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Avatar - wow!

Posted on 2009.12.21 at 01:29
I saw Avatar this evening, in 3D, and it is truly a visual feast that I can enthusiastically recommend with some caveats . . . Beware! Spoilers follow. Much has been made of the technological wizardry in this movie. Certainly, it seems that we're witnessing the next level of movie magic. I sat there, geeky 3D glasses perched on my nose over my regular glasses, mouth open, totally taken out of my world and immersed in this one. Go see it just for that same eye-opening feeling you got when you first saw Star Wars.

The story is a simple one which you can easily glean from the trailer. A corporation backed with mercenary muscle goes to a foreign planet named Pandora to mine some kind of extremely valuable mineral (exactly what it does is never explained). The planet has an indigenous population, greatly resembling a combination of American Indians and African tribes called the Na'vi who live on top of a particularly rich deposit. Scientists/anthropologists have been among the Na'vi people learning their culture and language and teaching English through a technology that allows them to connect their minds with specially cloned Na'vi body, an avatar. The scientists, including Grace, Sigourney Weaver's character, have tried enticing the Na'vi with offers of medicine and education which the Na'vi have no use for, thank you very much, so of course the corporation is now considering a military option. The main character Jake is a Marine who has lost the use of his legs (how isn't revealed, or I didn't catch it) and he's among the crew chosen to go among the Na'vi and learn their ways to try to convince them to move. The hard-bitten military commander, Col. Quaritch, asks Jake to give him intelligence and tells him he'll get his legs regenerated if he does. But of course in the best Ferngully, Dances with Wolves, story line, Jake becomes enthralled with the unspoiled world of Pandora and enamored of a female Na'vi, all of which tests his loyalty. When the inevitable happens and the earthlings invade, what Jake decides to do isn't much of a surprise.

Now the movie is truly visually stunning. I mean just an incredible experience. They've clearly spent a lot of time inventing a complex and fantastic world of alien, bioluminescent plants and creatures. The Na'vi ride on pterodactyl-like creatures (think Dragonriders of Pern)with whom they establish a mind-link, and this makes for many breath-taking flying scenes. My favorite part was when Jake climbs up into the eyrie to capture his own creature as part of a test of manhood. The Na'vi are very appealing, both in appearance and character. The motion is fantastic. I could watch them all day. Interesting contrast between the beautiful animated world of Pandora,which is literally a dream-world for Jake and the anthropologists, and the cold, metal environment inhabited by the humans.

The story is one that we've heard before but certainly needs to be told again, as we keep forgetting that other peoples have as much right to exist unmolested as we do.So having said that, I really wish that with all the incredible amount of work they put into the amazing visuals as well as developing the Na'vi culture and complex Pandora ecosystem that they had worked just as hard at making a complex story. Why do most movies these days have cardboard cut-out villains and simplistic good vs. evil plots? This movie sets up lots of potential for some real drama, but they needed to raise the stakes. For example, tell us what use the valuable mineral has and maybe make it a key ingredient to cure a plague back home or to solve an energy crisis to prevent millions of humans from starving? Give us more background about Jake, more ties with his fellow soldiers that would make his choice that much harder. Give us more about Col. Quaritch and his motivations, beyond being an insensitive prick. And why oh why must it always devolve into a video game with everything in sight blowing up? Maybe to sell the inevitable video game? It seems it's always about which side gains the military victory, which is the equivalent of gaining the moral high ground. If you win, you must be right. Right? I would have preferred to see both sides come to an accommodation that ended in peace, or at least have the Na'vi find an alternative to outright war such as using the biological energy of their planet, or is that asking too much? Yes, I guess that isn't as dramatic and doesn't satisfy a desire to see the good guys kick badguy ass, but an alternative to violence,that's the real message we need. Anyway that's just me wanting something more from my sci fi, because this is oh so good in the eye candy department.

I will likely go see it again for the visuals and the appealing characters. We'll see if it passes the enjoyed-a-second-viewing test. So, if you've seen it, what do you think?

Btw, I just found this review that I agree with completely, so if I'd just posted the link last night, I could have saved myself some writing time.  lol.


nelyo_russandol at 2009-12-21 12:36 (UTC) (Link)
Hi, elfscribe!
Thanks for the most thorough review. Don't think you gave any spoilers, the Movie In A Minute Trailer (TM) did a grand job of giving it all away.

Now you've made me want to watch it, though my expectations are somewhat lowered because of the caveats!

I am finding that many "adventure" movies are more and more devoid of plot these days in favour of so-called "action" scenes, which bends itself better to the stunning effects than normal dialogue does. CGI generally sells better than good acting, it seems!

I tend to get a bit fidgety after the seventeenth alien / baddie / planet / whatever gets blasted to smithereens, but then, I am boring, according to my offspring.

Perhaps this trimming down of complexity is to appeal to the younger (pre-)teenage audiences, for whom perhaps the building of a background story and credible characters would just slow down the pace of the action. I only need to watch my youngest (6-year-old) Orcling saying "cool!" every time a movie gets to the "beat-the baddie" bits.

And by the way, the video game was on the shelves even before the movie came out. Flying pterodactyls is probably rather exciting, and I can see I'll end up having a go when the game hits our home console!

amalc at 2009-12-21 14:17 (UTC) (Link)

Funny, I am planning a family expedition to the cinema to see this tomorrow. Hubby is usually not a fan of sci-fi (I am!) but after seeing a documentary on this on TV - he is quite willing to go too. I've been waiting for this film for ages so thanks so much for your reviews. I thoroughly agree with you that most films are heavily into explosions adn/or car/ship/motorcycle chases. It gets so boring after a while! You're quite right about the storylines too. Why can't they have more complex plots?

If I manage to pull off the movie-going expedition tomorrow, I'll let you know what I thought of if. I've never seen a movie in 3-D.

Re Dragon Riders of Pern - wouldn't it be wonderful if someone made The Movie?


Jaiden S
jaiden_s at 2009-12-21 15:10 (UTC) (Link)
I haven't seen it yet, but the Wookie is dying to go. We own a wine store, though, so any movies will have to wait until after the holiday insanity. During Christmas, retail rules all.

My friends here who have seen it have had mixed reviews for the storyline, but they all agreed it was visually stunning. Charles couldn't get past the trope of what he called "whitey saves the day," where the white man assimilates into the culture and becomes their greatest member, a la "Dances with Wolves." Of course, I loved "Dances with Wolves" so I doubt that would affect my like or dislike of the movie.

Anyway, great review and I'm looking forward to seeing myself in January. :)
heartofoshun at 2009-12-21 16:19 (UTC) (Link)
Great review. You make me want to see it. Hopefully, I can. Love to go with Laura and Gabriel, but we tend to babysit for one another.

And why oh why must it always devolve into a video game with everything in sight blowing up?

One of my pet peeves in films, but whatever. You can't have everything. I'm still wishing that even Peter Jackson had cut back on some of the spectacular sequences in return for more of the talkier, background parts, but maybe that's just how I am programmed, unlike most of the rest of the world. (I can't sit through a car chase or a shoot out either.)
pandemonium_213 at 2009-12-22 15:29 (UTC) (Link)
One of my co-workers was so determined to see Avatar this weekend that she and her spousal unit braved the northeaster on Saturday night to go to the sinny-ma. She had anticipated they'd be among the few who braved the elements to see it. She was wrong. They nabbed two of the very few remaining seats.

Great review, 'scribe, and like Nelyo said, you're not spoiling anything here. The plot is pretty obvious from the trailer, and the stark dichotomy of Bad Technology vs. Good Environmentalism is a familiar one. The overall market for Cameron's flick doesn't strike me as one that wants to embrace moral complexity. But man, oh, man! I'm going for the visuals all the way, baby! I will definitely fork out for the 3D version, too.
malinorne2003 at 2010-01-07 15:52 (UTC) (Link)
Grr... just lost my detailed comment in cyber space so let me just say that I agree with you that I'd liked a better plot and less things blown up, but am totally amazed by the landscapes and creatures on Pandora. The Na'vi language was a fun touch as well! And I feel lucky that the tiny cinema in the nearest tiny town happened to be the only theatre in northern Sweden to show Avatar in 3D! Open mouth and silly smile all the way!
elfscribe5 at 2010-01-07 19:45 (UTC) (Link)
Doh, hate it when comments get munched by the cyberspace monster. I enjoyed it too. Even my husband, who is very picky about movies and hates long ones (due to having to sit with a bad back) enjoyed this one. I wondered if you'd pick up on the Na'vi language. What did you think of it? Lucky that it was in 3D near you. I'm thinking of going to see it again soon.
malinorne2003 at 2010-01-07 20:31 (UTC) (Link)
I've had a quick look at Na'vi grammar and vocabulary on learnnavi.org and it looks fun but also very complicated and 'alien' to someone with a background in European languages only. Tolkien's Elvish appear much easier to learn, because of the more familiar sounds and grammar style. I might decide to tackle Na'vi for the fun of it... (not that I see where to use it... fics based on Avatar hold no interest to me, if there are, or will be any). But I'm tempted to go and see the movie once more :)
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