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Avatar (A Movie Review)

Updated: May 28, 2023



AVATAR (2009)

Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi, Laz Alonso and Dileep Rao.

Screenplay by James Cameron.

Directed by James Cameron.

Distributed by 20th Century Fox.  165 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

James Cameron is a big picture kind of guy.

If you get technical, some of the most basic abilities of a writer/director are beyond his skill set.  For example, he has a completely tin ear when it comes to writing realistic dialogue, he has a tendency towards clichés and he doesn’t have a subtle bone in his body.

However, you have to give it up to the guy – James Cameron is a terrific, imaginative storyteller with a flawless visual sense.

Avatar is Cameron’s first movie in twelve years – unless you count three short IMAX documentaries, which I do not.  However, his last feature film just happens to be the most popular movie ever, Titanic.  Other films on Cameron’s résumé include The Terminator, Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Like I said, not exactly a nuanced body of work, but the man sure has a knack for huge, crowd-pleasing spectacles.

In certain ways, Avatar may be the finest example of his work.  While I personally feel that Titanic is a better film – and I was never a huge fan of his earlier smashes – Avatar is certainly more imaginative and groundbreaking.  It is visually stunning, in a way that makes even Titanic, certainly a grand spectacle itself, seem a little small.

Too bad the story is significantly less interesting than that of Titanic.

Sam Worthington plays Jake, a future Marine who lost use of his legs in war.  He is drafted into a top secret high-tech program, which allows humans to take on a virtual reality alien body on a far-off planet called Pandora.

The local beings on the planet are twelve-foot tall blue somewhat humanoid looking beings.  They live in peace with nature in a dangerous forest home, protecting each other from wild rampaging animals and worship life.  The beings are somewhat savages – in fact they are very reminiscent of Native Americans – using rudimentary weapons like rocks and bows & arrows.

The Earthlings covet a rare mineral which is plentiful in the natives’ holy ground.  Jake is told to infiltrate the beings and gain their trust, but the military, scientific and business factions of the Earth force all have different motives.

Jake does make progress, befriending the chief’s daughter and becoming like one of the aliens.  However, when the Earthlings make more overt actions to take over the planet, Jake must decide which side has his allegiance.

Cameron uses the film to make some heavy-handed political and ecological points.  The fact that I essentially agree with the points of view he is expressing does not blind me to the fact that he is hammering home his perspective with little tact or restraint.  Still, they are vitally important points at this era of history, so maybe tact or restraint is not prudent.

Unfortunately, as is often the case in Cameron’s work, the film ends a bit disappointingly.  There is an extended battle sequence between the natives and the humans – while flawlessly put together, it could still have been in just about any sci-fi fantasy genre spectacle.

Considering the movie is almost three-hours long, this rote ending is doubly disappointing.  However, by this point, most crowds will be all in.  In general the film is strong and visually arresting enough that it can withstand this slightly anti-climactic climax.

Is Avatar worthy of being the most popular movie of all time – an honor that it is quickly approaching?  No, definitely not.  There are much better and more worthy films.  However, Avatar is a rousing and sometimes jaw-dropping adventure yarn and definitely worthy of being a hit.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved. Posted: January 20, 2010.


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