31
Dec
09

AVATAR — A Review

…A simple, non-professional review of James Cameron’s Avatar.

Have you ever gone to a movie and thought you’d seen it before; at least parts of it…several times. Such was the reaction I had to seeing James Cameron’s cinematic event; Avatar (20th Century Fox Film Corporation).

I went to a Christmas day screening of the film with my son-in-law. Obviously, he and I come from different generations. I don’t really know if he liked, loved, or hated the flick, but I was not too favorably impressed. I do believe that to be a generational thing. Movie-goers who grew up play all manner of video games will likely see Avatar as their Citizen Kane or Gone with the Wind. But that was not my reaction.

Before I launch into my assessment, let me say that Cameron is a master film maker. Avatar will undoubtedly garner him acclaim and accolade alike, and deservedly so. It is a cinematic tour de force that should be paid its due. However, it is will be for the technical achievements, and not for the writing or acting (though Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver did a good job, given the medium they were assigned to act in). Proclaiming that this is a “live action” film however does not negate the fact that we’re watching Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) here for the better part of the movie. Mary Poppins was a live action movie, but you never forgot that you were also watching cartoon characters as well, and I never forgot that in Avatar either.

Rather than masterpiece, I saw Avatar as a master-piecework of a film. It was as if Cameron took bits and pieces from so many other films and wove them into his 162 minute epic. When asked by my wife what movie we’d seen, I told her we saw several movies in one: Aliens, Apocalypto, Braveheart, Dances with Wolves, Jurassic Park, even The Lion King. I’ll do my best to synthesize these examples in this review.

Thematically, the film discouraged me on several aspects. In an age when this country is at war, and the depiction of armed service personnel, even if in this case soldier-of-fortune types, is a sensitive thing to approach. To have a film manipulate your feelings in such a way as to have you rooting against American forces bothered me. Cameron’s political message of “leave the indigence populations alone” comes across clearly. When we still have lunatics from the Middle East attempting to blow innocent Americans out of the sky, this perspective reflects the height of cowardly, seditious thinking to me. After the catastrophic attack on the tribal home, I found it offensive to see the scenes of the Na’vi walking through a devastated landscape that even Cameron admits evokes a 911, New York-like atmosphere, complete with ash floating down. Cameron’s ecological bias comes across in the film, as if his past documentary efforts weren’t emphatic enough. His pagan, goddess worshipping protagonists saddened me. Why is it so many film makers feel that every other form of worship is superior to Christianity? When was the last time you saw a big budget movie extol the virtues of Christianity? I digress.

On to the area of originality, I was shocked silly to discover that the name of the element sought by the “evil” American corporate type, Parker Selfridge (played by Giovanni Ribisi, who appeared to be acting as a transplant from a sitcom where the nebbish son or nephew of the “boss” is running things in this role), was: Unobtanium! Seriously? Unobtain-ium: A term attributed to aeronautical engineering of the 1950’s for something so rare and costly as to be impossible to get or harness.

             

Is this Cameron’s homage to Alfred Hitchcocks’ use of the MacGuffin (a thematic element, unnecessary to the story, designed to move the plot along)? If so, Cameron does a good deal of this in Avatar, either paying tribute or out-n-out attempting to “one-up” others in the industry. I couldn’t tell if it was honor or ego.

I mentioned earlier that Avatar reminded me of Aliens (also directed by Cameron, and starring Ms. Weaver). In Aliens, Cameron has the Ripley character (Weaver) battle the alien queen in a cargo-handling contraption called an exo-suit.

         

The exo-suit bore a more then coincidental resemblance to the beefed up, testosterone-infused Amplified Mobility Platform (AMP) used by Colonel Quaritch and others of the security forces.

The Na’vi tribe that paraplegic Marine, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) infiltrates and then joins reminded me of the Mayan tribesmen of Mel Gibson’s 2006 film, Apocalypto.

The tribal dress and haircuts were oddly reminiscent. In fact, it seemed that Cameron was further affected by one of Gibson’s own characterization in another move. At one point, Jake gives the Na’vi a rousing speech on how they must band together to fight the coming attack by the American forces. At this point I leaned over to my son-in-law and whispered, “Today we fight for Scotland!” being reminded of the “…Tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!” speech in Braveheart.

    

Maybe it was the blue make up, but the comparison fits.

Jake goes through quite a metamorphosis in the movie, as he not only takes on the avatar’s persona of a Na’vi, but ultimately becomes one of them, with scenes reminiscent of Keven Costner’s character in Dances with Wolves.

    

Once again, the battle wearied and scarred American soldier converts himself into the alien culture and ultimately ends up fighting alongside them, against his brother soldiers. The times have changed, but when the chips are down, in Cameron’s universe, the noble and heroic thing to do is to desert and fight to the death to defeat those you once stood with.

The CGI animation of the prehistoric creatures lacked the realism of the Raptors and Tyrannosaurus in Jurassic Park. Though it tried, maybe I’ve become too jaded by what has come before. I could not seem to see these as living, breathing beings, as I did when I marveled at the creatures in Spielberg’s classic.

Even Disney was treated to a Cameron do-over, as the focal point of the corporate greed (the afore mentioned, ridiculously labeled Unobtanium) is seated firming below the Na’vi’s sacred and hallowed home ground; Hometree. It appeared to me that Cameron used elements of The Lion King musical when in the second act, Simba and Rafiki meet at Rafiki’s Tree. That tree is duplicated in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park with the massive Tree of Life attraction, which has striking similarities to Cameron’s Na’vi Hometree. Now that I look at the two characters, Jake’s avatar and Simba even bear an uncanny resemblance.

    

As I said in the beginning, Cameron’s cinematic achievements in Avatar will be noted far and wide. However, I would have expected more for the estimated $300-400 million in production costs. And as for me, the film strikes out on so many levels. If you enjoyed it, I acknowledge your taste. For those of you who, like me, don’t share that experience, I see you.

RET

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