Saturday, January 23, 2010

AVATAR (2009)

Written & Directed by James Cameron

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. January 22, 2010 7:00PM

After all the hype, the many accolades ( including the recent winner for Best Picture at the 2009 Golden Globe Awards) and financial gain (1.6 billion worldwide and counting), I finally went to see "Avatar". I wasn't necessarily avoiding it but I was waiting to see it with Dean and I wasn't in any particular hurry. I have to admit I wasn't completely sold on the trailer but it did get good reviews and great word of mouth.

So, what did I think of the film? Well, I actually liked it a lot. I didn't love it, I think it is definitely overpraised and it is forty-five minutes too long but still it is a very entertaining.

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a disabled ex-marine who is sent to a mining outpost on a moon called Pandora. He is offered a lot of money to replace his deceased brother who was involved in a project that requires DNA that is similar to his. Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), who is head of the project, is dead set against using him because he is untrained and inexperienced. Parker Selfridge, (Giovanni Ribsi) who runs the mining operation is unconcerned and feels his being an ex-marine will be an asset.

The project is called the Avatar Program which is the growing of a hybrid of human DNA and of the Na'Vi, which are a ten foot tall, blue skinned, cat featured humanoids that are native to the planet. The subject goes in to a machine and their minds are transferred into the avatar which allows them to control it like it is part of their body. Humans are unable to breathe the air without breathing masks so this will allow the scientists to collect biological samples as well as a way to try and reestablish a relationship with the tribe by looking like them.

Parker Selfridge is trying this program because he wants to attempt to peacefully relocate the Na'Vi from the Hometree where the Omaticaya clan live. This is the reason why communications have broken down between the humans and the Na'Vi. Underneath the very large tree is a large source of unobtanium which is a mineral that is very valuable back on Earth. If this doesn't work, he is more than willing to remove them off the land by force with the assistance of Colonel Miles Quartich (Stephen Lang), the leader of the private security and his arsenal of military firepower.

Jake, Dr. Augustine, and Norm, (Joel David Moore) a fellow biologist, are flown out in their avatars by Trudy (Michelle Rodriguez), a tough security force pilot, to an outpost in the middle of the jungle for biological samples. After Jake is chased by an indigenous animal, he is separated from the crew and is lost. Night falls and Jake is surrounded by a pack of wolf-like creatures but he is rescued by Neytiri, (Zoe Saldana) a Na'Vi female. She doesn't think much of Jake but she decides to take him back to the Hometree. Jake is not welcomed by the Omaticaya tribe but Neytiri's mother, Mo'at (CCH Pounder) senses something about him and instructs her daughter to teach him their ways and to train him as a warrior.

When Jake returns to his body, Col Quartich enlists him to secretly give him intelligence on the Na'Vi to help with removing them from the area and in exchange, he will help Jake get back the use of his legs.

Over the next three months, Jake becomes close to the Omaticaya clan but most especially with Neytiri but she is promised to Tsu'Tey (Laz Alonzo), a powerful warrior. They don't let this stop them from becoming intimate. Now that he understands the Na'Vi people and their culture, Jake no longer wants to be invoved with removing them from the area and now wants to help them fight off the humans.

Dr. Augustine tries to convince Mr. Selfridge that by destroying the Hometree they could upset the bio-botanical connection between all of the planet's lifeforms. He doesn't care and gives them only one hour to convince them to relocate or he will send the military to destroy the tree, whether they move or not.

In their avatars, Jake, Norm and Dr. Augustine try to warn the Omaticaya clan of what is to come but it is to no avail. As promised, Col. Quartich and his team come and knock down the tree. There are many casualties including Neytiri's father, the clan chief Eytucan (Wes Studi).

After the massacre, Col. Quartich has the trio imprisoned. Col. Quartich's new plan involves destroying the Tree of Souls, which is important to Na'Vi religion and culture, as a way of making them submissive to the humans. Trudy, fed up with what is going on, helps Jake and the team escape with the avatar devices and flies them out to the outpost. Tsu'Tey is now the new chief and with Jake's help they unite thousands of warriors from many other Na'Vi tribes to fight the humans but will it be enough to stop them?

Say what you will about Mr. Cameron and his ego, which is larger than this film's budget but he knows what he is doing in regards to creating great Hollywood entertainment. His last film, "Titanic" (1998) is the top grossing film of all time and "Avatar" looks like it going to do the impossible and top that film. I saw this film in 3D and that is really the only way you should see "Avatar" to really appreciate the amazing visual effects. "Avatar" is a game changer in film and it is now the high standard of how CGI can be used for photo-realistic results and it points to the future cinematic possibilities from this technology. Visually, this film was absolutely stunning, breath taking at times and at the end, I couldn't believe that, with the exception of the human actors, virtually almost everything we saw in the entire film was created by a computer.

Mr. Worthington, with his rugged features and sensitive nature, has a great screen presence and a could potentially have a big future in films. Mr. Lang is perfectly scary and menacing as Col. Quatich and as she did in Mr. Cameron's "Aliens" (1986), Ms Weaver delivers her reliable tough and tender performance and adds a touch of class to the film.

There is no argument that this film is a visual wonder but the problem I have is that people are proclaiming this to be the "Best Film of the Year" . Now, it is very well made and entertaining but it is no where near that category. If you strip all of the effects away, all you have left is a very slight and standard story. "Avatar" makes me think of "The Jazz Singer" (1927), which is only still remembered because it was an innovative film at that time. It was the first talking film but it doesn't hold up well and it's not very good. Although I don't think "Avatar" will be looked back on necessarily as a lousy film but I do think it will certainly be viewed as overpraised. I highly recommend you experience the 3D "Avatar" in a theater. It is well worth the ride.