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Movie Review: Avatar

December 18, 2009

Avatar posterWell, it certainly didn’t suck.  <–That’s me, eating a little  crow.  For months I have snickered about the colossal disaster I was sure Avatar was going to become.  Admit it, you thought so too.  How on earth could you not be pessimistic after seeing the early trailers?

Alien creatures a hue of blue so intense it would make papa smurf puke,  and waxy humans that would beat any of Robert Zemeckis’s early efforts for “most soulless rendition of a human being” did not exactly  instill confidence in me.  Then came the daunting news that the movie weighed in at almost 3 hours.  Add the driving time in and the Avatar screening took up almost half a day.  I disliked the movie before I even slipped on the  exquisite 3D  nerd-spectacles that I so love (I am not exactly an on-board fan of 3D.)

A funny thing happened when the movie began.  I was captivated.  I rarely looked at my watch, and the three hours kept me glued to my seat.  I became completely immersed in the alternate reality that James Cameron created, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Now, I am not jumping aboard the fanboy express like 90% of the critics I know.  This  is not the end-all, be-all of epic movies.  I don’t think that it will “change the way we watch movies forever”, and I hope it doesn’t quite frankly.

As a stand alone experience, I absolutely recommend Avatar, but I won’t be going to the theater for repeated viewings.  Avatar is innovative and visually spectacular, but its story and woeful dialogue keep it from being a truly great movie.  However, I will give James Cameron props for once again delivering a truly ground-breaking experience.

The story takes place in the future.  American mercenaries are invading the planet of   Pandora in order to mine unobtainium, a precious resource, from the planet.  The inhabitants of Pandora are considered hostile because they dare to defend their land, so alternative attempts are made to communicate with the people, including using avatars.  Avatars allow for a human to “virtually” connect to a body that physically looks like a native Na’vi, the tall, blue people that are indigenous to the planet.

The idea is that an Avatar can walk among the real Na’vi and glean sensitive information about the people to pass on to the Americans.  Jake Scully (Sam Worthington) is brought on board because he has military experience, and he is a genetic match for his brother who has perished, but was training to be an avatar.  Jake also happens to be a paraplegic, presumably injured in battle. He quickly acclimates to the job, and his first moments as an Avatar are truly touching, as he  finds that he has use of his legs while in the Avatar.

Jake not only infiltrates the Na’vi tribe, but he predictably falls in love with the chieftain’s daughter (Zoe Saldana), and comes to have a greater appreciation for the Na’vi ways, which include worshipping the forest and all living things.  Falling into Hollywood’s favorite cliché , Jake is uncaring, calculated, and cold when he is an American, but kind, appreciative and honorable when he sides with the Na’vi.

The film takes an il-advised turn into an allegory for the Iraq War, and United States foreign policy.  Hey, we get it.  George Bush bad.  George Bush evil.  Iraqis good.  Iraqis innocent. This may have been cutting edge commentary when Cameron began working on the film 11 years ago, but now it is just beating a dead horse.

The biggest sin in the entire movie is making Colonel Miles Quaritch (Steven Lang) clownishly despicable and callous.  Lang’s character actually says things like “shock and awe”, “preemptive strike”, and “we’ll fight terror with terror”.  Subtle. Giovanni Ribisi’s project manager Parker Selfridge comes off  slightly better.

There is plenty of cheesy dialogue peppered throughout the three hours.  At one point, I even anticipated the exact line that Sigourney Weaver’s character (Dr. Grace Augustine) would say to Jake, that’s how uninspired the dialogue is.  It just isn’t on par with the visual presentation of the movie, and it waters down the overall effect of the film.

The 3D is not flawless, particularly in the scenes on the avatar research base, which predominantly feature humans.  For me, objects in the foreground were consistently blurry.  I also felt like the humans still look “off” in some way that I can’t put my finger on.  I’m just not sure that making humans 100% realistic is ever going to be possible.  I think that it works better when you make them somewhat cartoonish, likeA Christmas Carol did earlier this year.  Otherwise, why not just use humans and green screen?  It certainly would be cheaper.

However, once you enter the world of Pandora, its an entirely different story.  The 3D flawlessly integrates into the overall experience.  The lush tropical forest  is brimming with fantastical, colorful creatures and fauna.  Unconventional colors (neon) are employed and actually work.

The creatures really blew me away.  The sheer imagination that went into their design is admirable.  Great attention to detail is evident in every single frame of this movie, and I absolutely can see why it took so long to develop.

The final battle sequence of the movie is truly epic, and intense.  The Na’vi are mounted on their various creatures, and the big, bad mercenaries arrive in their fancy  military machines.  This is a movie, so I am sure that you can figure out who wins.

If you are thinking about taking the kids, leave the little ones at home.  I think some of the scenes are just too scary and intense for kids under the age of ten.

Avatar is a stunning feat on a visual level, and for that reason I whole heartedly recommend it.  It is the ultimate popcorn movie event, no thinking cap required.

Rating 4/5


3 Responses to “ Movie Review: Avatar ”

  1. cj on December 18, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    I’m shocked. Either it’s an okay movie or the neon went to your brain. Either way, way to go. Nerd.

  2. Nat on December 18, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    I just want to know if they have sex with their hair.

  3. Shannon on December 18, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    It’s a perfectly logical question. Who knows what takes place off screen?