Friday, March 23, 2012

Movie Review: Avatar

Even though its 3D effects were a major part of its appeal, I didn't get around to seeing Avatar [1] in the movie theater, so I missed out on the 3D experience. I didn't watch Avatar until it was out on DVD. Leann and I went over to her sister's house and we watched it with them. I fell dozed off a couple times. So I can't really say I saw it all the way through until Leann recorded it off DirecTV and we watched it together. The film is basically the tale of a man who is seduced by 'noble savages' [2] to the point that he turns on his former friends. This has been done several times before, including Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai, and particularly Disney's Pocahontas.[3] There are only two things that really make this film different: the aforementioned 3D aspect and the fact that it's done in a science fiction setting. Avatar takes place on a fictional moon, called Pandora, which orbits around the fictional gas giant planet, Polyphemos (which looks like they just took images of Jupiter and colored them blue—right down to the giant red—er, blue—spot). Besides being set on a moon several light years away, Avatar touches on other science fiction themes, including mind uploading (like in the novels Neuromancer and Permutation City), a sentient planet (like in the Polish novel Solaris), etc.

My verdict: Unfortunately there is no 'Halomonas avatarae' to destroy this James Cameron film.[4] My complaints are so many that I have to categorize them:

Acting and characterization:
  • Joel David Moore, who plays the manic-depressive intern from the television series Bones [5], plays essentially the same character (though less morose).
  • Even though they have little bits of stuff over their tops, the female Na'vi often look naked.
  • My complaints about Sam Worthington are the same as my complaints in Clash of the Titans [6]: why is an Australian in the U.S. Marines? Oh, because Sam Worthington can't ditch his native accent (i.e. act). Mel Gibson can do it, Russell Crowe can do it, Nicole Kidman can do it, Geoffrey Rush can do it, Cate Blanchett can do it, Hugh Jackman can do it, Naomi Watts can do it, Guy Pearce can do it, Eric Bana can do it, Hugo Weaving can do it, Heath Ledger could do it, so why can't Sam Worthington?
  • Michelle Rodriguez' character was quite worthless. And after her stunt during the destruction of the Hometree, she should've been locked up with the others.
  • Sigourney Weaver, despite the death of her character, will be back for the sequel. This is eerily reminiscent of her many resurrections for the Alien series.
  • Sadly, the most interesting character is the main villain, Colonel Miles Quaritch.[7]
Plot Details:
  • There are some inconsistencies, though. Every Pandoran creature portrayed breathes through spiracles near their shoulders—except the Na'vi.
  • And the Na'vi have three fingers while the avatars have four (I'll admit that this one might've been intentional).
  • There's no reason why unobtanium (which was a ridiculous choice for the name of the element) should be extracted with open-pit mining practices. They should be able to dig a tunnel mine and retrieve the ore without damaging the 'Hometree' and endangering the Na'vi. Also, the unobtanium is responsible for the floating Hallelujah Mountains. So, why didn't they mine there? (except for the risk of that particular mountain falling once you'd mined too much of the unobtanium.)
  • The military victory of the Na'vi over the technologically-superior human forces is ludicrous. The decision to let a crippled man—who is disillusioned with the military and with humanity—experience new legs as an avatar was an obviously dangerous decision.
  • There's no denying that the special effects are spectacular.
  • The film is transparently critical of the Iraq war.
  • The score is very similar to Glory (also by James Horner) and I can't really say that I remember anything being very salient.
But what can I say? I'm a sucker. I'll probably watch the sequels when they come out. But I'll probably harangue them just as hard, too.


[1] For my review of the unrelated television series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, see here and here. For my review of the film based on that television series, The Last Airbender, see here.

[2] This is also called Romantic Primitivism. The idea is that people who live close to nature are infinitely superior to civilized people. See savage.

[3] See

[4] See my post about Halomonas titanicae.

[5] Read my reviews of recent seasons of Bones here and here.

[6] Read my review of that film here.

[7] The actor, Stephen Lang, also did a fabulous portrayal of Stonewall Jackson in Gods and Generals.

Image attributions:

Bioluminescent Fungi (a.k.a. foxfire) is by Ylem, available at 2009.jpg.

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