IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Avatar

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Some of the best stories out there are simple stories that are well-told. A straightforward plot doesn't necessarily make for a bad escapist experience, if there are elements of that plot that transcend its simplicity. Take District 9, for example. Aliens come to Earth in bad shape and they're exploited by corporate douchebags. Simple, right? Yet that story is so well told, expertly executed and subtle in its soapbox moments that the simplicity of the story can be completely ignored. How about Daybreakers? Alternative energy sources are good things, we get that, but the point is made without distracting from the fact that the lack of energy in that film's characters causes them to bite people's throats open, and getting Willem Dafoe in a 1978 Firebird Trans Am with an arsenal of crossbows to go after cannibalistic bat-monsters is so cool I don't care what soapbox he's standing on.

Avatar is no District 9. Avater is no Daybreakers. Without its stunning visuals, embarrassingly good hero cast and the word of mouth given by legions of fans whose eyes were short-circuited thanks to the insidiousness of 3-D, this film wouldn't have a blue spindly leg to stand on.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Avatar introduces us to Jake Sully, the reluctant brother of a scientist who was gunned down in a back alley mugging. Jake's brother, a twin, was part of the research team interested in making contact and establishing relations with the native population of Pandora, a moon 6 or so light-years from Earth. Earth has become something of a strip-mined deforested smog-covered pipe-dream-of-the-military-industrial-complex wasteland, and humanity is hungry for more resources. Luckily, Pandora is home not only to a thriving, vibrant, nature-conscious sentient race of ten-foot-tall aboriginal blue feline humanoids called the Na'vi but also a universal powers-anything totally-not-an-allegory-for-oil mineral called Unobtainium. In order to mine their MacGuffinium, the corporation in charge needs to move the Na'vi off of rich deposits. Jake's brother was part of the Avatar program, designed to reach a diplomatic solution. Right behind them, though, are butch manly gun-happy violence-for-pleasure-seeking beer-swilling cigar-chomping Americans. Okay, they're probably not ALL Americans, but I think you can see where I'm going with this.

Anyway, Jake's a paraplegic and he's told that if he helps get the Na'vi to abandon their homes that sit on top of the Plotdevicium, they'll pay for the spinal operation to restore function to his legs. Unfortunately, somebody's been looking at way too much shiny Plotconveniencium because they didn't realize that an avatar, a genetically grown artificial body composed of both human and Na'vi DNA, not only gives Jake his legs but also enhanced senses, a USB interface with the world's wildlife and, oh yeah, makes him a ten foot tall warrior crystal dragon Jesus. Nice work there, guys.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox
"Sam, go over there and emote. I'll stay back here and think about how much money this movie's gonna make me."

Before I get to what bugs me about the film, let's talk about what works in it. The visuals, as I've said, are jaw-droppingly gorgeous. The eco-system of Pandora is designed to take one's breath away, and it certainly does do that job. There's an organic feeling to everything that belongs on Pandora. By the same token, the sense one gets from the human contraptions, from the modular buildings to the badass fighting mechs, is that these were welded or hammered together by human hands, not assembled in a graphics program on $300 million's worth of computers.

The other really good thing about Avatar is the cast. I'm not just talking about Sam Worthington, who's quickly becoming someone I really enjoy seeing on screen but needs to stop attempting an American accent, or Sigorney Weaver, who's right at home being in a film like this. (Oh, and side note, thank you James Cameron for putting Michelle Rodriguez in Na'vi war paint. Rawr.) No, the Na'vi themselves are rendered beautifully. Now, I know they were pretty much designed to be appealing to a human audience in an aesthetic, emotional and sexual way, but that doesn't stop the end result from being impressive. I think it was pretty clear from the outset that if the Na'vi and their world didn't truly come to life, even on the flat screen upon which I saw it to say nothing of 3-D, the whole opera'd fall apart. Thankfully, Pandora and it's flora and fauna do pull you in, and the scenes in the lush, luminous forests are some of the most immersive I've seen in quite some time.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox
This guy's evil. You can tell because he drinks coffee while burning down trees.

But just like the fist of an angry corporate-funded gung-ho jarhead trying to punch his way to a deposit of Bullshitium, the illusion of Pandora's perfection is shattered by so many bad story elements it's difficult to say where one should begin. There is no way in hell this operation should run the way it does. Too many military and money-grubbing types are at the top while the scientists who might actually have a clue as to what humanity has stumbled across are treated like a nuisance rather than an asset. If it weren't for the fact that these bozos exist for the same reason Adhominemium does, it'd be completely incomprehensible how these clowns even got off of Earth, let alone ended up in nominal control of Pandora. But James Cameron has a point to make here, and as much as he spared no expense bringing his vision to life, he pulls no punches in letting us know exactly what he's trying to say, about whom and why it's bad. Those bombs in the back of the shuttle in the film's climax might as well be goddamn anvils.

The villains' aren't just evil for evil's sake. Oh, no. They're evil for America's sake. Beyond the obvious "respect for nature" message and other aspects of the story discussed to death elsewhere in other reviews, parodies, tired internet memes and episodes of South Park, Avatar does everything within its power to underscore the major flaws in the neo-conservative movement. The villains see the worlds before them in black and white, foster a strong "us versus them" mentality, disregard a multilateral approach to solving their problems and opt instead for military intervention in the extreme. I'd say that the corporate stooges were Germans and the Na'vi Polish Jews, if it weren't clear Cameron were going after Bush-era Americans instead of Nazis. Hell, at one point, Colonel George Herbert Walker Whatever-The-Hell-His-Name-Is uses the words "shock and awe" when discussing his pre-emptive war. It's clear that James Cameron is underscoring the evils of deforestation and corporate greed. But hey, these are Americans we're talking about, and they on the whole really don't give a shit. Deforestation is only something that happens in other countries that didn't have the good fortune to be America, and Americans love themselves some corporate greed. Just look at how our banks and real estate markets are set up.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox
"So wait, there's no civilian oversight and your career military men are basically mercenaries? Come here, let me teach you the Na'vi word for 'Bullshit'."

The interplanetary love story is a bit trite, but it works because it's well-acted. We do feel something is at stake during the action sequences and they're not confusing at all, being well-shot and choreographed, but the messages that drive the action are so obvious and ham-handed you can hear the bacon sizzling when the Hometree burns. All in all, there's stuff to like in Avatar and it's worth seeing for the visuals and sweeping sci-fi/fantasy warfare that honestly rivals some of the set pieces in Lord of the Rings. So put it on your Netflix queue.

Oh, and don't worry about not seeing it in 3-D. Let's face it, 3-D's a fad. It was a fad back in the 50s and it's a fad right now, people are just a bit thicker than they were back then so it'll take somewhat longer for the fad to go away this time. I mean, look at the way some people reacted to Avatar. Other than the immediate declaration that it is THE BEST MOVIE EVER and dumping piles of money and adoration on James Cameron, who probably can't get it up unless he's contemplating how fucking brilliant he is, some people actually fell into suicidal depression when they beheld the landscape of Pandora and had to be told it's not real. I was personally reminded of some of the vistas from games like Aion and World of Warcraft, which makes me a pretty massive nerd in case that wasn't clearly obvious. While I could see a lot of the flaws in this movie - I didn't even mention the weird application of physics on Pandora, what with floating mountains and "low gravity" that operates just like Earth's gravity - I still enjoyed it, which I guess means I'm powered by just as much Retardium as anybody else.

Spotting the flaws, though, and calling them out without mentioning all of the other films Avatar plundered like Doctor Frankenstein in a graveyard looking for fresh parts, probably means my internal derp furnace is running a bit low.

Josh Loomis can't always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it's unclear if this week's film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain... IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

Hahahahahhahahaha!
Nice one man.

I liked the move but found myself facepalming at all of the Obvious things you pointed out in your review.

Its like he thought the audience wouldn't get it because they would be to busy soaking up the visual effects to pay much attention.

Any way, it had a story that was done to death dressed up in a new way, and if i had the money i would probably go and buy it.

And a little off topic....while watching the movie.....i really wanted to play Metroid Prime.

Pandora screamed Tallon Overworld and Torvus Bog from time to time.

And i also loved the creature designs.

You felt that District 9's allegory was more subtle than Avatar's? That's... interesting (I'm actively trying not to ignite a firestorm of political discussion here). They're about the same on that level as far as I'm concerned, with me personally leaning towards District 9 as more overt and overwrought thanks to the solid hour of discrimination before the table-turning climax. At least the Na'vi were on the losing end of a more level playing field. However I suppose that, by and large, people are more ecologically conscious than politically conscious.

Anyway...

I find it quite interesting that you seemed to use the conclusion of my Avatar review as the jumping off point for yours, even if this was entirely unintentional (funny how you can take the same point in two different directions). Having said that, I largely disagree with your review and maintain that Avatar was my favourite movie of 2009. James Cameron, like no other director with the exception of perhaps Spielberg, reliably delivers movies that never disappoint when it comes to spectacle. I'm glad that you're able to appreciate this too, and I hope that you don't think I'm the sort of person who lets my brain slip out of my popped eyeballs and dropped jaw during such an experience for letting it form such a predominant aspect of my opinion. My opinion of Avatar was that it was a thrilling cinematic experience from start to finish that engages without ever lecturing from a soapbox long enough for it to be a liability.

The $300-$500 million dollar work of toil and labour produced a masterfully refined and effortless product. I've never experienced a movie quite like Avatar, before or since (this is more a statement to do with the technology of the film IMAX and 3D, etc.). Frankly, I don't understand why so many people can be up in arms over alleged patronizing or condescending tones and the purported stance of assuaging white guilt. You're walking into a movie theatre, not a lecture auditorium. Avatar is a movie first and a lecture a far distant second; the audience should be able to take or leave whatever ethics are brandied about. Avatar's success owes no more to allegory than it does to 3D.

Yet with this comment, it's not my intention to attack your (or anyone else's) opinions anymore than it is to defend mine. Lovely review, well supported perspectives, etc., etc., I confer all the usual praise upon you. My real beef is in your haste to dismiss 3D as a fad and irrelevant. You're right: when it comes right down to it, a film cannot rely on 3D to make it better or worse (it's only improving the experience, not the product). However 3D is a very big thing in the entertainment industry right now as the countless dollars being poured into R&D for private 3D experiences in movies, video games, television shows, etc. is indicating. Avatar, and the animated films may have started the trend, but it's only getting bigger and bigger. The success of Clash of the Titans, Alice in Wonderland, and the upcoming The Last Airbender show that 2D films retrofitted with 3D can succeed, and folks like Cameron, Spielberg, and Zemeckis have already pledged that they will only make their films in 3D from here on in. Some 3D televisions have already debuted, and video games are taking their first 3D steps with titles on the XBLA and PSN. I'm pretty sure that this time, 3D is here to stay (however whether or not it takes off in the private realm remains to be seen).

Again, I liked your review as a whole, but the jab at 3D was miscalculated (especially when you're passing judgement on a 3D experience without, you know, "experiencing" it). The future of 3D relied on the success of Avatar, and it wagers 2.3 billion dollars that this time, it's not going anywhere.

So I guess I'm not the only one who thought Unobtainium is quite possibly the least original name for a valuable resource... except maybe Valuableresourcium.

Marine Mike:
So I guess I'm not the only one who thought Unobtainium is quite possibly the least original name for a valuable resource... except maybe Valuableresourcium.

The irony is, is that it actually is. It was coined by aerospace engineers in the 50's as a shorthand for any required resource that is A. In extremely short supply, B. Doesn't exist yet, or C. Physically impossible. It's not an actual material, just slang for a lack of one, but James Cameron didn't come up with it.

OP: This may be the first time our opinions differ, Senor Loomis, as I really liked Avatar.

But I don't want to debate with you, precisely because I don't think that Avatar is worth debating. It's a popcorn movie, that's what it is, it's a meaningless little distraction that's a nice way to shut off your brain for 3 hours and regress into primordial "Ooh, pretty colours! Action!" mode. In many ways, it's a childrens film, a fairytale, full of simple characterizations, and age-old (Older than Dances With Wolves, anyway) story conventions.

It is not Bladerunner, that's for damn sure, and if you go in expecting that, you'll be disappointed, but if you approach it as just a nice burst of fun, it's a very entertaining film. Perhaps this is just my B-movie attitude, that allows me to look past every terrible quality of a film as long as it's entertaining, and rest assured, Avatar does have quite a few terrible components, but at the end of it, you get a pleasant piece of brain candy to rot your brain.

What I'm saying is, if you're trying to scientifically debate Avatar, analyze its plot in any complex fashion, or get hung up on the message (again, childrens story), you're taking a film like this too seriously.
The people who say that Avatar is the best film ever are as wrong as those who say it's the worst film ever (which I know you didn't, I'm just ranting here). My view of the film is that while it's not a 5 star movie, not even close, go in with a desire to simply be entertained, and it's 5 star entertainment.

Oh, and apparently the film improves incrementally the number of times you see it. A friend of mine, who hated it the first time, I dragged him along to a second showing, he was ambivalent about it, by the third showing, he kind of liked it, and by the 4th, he loved it.

ONE OF US

Furburt:

Oh, and apparently the film improves incrementally the number of times you see it. A friend of mine, who hated it the first time, I dragged him along to a second showing, he was ambivalent about it, by the third showing, he kind of liked it, and by the 4th, he loved it.

ONE OF US

IT IS THE TRUTH!

I hated Avatar with a passion the first time I saw it. The second time, it was strangely appealing.

I have yet to see it the third time, but I'm pretty sure I will start to like it.

Oh, and your review was awesome-liquor.

You write really good reviews!

Anyway, Avatar, I hated it mainly because it involved me switching off all rational thought and just going along for the ride. And while some films can get away with that Avaatr really couldn't. I did however enjoy the hyprocracy of the whole affair and I soon recovered from my post Avatar by burning a tree...

I did enjoy Avatar, even though I was wanting the Colonel to win. The message of HUMANS BAD, NA'VI GOOD tries so hard to force itself on the audience that it basically backfired for me and my friends. They're made out to be just too perfect.

The film has also spawned fabtastic rage conversation as me and my friends discet the entire film and mock the epic plot holes and science fails.

So as a piece of entertainment, rather successful.

jump-leads-to-the-ball-bags, gravel-chomping, sheer-as-the-cliff-face awesome, my friend.

I could never work up the enthusiasm to go and actually see the film, with people talking about its visual beauty and 3d wonders having as much effect as telling Jason Statham that his american accent is a bit dodgy, but this is pretty much exactly how I imagined a review of it would go.

Light on plot, morals painted in primary colours but awful purdy with some decent leads.
I've been writing reviews for a while now, I like to think people might know my tastes... any point in me watching it?

Maet:
You felt that District 9's allegory was more subtle than Avatar's? That's... interesting (I'm actively trying not to ignite a firestorm of political discussion here). They're about the same on that level as far as I'm concerned, with me personally leaning towards District 9 as more overt and overwrought thanks to the solid hour of discrimination before the table-turning climax. At least the Na'vi were on the losing end of a more level playing field. However I suppose that, by and large, people are more ecologically conscious than politically conscious.

See, the thing about that is the scenario crafted for the allegory is entirely believable - it's really hard to imagine any organization like the one in Avatar actually existing outside of overly sanctimonious fictional settings. District 9 on the other hand was based in part on real events in South Africa's history. The squalor and tragedy of the refugee camps and their forced relocation? All that stuff actually happened, albeit without any aliens.

So while they both have a fairly obvious message (humans are kind of douchebags!), Avatar's stands out way more because the participants are flagrant and unrealistic stereotypes.

Gildan Bladeborn:
See, the thing about that is the scenario crafted for the allegory is entirely believable - it's really hard to imagine any organization like the one in Avatar actually existing outside of overly sanctimonious fictional settings. District 9 on the other hand was based in part on real events in South Africa's history. The squalor and tragedy of the refugee camps and their forced relocation? All that stuff actually happened, albeit without any aliens.

So while they both have a fairly obvious message (humans are kind of douchebags!), Avatar's stands out way more because the participants are flagrant and unrealistic stereotypes.

This is where I have to disagree. It's easier to escape with Avatar because the entire universe is fictitious, whereas at least half of District 9 is grounded in reality. It isn't necessary for the audience to make allegorical connections to appreciate the film fully, whereas with District 9, much of the impact is lost without that faculty.

District 9 kept me at a distance because while there are aliens and ultra-violence, the context is undeniably lifted from actual events in very recent human history. This struck me as somewhat juvenile, if not because of the blending of such controversial material with the outlandish gore and action from mech suits and mercenaries, then because it was impossible to escape the fact that the setting was the intelligible real world. I kept asking myself questions about how District 9's earth ended up the way it did after the appearance of extraterrestrials. What would the scientific ramifications really have been? What about the religious ramifications? What about the engineering, biological, and even linguistic ones? I strongly disagree that the actual outcomes would be what District 9 put forward, so the scenario of the allegory is entirely unbelievable, as far as I'm concerned.

Avatar doesn't have to navigate this issue. It's so far moved from reality that any attempt to examine its undertones is rather extraneous. You can take or leave whatever Avatar suggests, yet doing either is not required for optimal enjoyment.

Furburt:
But I don't want to debate with you, precisely because I don't think that Avatar is worth debating. It's a popcorn movie, that's what it is, it's a meaningless little distraction that's a nice way to shut off your brain for 3 hours and regress into primordial "Ooh, pretty colours! Action!" mode. In many ways, it's a childrens film, a fairytale, full of simple characterizations, and age-old (Older than Dances With Wolves, anyway) story conventions.

I suppose that I agree with much of Furburt's assessment in this regard. Like many others have said, Avatar is a simple story that's well told and phenomenally executed. In a way (a really, really loose way), you could compare Avatar to Aesop.

However let's just hope that the sequel isn't an epic fable about bringing democracy to Pandora.

(Oh, and side note, thank you James Cameron for putting Michelle Rodriguez in Na'vi war paint. Rawr.)

This. :}

Not that I don't like your review, because I do, but welcome to last December. Avatar was completely overrated, actually to be honest James Cameron hasn't made a good movie since 1994
(I thought True Lies was good). Titanic was a huge piece of shit and it won best picture over L.A. Confidential. Ridiculous. Apparently Hollywood and the general public are willing to give James Cameron a pass on everything, for no reason whatsoever, and I am not ever looking forward to anything that he is at the helm of.

Fuck James Cameron. He makes James sound like a douche name despite the fact that it's actually a damn cool name.

Maet:
Avatar doesn't have to navigate this issue. It's so far moved from reality that any attempt to examine its undertones is rather extraneous. You can take or leave whatever Avatar suggests, yet doing either is not required for optimal enjoyment.

I have to disagree with the notion that Avatar is "far moved from reality." A native people are sitting on top of a resource that makes Americans an embarrassing amount of money and are using terror to keep people from getting to it. Now, they're simply being ten feet tall and using poison to kill us instead of flying planes into buildings, but the parallel's pretty obvious to me, at least.

As for the issues in District 9 being in "more recent memory" than those in Avatar, I would argue that while apartheid is an issue with greater global impact and ramifications on human relations than America's global interventionism, as the former deals with how one portion of humanity relates to another and the latter is just a bunch of self-righteous hyper-military fat cats trying to gobble up what oil they can before it all runs out (and it will), the issue of apartheid is less immediate and important to Americans. To a great deal of us, the real on-the-ground issues of apartheid, the ways in which it really affected people's lives, and the casual nature of one side's addressing of the issue in light of the harsh reality of that issue are things we'd never really considered, much less experienced. District 9 helps us experience those issues - with nasty alien ray-guns, of course. Then again, this could just be my perspective as a fat ignorant American, so feel free to take my sentiments with all of the salt that comes with our famous heart-stopping addicting fried potatoes.

I still haven't seen this Film. I'm really out dated aren't I.

All well, great review as always.

Humourous yet not ostentatious. Informative without being boring. To date, your best review. I was sad when I came to the end; so I read it again!

I'm glad you weren't gushing about it's greatness. I personally think Avatar is a special effects presentation showcasing what things can be when done right. The characters & story are a second & far third to the graphics & visuals. I hope that sequels will concentrate on the story line, as they won't have the luxury of the uniqueness that their predecessor enjoyed.

I actually got into an argument on this website about Avatar.

I told people it was a good movie that was flawed. While I liked it for the graphics (saw it in 3D), the story sucked. Then it was a huge thing about Deus Ex Machina... Then it was something else about how I could like Terminator 2 but not like Avatar.

James Cameron does make some good movies. No doubt this one will be remembered for being a great one to promote 3D. But it isn't his best work!

I don't know how to get that through to people...

Jake had NO personality except "Hura!" for the first half of the movie. The second half I felt he did a Keanu Reeves and was the stoic guy! I literally wanted to see the Earth and compare it to taihis new and complex place. The problem was, he was introduced with no back story whatsoever. His twin brother did all of the work, he gets all of the credit. It's a small burn, but it's still a burn IMO, not to mention a missed opportunity. What's 30 more minutes of that background to an already slightly complex story?

While I'm railing, I do have to mention that the team up in the end really disappointed me. I was under the impression there was only one tribe in this location. Suddenly there's more as the story needed them. That's not plotting, it's more like Cameron said "oh yeah, they are here." An introduction would have been nice! A way to say to us "oh, we trade with other tribes for different things" would have gone so much further.

As it stands, I believe too many people got mired in the graphix to really care that the story had gaping holes in it.

Pretty decent movie in my opinion.
Good things (not going to say any of the bad things):

Great acting (they could have given Jake Sully more personality at the start and said what he thought about the situation)
Excellent graphics and effects
Decent storyline (maybe even mediocre or VERY slightly below average) - Just because it's cliche doesn't necessarily make it bad (if it's well done). Though it kind of bars it from being good.'
Decent music and sounds.
It's a children and family movie too, being critical about it is stupid, in my opinion the length of the movie is pretty good and easy to watch, especially at home with your parents/wife/girlfriend/siblings etc. and eating popcorn.
Disregard my earlier review on this site about Avatar too when I said it was overrated, at the time I was actually kind of annoyed that another movie wasn't getting much attention which was immature lol.

If anyone is wondering why the movie didn't show any of the other tribes is something to do with the budget, they had a half-made scene somewhere of one of the other tribe leaders being introduced or something somewhere.

 

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