Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Originally Written and Posted at on 12/31/09 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Written and directed by James Cameron, Avatar tells the story in a surrounding planet known as Pandora in the year 2154. A paralyzed soldier joins a group of scientists to explore the planet in which he will take on the body of a planetary-like creature known as the Na'vi. Lost during his mission, he befriends a Na'vi warrior while learning the truth about what a corporate boss wants to do with the planet with help from a gung-ho mercenary as he fights to save the planet. Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Joel David Moore, C.C.H. Pounder, and Sigourney Weaver. Avatar is visually-marvelous and thrilling film from James Cameron and company.

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a paraplegic ex-Marine who is asked to replace his twin brother in a science experiment to explore and study the planet Pandora. At the planet, a corporate administrator in Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) has discovered a valuable mineral in unobtanium as he's more interested in the planet's resources. Sully arrives at Pandora with biologist Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore) as they become part of the science team headed by its researcher Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) who isn't happy about Sully replacing his brother. Notably as Sully is debriefed by Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) to infiltrate the land and see what the Na'vi wants as Quaritch makes a tempting offer to Sully. With the pilot Trudy (Michelle Rodriguez) accompanying the science team, Jakes inhabits the avatar Na'vi body as he, Spellman, and Dr. Augustine explore the planet as avatar Na'vis.

During the exploration, Sully is attacked by a creature as he's later saved by a female warrior named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) who reluctantly takes Jake to the Omaticaya tribe where their home is the large tree known as the Hometree. Neytiri's father in the chief Eytukan (Wes Studi) and his second-in-command Tsu'Tey (Laz Alonso) see Sully as an outsider while Neytiri's mother in the shaman Mo'at (C.C.H. Pounder) sees Sully as something else. With Neytiri teaching Sully the way of the Na'vi with additional help from Dr. Augustine and Spellman as the former would make visits. Sully is amazed by the world of Na'vi and Neytiri as it raises the suspicions of Selfridge and Quaritch following an incident in which Sully attacked a bulldozer following a moment he has with Neytiri.

Upon the discovery, Quaritch realizes that Jake has betrayed the company where both Sully and Dr. Augustine try to plea with the Na'vi to evacuate the Hometree. Yet, Quaritch chooses to attack the Hometree and its natives leaving both Sully and Dr. Augustine helpless in their avatar bodies as they're suddenly pulled into their real bodies as the two along with Spellman are sent to prison for charges of treason. After the attack on the Hometree, Trudy breaks the team out as Sully returns to his avatar body in hopes to regain the trust of the Na'vi by capturing a powerful flying beast as he decides that it's time to fight Quaritch and company to protect the Tree of Souls, the center of Pandora where Sully and the Na'vi would get some unlikely help.

While the story of a soldier discovering a world that is foreign to him where he's surrounded by natives and learns their ways which changes his own life seems like a story that's been told. Notably with Kevin Costner's 1990 film Dances with Wolves. Yet, James Cameron is a man who knows how to tell a story that might seem familiar but stripping away some of the heavy-handed ideology of learning about different cultures and places by balancing it with some sci-fi action that is both entertaining and insightful.

While Cameron as a screenwriter may not be on the level as someone like Charlie Kaufman, Woody Allen, or even European auteurs. Cameron does know how to structure a story as well as create some memorable, stylish dialogue. Unlike George Lucas whose fault is often creating cheesy dialogue and storylines that seems silly. Cameron is someone who is willing to create something imaginative while the dialogue is mostly told in a straight way. Even with some profanity in the mix to give the English dialogue some rhythm. The Na'vi language that was co-created with Dr. Paul Frommer, is something that is truly original that is inspired by various language. There's a different rhythm and feel to it without being comical or silly in its pronunciation.

The structure of the story is told simply with the first act in Jake given a mission along with his discovery of Pandora in the avatar body. The second act is him discovering the ways of the Na'vi while the film does become a bit of a love story while becoming confused about whether he should remain human or be with the natives. The third act is the climatic battle where the Na'vi fights Quaritch and his band of mercenaries with their machines. All of this is told from the perspective of Jake Sully with some voice-over dialogue. Though it might not have the poetic rhythm and tone of Terrence Malick's voice-over narration style. Cameron does keep it simple as he is aware of his limits as a writer as the script itself, despite some flaws in its storytelling formula, succeeds in maintaining what is needed to tell the story.

Cameron's direction is a whole other story and if his ambitions in Titanic were massive. His ambitions for Avatar is far more gargantuan and in creating a whole new world where it's a jungle with ariel mountains, neon-light plants, and all of these weird creatures is something that is truly imaginative. Yet, to have it with the right technology in visual effects and digital 3D filmmaking shows Cameron utilizing in what is needed and such. Even in the use of performance capture where he can get the actors to act out various emotions without having to look silly in whatever visual character they're playing.

The sense of movement and emotive quality in performance capture is really astounding in what Cameron has done. Instead of the more cartoonish look that was seen in some of the recent experimental projects that Robert Zemeckis has done. Cameron uses the performance capture to bring new life to alien-like creatures in the Na'vi by making them seem real but also have a unique look with personalities where the audience can tell the central characters apart. The visual look of the film itself is done with great scope and a wide canvas that is truly a marvel to watch. Even in the usage of 3D digital filmmaking.

3D has been used as a gimmick. Where things may look more rounded and there's objects coming at the screen. It's a tool that really becomes a distraction. Cameron however, finds a way to use that technology and get it right. While the brightness of the film fades a bit in wearing the glasses. The look of Pandora is more rough and almost realistic with objects coming at the audience sometimes but only to create a moment of action as if they're in the battle. Yet, in the look of Pandora through 3D seems like the audience is in that world where there is something quite beautiful about this world. The look of the jungle and planets in that 3D visual format is stunning. In a way, if Cameron seems to be taking on a theory about his views on nature. It seems like he is taking some of his visual inspiration from Terrence Malick as opposed to the more cynical Werner Herzog.

Overall, James Cameron truly succeeds in how to tell the story visually while a lot of the sequences at the base camp are intimate and also claustrophobic at times while giving the audience an idea of how things look and feel. Even in creating an action sequence with sci-fi elements where the audience knows what is happening and he creates moments that can be horrific to something that can be very exciting where the audiences gets to root for the hero. The result is an astounding film that truly breaks the ground in visual effects and how to create a bombastic story into something more as James Cameron delivers 100%.

Cinematographer Mauro Fiore does excellent work with the film's photography from the bluish-light interior looks of Jake looking at the avatars and the green light when he's inside the avatar chamber. The exterior look of the film is very colorful while the camera is a mixture of tracking shots, hand-held, and other stylistic camera work. While a lot of the photography is done mostly by visual effects, Fiore's work is superb in its lighting schemes and creating an atmosphere for both the world of the base camp and the planet of Pandora.

James Cameron along with editors John Refoua and Stephen E. Rivkin do phenomenal work with the film's editing. Even with rhythmic cuts that captures the intensity of the battle and action scenes along with some straight transitions from sequence to sequence and fade-outs for Jake falling asleep. While it's mostly straightforward, the editing is crafted well-enough to tell the story and to keep it moving at a 160-minute running time without being too slow. Production designers Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg with set decorator/supervising art director Kim Sinclair and a massive team of art directors do an amazing job in the look of the film its creation of the bases and lab that Sully lives and surrounds himself with along the visual art of the world of Pandora which is truly awe-inspiring in its creation and look.

Costume Mayes C. Rubeo and Deborah Lynn Scott do nice work on the clothing of the soldiers and scientists that are at the base camp as it's mostly standardize clothing for the most part. The visual effects look of the film led by supervisors John Bruno, John Knoll, Daniel Leduc, Joe Letteri, Steven Quale, Stephen Rosenbaum, Eric Saindon, Mathilde Tollec, R. Christopher White, Edson Williams, and Guy Williams is really the film's technical highlight. From the look of the neon plants and creatures to the look of Pandora itself in its 3D format and such is really something unique. The visual effects of the film in the look of the avatar creatures is great without looking very silly as the entire visual effects team deserves a round of applause.

Sound designer/editor Christopher Boyes along with sound editors Addison Teague and Gwendolyn Yates Whittle is superb in the creation of robotic machines that Col. Quaritch and his team ride on along with the sounds of explosions and such to help create the action. Even the recreation of sounds in the jungle and creatures are amazing as Boyes and company do amazing work. Music composer James Horner does excellent work with the film's score from bombastic, orchestral flourishes for some of the film's action sequences to tribal-like music for scenes involving the Na'vi. The song at the end of the film called I See You sung by Leona Lewis is a decent song that works as a triumphant ballad to end the film.

The casting by Margery Simkin is great with some small but memorable roles Matt Gerald as one of Col. Quaritch's crazed soldiers and Dileep Rao as Dr. Max Patel, an associate of Dr. Augustine. Joel David Moore is really good as Norm Spellman, a biologist who is amazed by the Na'vi culture while believing in Dr. Augustine's idealism. Michelle Rodriguez is good as Trudy Chacon, Dr. Augustine's helicopter pilot who is a bit of wildcat but also shares Augustine's ideology while disgusted by Col. Quaritch's gung-ho take on war. Laz Alonso is fine as Tsu'Tey, a Na'vi warrior who is skeptical of Jake's intentions only to fight alongside with him as he is amazed by Jake's drive. C.C.H. Pounder is very good as Neytiri's shaman mother Mo'at who sees good in Jake while Wes Studio is also good as Eytukan, the tribe chief who is also impressed by Jake later on unaware of the horror of Quaritch.

Giovanni Ribisi is really good in an understated role as Parker Selfridge, a villainous corporate administrator that is more interested in money as he serves as a very good antagonist. Yet, it's Stephen Lang that is phenomenal as Col. Quaritch, a no-holds-barred military commander who has some great one-liners while spewing out orders as he is a great bad guy that is all about destruction and being a soldier. The film's best performance easily goes to Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace Augustine. An idealist scientist who likes to smoke cigarettes, have no-nonsense dialogue, and being a lover of a nature and the Na'vi culture. Weaver's performance in both as an avatar and human is definitely a marvel to watch as she brings a lot of heart and wisdom to her character as it is truly a brilliant performance from the veteran actress.

Zoe Saldana is excellent as Neytiri, the Na'vi warrior who is reluctant to Jake into her world only to fall for him while being an awesome warrior with great skill and heart. It is definitely a great performance where Saldana can move with such physicality and even show the humanity in an alien character like Neytiri. Sam Worthington is pretty good as Jake Sully, a paraplegic Marine who is caught in the middle only to be amazed by the Na'vi culture while becoming an unlikely leader for the group. Though he lapses through both American and Australian dialogue at times, Worthington does make up for it with his bravado and thrilling performance as he is a star on the rise.

Avatar is a brilliant, entertaining, and visually-stunning film from James Cameron. Fans of Cameron's work will no doubt see this as one of his best while it's something that moviegoers will enjoy not just in its 3D experience but also for how he uses the technology in such a great way. While it may not be perfect in terms of its plot ideas, Cameron's broad direction and visual ideas more than make up for it as it is definitely a film that people must see. In the end, Avatar is a phenomenal film from James Cameron.

James Cameron Films: (Xenogenesis) - (Piranha II: The Spawning) - (The Terminator) - Aliens - (The Abyss) - (Terminator 2: Judgement Day) - (True Lies) - (Titanic) - (Expedition: Bismarck) - (Ghosts of the Abyss) - (Aliens of the Deep)

(C) thevoid99 2012


Anonymous said...

Saw this with my whole family, on Christmas day, in 3-D, and IMAX. One of the best movie-going experiences ever for me, and probably one of my favorite flicks from 2009. The story is generic and preachy but damn is it beautiful to just gaze at. Great review Steve.

Chip Lary said...

I didn't love this as much as you did, but it is definitely a visual feast for everyone. The story is a letdown, though, as is the design of the aliens other than the Navi.

I was amused by you mentioning the "neon plants". When I saw those I could think of nothing other than the 70s neon posters made to go with a blacklight.

thevoid99 said...

@Dan-I saw this on New Year's Eve 2009 and on 3D. It's only film on 3D that I saw and probably the last time I'll see a 3D movie. The story isn't that great but it is still a visual splendor.

@Chip-It's an entertaining adventure film but I don't think it's one of the best. There were better films that year.