When Blue People Wage WAAAAAGH: Avatar.

(This was written on Christmas Day: unfortunately I could not post it until now, so please forgive any time disparities.)

Normally I stick to reviewing videogames and manga, but since today happens to be a special day, I thought that I'd mix it up a bit by reviewing something that falls outside my conventions: a movie. And since I've just gotten back from watching this year's most-hyped film, Avatar, I now have a movie to review. If you don't like that this is Avatar review #1032, you can blame it on the fact that there's nothing else worth watching in the theater near me right now other than a replaying of Forrest Gump.

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Which is still totally fucking amazing by the way, but I'd seen it four times already...
and that's four more times than I'd seen Avatar.

Avatar's plot starts out with Jake Sully (a disabled ex-Marine) arriving on an alien world named Pandora, where an indigenous band of natives called the Na'vi have been causing problems for a human mining operation by refusing to relocate. The Company mining the planet wants to try a diplomatic solution to avoid a PR stink: said solution is the Avatar program, where humans upload their minds to Na'vi bodies crossed with human DNA. The Avatars should allow the humans to infiltrate the Na'vi people and discover how to get them to leave: however the Na'vi have refused to accept any of the Avatars so far into their society... at least, until Sully shows up. The rest of the plot you can probably see coming from a mile away(Sully is accepted, inevitable human douchebaggery, Sully's redemption into awesomeness, etc.), but this doesn't turn out to be a bad thing. While I was never truly surprised by Avatar's plot, it's still solid to the core, and keeps the viewer entertained to the end. The only (minor) complaint I have about it is the romance subplot: sure, there's a bit of buildup to it, but for some reason it still felt rather sudden when it showed up.

Visually, Avatar is a feast for the senses, and that's not just because the film has a $300 million graphics budget: there's a genuine, loving sense of creativity flowing through it. From the animals, to the plants, to the environments, the art direction oozes a wild, exotic charm which feels almost like an alien version of the Amazon rainforest. Throw away any misgivings you may have had from having seen still images of the film, the shitty posters, or clips from the embarrassingly mediocre commercials: when you're in the theatre, Avatar's Pandora is drop-dead gorgeous, and it serves as a testament to the idea that in the right hands, CG film-making has a terrific future. While some of the human technology looks a little fake (in particular the hand-held holoscreens) the rest of the film is firmly realistic: especially the Na'vi. If you still have bad memories of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (an earlier CG film whose characters dove headfirst into the uncanny valley), don't worry. Sure, you can tell that the Na'vi are computer generated under scrutiny, but while you're in the act of watching the film you won't notice and won't care: they act like real beings would, from their expressions to their movements.

All this eye candy is set to some truly epic music.

This battle hymn in particular reminds me of the Gears Of War soundtrack at the start.

But while the visuals and audio of Avatar are excellent, the acting is sort of a mixed bag. Jake Sully's actor (Sam Worthington) gives only a passable performance as a human, but when he becomes a Na'vi, his work takes a turn for the better, and you start to identify with him more. The Na'vi have a solid cast of voice actors, though the main one that sticks out is that of Sully's love interest Neytiri(Zoe Saldana), who does a bang-up job. Ironically, some of the best acting of the film comes from actors that weren't even featured in the commercials: Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Rodriguez. These female powerhouses turn in the two best performances of the film: Weaver as a bitingly sarcastic anti-Company scientist (fans of Alien will feel right at home), and Rodriguez as a wisecracking pilot (albeit one with only a few lines. Considering her performance, I feel she should've gotten more.)

The main issues I draw with Avatar show up when you consider the antagonists. Actor Giovanni Ribisi turns in a great performance as a asshole coporate executive, and Stephen Lang seems to play the gung-ho general decently, but they don't show up enough: which means you just can't get behind them as a driving force of the movie. The lack of on-screen villainy becomes particularly troublesome towards the latter end of the movie. When the entire human population (that isn't part of the Avatar project) went from "profiteers on a hostile world" to "space racists" with nothing other than a half-baked, two minute speech from Lang which amounted to little more than "Hur, let's kill us some blue-skinned savages!", I started to get a little irritated with the film. There just wasn't enough context to explain the sudden human aggression.

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Luckily, I was distracted from thinking about it not five minutes later when the big battle kicked in.

Now, I know that the overall theme of the film was supposed to be "exploitive humans bad, tribal blue people good", and maybe I'm having a little too much faith in humanity here, but I just couldn't believe that all the humans would take a unanimous stance on destroying the Na'vi's way of life. Oh sure, ONE person (Rodriguez) decides to switch teams when the decision to force the Na'vi from their Home Tree is presented, but if Cameron expects me to believe that only ONE person in that entire fleet had a conscience at that moment, consider my belief suspended. Sure, the film establishes that most of the military presence on Pandora is mercs at the start of the film, but being a merc does not equate to being an asshole. The way the humans are treated just winds up being heavy-handed, and it drags your attention away from the otherwise epic film.

However, other than the sudden romance and the mishandling of the humans/antagonists, I didn't find anything wrong with Avatar. It had plenty of action, was insanely creative, contained a great atmosphere, and wound up being a terrific ride well worth theater prices. If perhaps Cameron had focused a bit more on propping up the antagonists, Avatar could have been even better: but hey, there's always room for improvement with movie number 2.

I think Avatar is a perfect example of the different way people watch films. Some watch films in a more cerebral way, to analyze the elements and muse on them. These people generally don't like Avatar.

The others just take the movie as an experience, judging it as good or bad depending on whether they were just entertained by it. I am one of these people, and I fucking loved it. I came out the theatre and my knees were shaking and I was gibbering (same the second time too).
It's just a goddamn entertaining movie, but I can see why some people wouldn't like it.

So bit of advice, if your friends are saying "OMG and such, Avatar ROX/SUX", don't bother trying to change their mind. It's just a fundamental difference in viewing tastes.

Anyway, nice review. I like your writing style, very readable. I think I might bookmark this so I can read it again later.

It's funny, I can't remember the score at all.

I guess my problem with Avatar was that it didn't surprise me in any way, shape or form.
I also felt that everything came a little to easy for Jake; there was no real sense of struggle or accomplishment.

Good review.

Nice review. The main problem I had is that we were supposed to be cheering for the aliens even though they had no redeeming qualities.

I totally respect your opinion in movies.

Very good review, I agree with most of it, especially on how the predictability of the plot didn't matter too much because it was still well executed.

Oh, and by the way, I just read your FEAR review, and since I don't want to necro it, I'll just tell you here that I loved that game so much (seriously, it's got to be somewhere on my top 10 games), and I'm glad you liked it too.

orannis62:

Oh, and by the way, I just read your FEAR review, and since I don't want to necro it, I'll just tell you here that I loved that game so much (seriously, it's got to be somewhere on my top 10 games), and I'm glad you liked it too.

It isn't THAT old :D

I actually have F.E.A.R 2 on Steam, and will give it a go sometime in future, but I've got a slew of PS3/PS2 titles I plan on reviewing (though I'm notoriously unreliable when it comes to WHAT I plan to review.)

Which reminds me: you recommended I try the Splinter Cell games, right? Well, I downloaded Chaos Theory on XBL: it was pretty good, though I found it rather frustrating thanks to the guards being decidedly ninja-like with their detection skills.

Also got a quick shot at Double Agent, but I couldn't really tell you how I felt about it, other than I think the terrorist HQ missions would be impossible to figure out how to do without a guide.

scotth266:

orannis62:

Oh, and by the way, I just read your FEAR review, and since I don't want to necro it, I'll just tell you here that I loved that game so much (seriously, it's got to be somewhere on my top 10 games), and I'm glad you liked it too.

It isn't THAT old :D

I actually have F.E.A.R 2 on Steam, and will give it a go sometime in future, but I've got a slew of PS3/PS2 titles I plan on reviewing (though I'm notoriously unreliable when it comes to WHAT I plan to review.)

Which reminds me: you recommended I try the Splinter Cell games, right? Well, I downloaded Chaos Theory on XBL: it was pretty good, though I found it rather frustrating thanks to the guards being decidedly ninja-like with their detection skills.

Also got a quick shot at Double Agent, but I couldn't really tell you how I felt about it, other than I think the terrorist HQ missions would be impossible to figure out how to do without a guide.

Well, I've been yelled at before :)

Don't do it! I was actually trying to be objective in that review I just linked to (couldn't pass up the plug), I really hated FEAR 2.

Yeah, I recommended SC to you. Man, if the guards in CT seemed too hard for you, it's a good thing you never played the original. Seriously, at least you know exactly how much noise you can make in CT, that was the only game with a sound meter, so for the others, you're left guessing. That's probably actually the easiest game in the series (possibly excepting the half of the Congo mission in Double Agent that takes place on a battlefield).

Good review. I can't really say objective, but then when can I ever?

Although, I honestly don't know how you can talk about seeing the plot points coming from a mile off, but were surprised by the romance plot? As soon as the main character met the blue girl I thought: Hmmmm, a blue alien warrior woman who is the chief's daughter and initially hostile to the main character? I wonder how this is going to end.
Unless you are talking about the point at which they decided to have the sex scene, which I can only assume they put there because they wanted it somewhere and it's just before the excrement hits the ventilation system.

Furburt:
I think Avatar is a perfect example of the different way people watch films. Some watch films in a more cerebral way, to analyze the elements and muse on them. These people generally don't like Avatar.

The others just take the movie as an experience, judging it as good or bad depending on whether they were just entertained by it. I am one of these people, and I fucking loved it. I came out the theatre and my knees were shaking and I was gibbering (same the second time too).
It's just a goddamn entertaining movie, but I can see why some people wouldn't like it.

So bit of advice, if your friends are saying "OMG and such, Avatar ROX/SUX", don't bother trying to change their mind. It's just a fundamental difference in viewing tastes.

Anyway, nice review. I like your writing style, very readable. I think I might bookmark this so I can read it again later.

That's just the thing with me, while I can understand why people would love the movie I think to god damned much for me to just be able to gloss over everything that made no sense to me in any way shape or form.

I don't consider it a 'bad' movie by any stretch of the imagination, but anytime a story depends on a plot device where thinking about it is detrimental to the believability of the story I find myself kind of insulted on some level. It's like you're being punished for DARING to notice where they didn't bother to even put duct-tape over the plot holes.

I like your review a lot. I agree with almost all your points, especially change from profiteers to racists which I thought was just mental. Plus the fact that the only people who seemed to have any morals were the sole female grunt (Rodriguez... really hot) and the scientists. All the other men were monosylabic idiots.

Having said that, I thouroughly enjoyed the experience and thought the effects were nothing short of superb.

the1ultimate:
Good review. I can't really say objective, but then when can I ever?

...

Unless you are talking about the point at which they decided to have the sex scene, which I can only assume they put there because they wanted it somewhere and it's just before the excrement hits the ventilation system.

The whole point of reviews is to offer an opinion. Thus, most of them are biased a little :D

But yes, when I referred to the romance subplot being sudden, I did mean the "sex" (more like cuddling when surrounded by the ghosts of your ancestors...) scene. There was some buildup: I just felt that it wasn't enough to justify a bond for life.

Thanks to all who've commented positively: I really appreciate it.

You know, I wasn't even remotely interested in this movie until I realised Michelle Rodriguez was in it. I then decided not to see it on the basis of her involvement, because it meant that not only would I know the exact detail of the overarching plot, but I knew for an outright fact that her character would die before the end.

Seriously, if you want to try and shock me into watching your movie, hire an actor who always dies, then have them live, that will interest me.

scotth266:

But yes, when I referred to the romance subplot being sudden, I did mean the "sex" (more like cuddling when surrounded by the ghosts of your ancestors...) scene. There was some buildup: I just felt that it wasn't enough to justify a bond for life.

This is driven home in pretty much the next scene where

Yeah, that was a relationship with a solid foundation alright.

Furburt:
I think Avatar is a perfect example of the different way people watch films. Some watch films in a more cerebral way, to analyze the elements and muse on them. These people generally don't like Avatar.

The others just take the movie as an experience, judging it as good or bad depending on whether they were just entertained by it. I am one of these people, and I fucking loved it. I came out the theatre and my knees were shaking and I was gibbering (same the second time too).
It's just a goddamn entertaining movie, but I can see why some people wouldn't like it.

So bit of advice, if your friends are saying "OMG and such, Avatar ROX/SUX", don't bother trying to change their mind. It's just a fundamental difference in viewing tastes.

Anyway, nice review. I like your writing style, very readable. I think I might bookmark this so I can read it again later.

Avatar is a masterpiece. No doubt about it. People are entitled to their opinions, and I can't convince everybody what a good movie this was.

*cough* http://www.escapistmagazine.com/groups/view/Official-Escapist-Avatar-Fan-Group *cough*

The fact that people are becoming emotionally affected in such a large way makes this movie truly awe inspiring in my book.

Z of the Na'vi:

Furburt:
I think Avatar is a perfect example of the different way people watch films. Some watch films in a more cerebral way, to analyze the elements and muse on them. These people generally don't like Avatar.

The others just take the movie as an experience, judging it as good or bad depending on whether they were just entertained by it. I am one of these people, and I fucking loved it. I came out the theatre and my knees were shaking and I was gibbering (same the second time too).
It's just a goddamn entertaining movie, but I can see why some people wouldn't like it.

So bit of advice, if your friends are saying "OMG and such, Avatar ROX/SUX", don't bother trying to change their mind. It's just a fundamental difference in viewing tastes.

Anyway, nice review. I like your writing style, very readable. I think I might bookmark this so I can read it again later.

Avatar is a masterpiece. No doubt about it. People are entitled to their opinions, and I can't convince everybody what a good movie this was.

*cough* http://www.escapistmagazine.com/groups/view/Official-Escapist-Avatar-Fan-Group *cough*

The fact that people are becoming emotionally affected in such a large way makes this movie truly awe inspiring in my book.

I respect your opinion and I've noticed that you're an active and respectable member of the Escapist community.

But you can't possibly expect anyone to take this overzealous post as anything but fanboyish, especially considering your avatar and that shameless plug for your own user group. Perhaps my attack is uncalled for, but calling something barely a month old a "masterpiece" is completely jumping the gun. Things should be given more time to simmer in order to become a masterpiece.

Terribly sorry, but I found the movie to be bland and boring.

OT: Very well written review, even if I disagree.

Avatar delivered what I expected a good eye candy summer blockbuster that held my attention and didn't piss me off, unlike a few others did over the last couple of years. James Cameron best director for perfectng and utilizing the new tech, sure. Best drama (golden globe), unfortantly bad choice.

I had a much more emotional connection with UP! and think it deserves just as much praise for evoking emotions with pixals.

Great to look at but ultimately a terrible storyline, full of ugly old tropes. Proof that you can really shine a turd.

I went into this film happy I left shaking my head and wishing I hadn't helped Cameron gain a profit from this. There's just so much wrong with this film that for me the 3d merely acted like a magicians hot female assistant smiling appealingly while he fumbles around in his pocket for where he kept that pigeon.

0thello:
Great to look at but ultimately a terrible storyline, full of ugly old tropes. Proof that you can really shine a turd.

I went into this film happy I left shaking my head and wishing I hadn't helped Cameron gain a profit from this. There's just so much wrong with this film that for me the 3d merely acted like a magicians hot female assistant smiling appealingly while he fumbles around in his pocket for where he kept that pigeon.

That's too bad. I had the same reaction to Bay-formers, actually that made me use my popcorn bag to cover my head, cry out of shear dispair and need professional help to recover.

I just hope the Tech can be used for "responsible" movie making...oh god no...Bay-Formers 3 using that tech, bad idea.

Well written. Want some internet porn?

MY only question is: if the corporation just nuked the N'avi (doesn't have to be atomic weapons, but you get the idea), how would anyone on Earth find out?

If humanity's only interest on the planet is the minerals to be mined (because they're sure as hell not worrying about whatever Avatar's version of the Prime Directive is,) they probably don't really give a shit about maintaining oversight on the company other than ensuring they find the minerals and return a profit.

Gese scotth, I haven't seen you in forever. Nice work, I hope to see more of it in the future.

T3h Merc:
Well written. Want some internet porn?

I'll pass, but thanks for the offer?

Vek:
MY only question is: if the corporation just nuked the N'avi (doesn't have to be atomic weapons, but you get the idea), how would anyone on Earth find out?

If humanity's only interest on the planet is the minerals to be mined (because they're sure as hell not worrying about whatever Avatar's version of the Prime Directive is,) they probably don't really give a shit about maintaining oversight on the company other than ensuring they find the minerals and return a profit.

In the movie, this is actually (briefly) explained: the reason that they can't remove the Na'vi with force is that Sigourney Weaver's character (the head scientist of the Avatar project) is a REALLY influential person, whose written several books. So she can go spill the beans on whatever shenanigans they pull if they don't try everything else first.

Pimppeter2:
Gese scotth, I haven't seen you in forever. Nice work, I hope to see more of it in the future.

Thanks, and don't worry, I'm not going to vanish any time soon.

Well written review, and it's nice to seem someone taking an opinion that's not just "Durr, Worst film ever!" or "Durr, Best film ever!"
I myself thoroughly enjoyed it, and am probably going to see it again a few more times. Something with that film clicked with me, and I really got behind the characters (particularly in the middle of the film) I can understand why people wouldn't though, it has a predictable plot, and the characterisation is pretty uneven. I was just ridiculously entertained and emotionally invested by the end, and I don't ask for much more than that.

(off topic, but speaking of emotionally investing, Up is the greatest film since the lion king for this. tear jerking bastards...)

Meh, to be honest Avatar really needed like 20 more minutes. Don't get me wrong, Avatar is my favorite movie ever but it felt like it was crammed into a far to short time limit. That's probably why the villains didn't feel like they were a driving force, although to be honest this may be a problem with the film itself.

Hopefully the (maybe) longer directors cut can solve these issues.

 

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