani is firmly in the Alien and Predator franchises, so that's good enough I guess. I wasn't expecting this, mind you, but it would've been cool. Also, I would've liked a lot more of the military forces, although they were obviously the protagonists and didn't garner too much "cool" screen time, personally it would have been cool to get some gun/mech-porn in there.

So what can I say? I liked it, top to bottom; it made me think, it took me to another world and put me right in the middle of it, it told a good story, and I walked out with a whole mix of emotions. For being nearly three hours long, the time seems to just fly by. When the credits start rolling, you find yourself not wanting the movie to end.


  1. Saw it in digital 3D, pretty cool. But the sound was too sharp and too loud. I would have liked better sound quality and much more base and less shrill.

    But the star of the show was the walkers and their guns. Looked freaking fantastic and sounded just so mean when they fired. Huge guns with a slow rate of fire. Niiice:) The story wasn't as bad as I feared but it sure didn't surprise at any point. In fact it was very very predictable. James should have brought in a good writer to give it more depth and less cookie cutter.

    But the graphics were freaking stunning. I wish someone with Camerons financial muscle could pick up WH40k and say, this will make the coolest movie ever. The movie that will make IMDB change their scale from 1-11 instead. Imagine commisars and dreads and marines and Orks and titans and chaos in that quality. I can imagine that, and more:)

  2. When time permits the wife and I may have to go check this one out.
    Thanks for the info.

  3. @Flekkzo: Man, with that kind of budget and vision, an Avatar level 40k would bring the house down. Those AMP suits were pretty cool, and the Colonel was one of my favorite characters.

    @Bill: This was a datenight movie for my wife and I, and she's not a gamer geek like I am, and she still called her sister in the parking lot and told her how "freaking cool" the movie was.

  4. @mik When then missiles started flying I was thinking: "Those humans kick arse" :) Guess that is why I like the dark future of 40k, it's entertainment war after all. No need to feel sorry for anyone:)

  5. I have not yet seen it but my wife and I will. My kids are too young to see it though as I heard there was good deal of cursing in the movie and some nudity. I like a good story though and LoTM and DwW are some of my favorites. Good review.

  6. I am looking forward to seeing this movie. Thank you for the review.


  7. Worth seeing--and, yes, in a theater--for its legitimate "wow factor"...a visually intriguing diversion and instant movie history.