They called it the greatest movie ever made. They called it one of the most break through movies ever made. Yet who walked away with the Oscar for Best Picture that year? The movie Avatar was great, no doubt about that. But what it wasn’t was Legendary. everybody was expecting it to be Legendary like Star Wars, or Indiana Jones. But for me, it just wasn’t. I have seen the movie 6 times, 3 of which were in theatres (incidentally a great date movie) so you can tell that I definitely liked it. It was just missing something. I don’t quite know what…

Story: C

The movie is in general about a man named Jake Sully, a paraplegic ex-marine who is signed up to go to the paradise world of Pandora. Pandora has a humanoid species called the Na’Vi, who are surprisingly similar to both Native Americans and Smurfs. It also has an array of ridiculously over the top animals that really have a taste for eating people and/or pounding them into dust. All the way from the hyena-like viper wolves to the T.Rex sized Great Leonopteryx, all of these critters have taken a taste for human blood.

Anyways, Jakes twin brother was killed on Earth in a robbery, and the RDA company hired Jake to fill in. The job? Drive a remotely driven body that is a combination of Na’Vi and human DNA called an Avatar. The person’s consciousness is basically transferred to this new body. Jake thinks this is awesome because now he has legs again when in that body. Their goal is to collect science and stuff from the forest (though they never really do that) and to help find a diplomatic solution to the growing tension between the natives and the visiting humans.

See people want to mine a mineral only native to Pandora called Unobtainium, a superconductor that pretty much makes the modern life possible. This mineral causes the mountains to float and a global tree network to exist. So pretty much it is the story of Pocahontas but instead of Native Americans we have blue cat people, John Smith is a paraplegic and instead of land it is a rare mineral, which is basically land. Jake even falls in love with the chiefs daughter.

So anyways, Jake in his Avatar body is being accepted into the Na’Vi tribe (because he is apparently the only one who can) by training to be a native. So when the company wants to get the natives to move form their home, a giant tree, in order to mine the biggest deposit of Unobtainium on the planet they basically blast it to bits. Now it leads to this war between the humans and Na’Vi as Jake and friends lead the fight to protect nature.

A little comment on the extended scenes that were added into the Collector’s Edition. They were really able to add a lot to the storyline as well as develop a lot more of the planet. We also learn why Sigourney Weaver’s character is so bitter and why Jake is still in charge after the war, kinda important stuff. The dialogue is also far less clunky in some areas due to the additions. I highly recommend that people see the Collector’s Edition, as it adds so much to what the film is.

Anyways, the story is a pretty basic tree hugger story, except the cast has changed. In this movie, it was not the story that was the most innovative or even interesting thing. It is always odd when a big budget film just cannot pull off the ability to fit special effects with a completely original story. The cool thing is of course the cast changes form the Pocahontas story. Everything is faster, cooler, more colourful and meaner, but that a good story does not make.

Effects/Photography: A+

Now this is why the film is great. There are a lot of films that in the past have attempted to create a completely CG (computer generated) world with only minimal film actors. One of the best of these was Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, in which the entire movie was shot with a blue screen backdrop. Or Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, a completely CG film that was so detailed you could forget that you were actually not looking at people. SO basically the whole CG thing has been done before. But not like this.

The sweeping images are almost too beautiful for words. A colossal jungle blankets the planet, with enough plants and animals to put the rain forest to shame. The vistas are so beautiful that people have actually developed a kind of mental illness. It is called Pandora Withdrawal Syndrome, where people literally become depressed because they cannot be on this mystical planet.

One thing that I have always loved about James Cameron’s films (besides that they are awesome) is the fact that the camera is never still. The camera view is always changing and shifting, and when it is still it is because we always need to focus on what’s on screen. But this movement of the camera creates an innate energy within his films. Avatar is no exception to this, in fact there is not a scene that I can remember that does not pan, revolve, move in or out. As it is a 3 hour vista, people are often extremely tired from just watching the film and trying to get everything that is going on within it.

But what is surprising and what I liked most about the film was the scenes at night. See at night Pandora is lit up by bio-luminescent flora, which light up like a Christmas tree at night. This is demonstrated dramatically in one scene where Jake is lost in the forest in his Avatar body for the first time. He carves a spear and lights the tip on fire like a torch, but around him in the dark lurks a pack of the yipping viper wolves. The love interest Neyteri arrives in time to save the day. After she does so, she douses the fire allowing the light and color of the forest to express itself. This is a metaphor for the entire movie, that the world is great as it is, and that technology (fire) just covers up the raw beauty that surrounds the characters.

No good James Cameron movie would be anything without good creature effects. This movie has some amazing creatures. The most important are the dragonlike Banshees. The Na’Vi ride them, and as people are always fascinated by flying lizards, this was sure to be a crowd pleaser. But of course the big daddy of the film is the Leonopteryx, a much larger cousin to the Banshee that is literally the size of a T.Rex. Aerial battles between these Banshees and their riders and the human helicopters and shuttles provide the amazing climax to the film.

Basically, the world that James Cameron created was so amazing that it literally did not need a story that was overly original. Having seen the movie way too many times, I can attest to the desire to want to actually live there. Despite the giant carnivorous animals, hostile natives and likely a ridiculously huge human army that would come to enact vengeance on the natives for the war that happened.

Music: C

The Music was not a particularly amazing part of the film. It was mostly used as background, either low ominous tones or fluting in order for people to feel more comfortable during the odd scenes in the movie. Occasionally there would be a loud horn crescendo in order to galvanise the audience when something exciting is happening. It really does take a back seat to the visuals

There are some interesting Na’Vi chants and songs throughout the film. These actually lend more credence to the fact that they are an actual race of people with their own traditions and such than almost anything else in the film. It is actually quite beautiful, but not memorable enough to make me want to see the film because of the music. All in all the music did it’s part in the film by creating a background but was not spectacular in any other way.

Acting: B+

This was an aspect of the film that really surprised me actually. In these CG based films, acting usually takes a back seat to the artist as far as the film goes. But with Avatar the actors were actually filmed in the CG scenes with suits that tracked their motions, so that the Cg scenes had reference in the real world. This means that facial expressions as well as little ticks that we would normally not see in this kind of film came through.

Zoe Saldana was by far the best performance in the film. Many of the other supporting characters were rather flat and typical. But she brought Neyteri to life in a way that amazes me. All of the characters frustration, her ferocity comes through in Saldana’s portrayal of her. She brings across the fact that her character is a very dangerous woman, like a tigress protecting her cubs, she literally defends and saves Jake’s life several times in the film, all the while snarling like a demon. She also grieves like a real person.  When confronted with her world falling apart, Saldana is able to portray that sense of loss not only through her voice but also through her actions, the despair easily readable in her movements.

Sam Worthington is one of my more favorite actors at the moment. He does a pretty darn good job here portraying the warrior who thought he could bring peace. He even manages to break hearts when he is rejected by Neyteri in her despair. But what he did best in the film was to play a crippled man. The effects as well as the acting when he finally gets legs again is just amazing. But in many scenes he lacks a bit of emotion, especially in his actual acting scenes.

Sigourney Weaver is the original science fiction bad ass woman, and she proves that she still has it in this film. She not only swears up a storm, but manages to scare people with her brusqueness in the beginning. But what really makes Weaver outstanding in this role is the fact that she manages to convey a complete wonder at the world that is in the film. She also eventually becomes motherly, giving advice to the childish Jake. I am actually biased as I liked Weaver in anything she has done.

In short, the lead roles were very well done by the actors and managed to actually make this odd world a reality for the audience through their believable interactions and reactions. It was a surprising part of the film, and one that I enjoyed very much.

Overall: B-

This was certainly a good film. The effects and photography might have been the best that have ever been in a movie. But there was a reason that it did not win the Oscar for best film. It lacked a certain human element in the story. It was too fanciful for people to truly connect completely with the story, which holds it back significantly.

I don’t think it will get better as the series goes on (Cameron plans to make at least 2 more) but that it will set a precedent for what is essentially the newest incarnation of Star Wars.

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