Review: Avatar (2009)

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 In 1997, James Cameron smashed the all-time box office record, with multi-Academy Award-winning mega-hit Titanic. He has been known throughout his career for making trail-blazing movies. His incredible work on Terminator 2: Judgment Day showed just how far technology at the time could be pushed, and Titanic took the special effects a step further, creating a perfectly realised world for the infamous ship to sail in. So when it was announced that he was working on a 3D masterpiece, the film-world took great interest, because if anyone could kick-start the 3D revolution, it was him. Thus Avatar was born and it shot comfortable to the top of the highest-grossing films of all time list..

Set in the near future, Avatar is a pastiche of the ‘New World’ narrative. This time the ‘John Smith’ character is replaced with Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a former Marine who agrees to complete his dead brothers mission on the planet of Pandora. Despite being wheel-chair bound, he trains to have his mind inserted into one of the alien creatures indigenous to Pandora, the Na’vi. He must then ingratiate himself into their society and convince them to move from their sacred home so that the area can be mined for a precious ore known as unobtainium. As is the case in the original ‘Pocahontis’ story, our protagonist must fall in love with a beautiful native Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and be forced to decide whether to help his people or defend the lands of his adopted race.

The first thing to talk about with Avatar is the 3D. It is sumptuous and incredibly detailed. So much time and effort has clearly been put in to show exactly what can be done with the third dimension. Unfortunately for Hollywood, as fantastic as the effects are, they just do not add enough to the overall experience outside of Imax to make all the extra cost worthwhile and as time has shown, as a novelty it’s fine, but people just prefer 2D. Even with the rich colours and glorious background, the 3D dulls the colours and darkens the action, which is almost unforgivable in such a beautiful looking film.

Avatar‘s effects as a whole are incredible, with the Na’vi perefectly realised to the point where you forget that they are computer generated and are immersed in this new world. Cameron is an expert in creating likeable if slightly clichéd characters and there are clear similarities between the mercenary marines on Pandora and the ones fighting xenomorphs in Aliens. But they have proven enjoyable and popular in the past, so he is clearly not keen to break a winning formula.

A lot has been written about the plot of Avatar, and for all the cries of ‘Smurfahontis in Space’ it does heavily rely on the Pocahontis myth for the meat of it. But this is not a bad thing as the story remains popular for a reason. Sadly with a film that is so unique and ground-breaking in so many ways, it would’ve been nice to have an equally original story. Still the story at least makes sense, and the only other major downside is the running length. So much time is devoted to showing off the wonders of the new world that the film feels too baggy and drags substantially in some parts.

Overall this is a well-trod story with some eye-watering special effects and beautiful surroundings. Avatar has enough action, romance and adventure to keep everyone happy and whilst it doesn’t quite live up to it’s box office returns it is an important film that everybody should see at least once.

Thomas Patrick

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Summary

James Cameron never does things by halfs and Avatar is bright, bold and very, very blue.

3.5
That Film GuyReview: Avatar (2009)

13 Comments on “Review: Avatar (2009)”

  1. axlrocky

    agree with most of what you say but is the legacy of this film gonna be that 2009 – 2011 we all got duped into paying a little extra at the box office.

    The 3d format is dead unless film makers can grow a new imagination and only George Lucas is allowed to get away with a script that poor and unoriginal laced with weak acting performances and get away with it because the special effects are cool.

    He also cant get 4 stars as using human/mechanoid load lifters fighting has already been done – by Cameron himself!

    Mo-Cap might be the outstanding legacy of this film, if anyone other than Andy Serkis gets hired to do it! we will see what Tin Tin and Rise of the Planet of the Apes holds.

    Interesting website though – I shall read on

  2. Alex Barracuda

    OK, here goes. Firstly, to date its the only decent 3D movie to have been made technically speaking and its cgi in general was breathtaking. Technically speaking this film to me is as ‘important’ as Jurassic Park and therefore deserves to called such ;)

    As for my general defence of the film. It is an excellent re-imagining of a classic story. ‘Fern Gully in space’ pisses me off, Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves all similar concepts, all in the same damn era! Now that IS a lack of imagination. And what is wrong with re-imagining a classic story? You may as welll say 10 things I Hate About You is shit because ‘it’s just Taming of the Shrew’ in contemporary Canada!!!!!! Anyone who gives me the ‘Fren Gully in space’ line gets a curb stomp for that very reason, it’s a puerile argument given by morons who can only spout what other equally moronic people hear and not formulate decent concepts of their own.

    That said… I’m sure there are decent reasons not to like it and look forward to hearing them, because as you may have guessed ‘Fern Gully in space’ is getting fucking old ;)

  3. Tom Patrick

    All I’ve got is ‘Its too long,’ and it’s a bit cliched in parts, which I think is fair. Other than that, it’s a well-made film.

    As for the comparisons to Pocahontis, you cannot deny that the story is lifted directly from it, but reimagining classics is fine if done well.

    I haven’t heard ‘Fern Gully in Space’ before, but it made me laugh. :)

  4. Alex Barracuda

    Meh, too long? What’s too long these days (apart from what I’m smuggling in my pants… yeah I went for the cheap pop). As long as the pacing is all right I don’t mind how long a movie is, I think Avatar paces out well personally. Don’t get me wrong, there’s lots of films I think are poorly paced (already debated that about the first Harry Potter movie).

  5. Leila Ballentyne

    wow, that’s a whole lot of avatar love, baracuda!

    in my humble opinion there ain’t no way “important” should be put in the same sentence as Avatar. unless it’s referring purely to the movie’s technical accomplishments which were clearly ground breaking.

    “important” should be reserved for a flick that has epic impact on people: an impact that doesn’t tarnish or fade over time. something historic that peeps will look back on in 10, 20, 100 years and still recognise for its merits. Avatar – important? i think not.

    i mean for me it fell flat both on a plot and acting level. I’m of the opinion that in most cases a film needs one of two things in order to be epic – heart or balls. Avatar tried for heart but the earth-goddess spiritual message didn’t quite hit home. and the “society being mean to the outcasts who have all the oil/trees/unobtanium” bit was clumsily handled. it went past the point of patronising almost to the point of exploitation. ok, the love story was fair but nowhere near strong enough to carry the film.

    in a nutshell, for me it was not much more than a fun adventure movie. and there’s nothing wrong with that!

  6. Tom Patrick

    In Mr. B’s defence, it is the highest-grossing film of all time by a long, long way. I think it’s earned the use of the word important on that merit alone. Now I know you’ll argue that making lots of money isn’t an important factor for a film, BUT, when it exceeds all expectations and destroys all other films in its path then it has to be considered ‘important’ in the same way that something like Cleopatra and Gone with the Wind are considered important. Both of those are over-long and hammily acted, but they’re still regarded as important to this day.

  7. Leila Ballentyne

    so… the box office argument eh? the numbers do make a point. but i don’t think it’s a point about Avatar being an “important” flick.

    it’s more like a point about the modern audience wanting escapism and fun from the movies. it speaks to the “demand” versus the currently mundane movie “supply” of sequels and remakes. that’s a fine point. but i maintain that in 10 years ain’t nobody gonna be talking about Avatar as important. I’ll betcha a tenner.

  8. Tom Patrick

    I’ll take that bet. Simply because I reckon it’ll still be top of the highest-grossing films list. :)

  9. Alex Barracuda

    Nope, in 10 years everyone will remember it as the first 3d blockbuster movie. It is ground breaking and therefore important… This is based on it’s technical aspects as I recognise it has failings. Make no mistake, it will her remembered… It’s oddo as I don’t have epic avatar love, but I feel there’s so many haters I like to support it.

  10. Tom Patrick

    Underdog syndrome for the biggest selling film of all time. Do you also like to stick up for Walmart being the poor misunderstood global mega-company that it is? :)

  11. Alex Barracuda

    Among my less main stream social group avatar is a dirty word!

  12. axlrocky

    Leila – your right
    Alex, Tom – your wrong

    No one remembers Avatar now let alone in 10 years time. It has a place in history but more for Cameron’s vision and technical ability than the film.

    If you want to look at the film then it doesnt stand the test of time, if you want to talk about what the film meant for the industry then thats another story, but it is not the film itself that is the star and thats the problem. Idea, concept and technology – five star, film itself and execution – 2 star.

    Case in point – most people will be able to tell me the names of the two characters in Gone with the Wind? because the story held up – can you name any characters in Avatar? (without googling?!)

    You will remember the moment you were in the cinema watching the first 3d movie not the film itself.

    And you cant go down the biggest grossing line because Transformers 3 and Harry Botter are fast approaching the sort of numbers Avatar posted [$1 billion dollar +] dont make em game changers.

  13. That Film Guy

    In fairness Avatar did $2.7b at the box office, which means with Potter and Transformers 3 combined, they still don’t come close. Plus with Cameron exclusively working on Avatar sequels from now on I think it’s place in the history of films is preserved for at least another two decades at the very least.

    Plus, it’s a good film, it’s just not as good as a lot of people (and it’s box office numbers) suggest.

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