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A paraplegic ex-marine war veteran is unwillingly sent to establish a human settlement on the distant planet of Pandora, only to find himself battling...

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Review of "Avatar(DVD)"

published 07/01/2010 | 0wnz0rz
Member since : 30/11/-0001
Reviews : 23
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Pro Looks great! Great voice acting!
Cons Unoriginal plot, too long
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"Visually stunning to watch, and that's it really."

*FRIENDLY WARNING* This review contains spoilers, so if you do not want to find out bits of important plot, please watch the movie before reading this review. This review is of the theatrical release as the DVD does not exist yet (review on 7/1/2010). *END OF FRIENDLY WARNING*

When this movie was announced, the mates I hung around with never said, 'Oh, James Cameron is back. Will he make a great movie like he did with Titanic?’ Nope, instead they asked, 'Hey, I wonder if there is going to be any blue alien sex?', and, 'Why are there only aliens in one colour? Are they all racist?' Both were very valid and very important questions, in our minds, but that doesn't really matter. What does matter is that this movie was one of the most overly hyped movies of 2009. I mean the only reason you wanted to watch this movie was for the 'amazing 3D special effects' gimmickry that came with its marketing. The power of marketing can do a lot, and as I work for a marketing company I can assure you from experience that it is an empire of lies, deceit and sugar-coated truths to make you spend your cash. And it works.

Don't get me wrong though, Avatar is a magnificent movie to behold. I watched this in full IMAX 3D to get the full experience, and the experience was a mesmerising visual feast for the eyes. But effects make a movie not, because the plot has been done before; you more or less knew how it was going to end and you will ask yourself if James Cameron really did spend over 10 years on this. I thought it was going to have a story of epic proportions with fully fleshed out characters supported by incredible visual effects. Instead I was greeted with recycled clichés with some special effects to gloss over a gap that should have never been there. Maybe it took James Cameron over 10 years to copy and paste and edit.

Why am I complaining about this being a copy and paste job? That is because while I was watching this movie, I couldn't help but realize that I've seen things in this movie I have seen before over and over. I saw bits of Apocalypse Now, Disney's Atlantis, The Last Samurai, Aliens, Fern Gully, The Matrix, Zulu and a bunch of other movies that I have currently forgotten but did think of during the screening. It just blows my mind how James had over 10 years and this was what he put together before thinking, 'Hang on. Let us wait until technology has caught up to my vision before I make this movie. And while it is still catching up, let’s borrow some ideas from other sources, they won't mind!' Well, they might not, but I certainly do!

My main compliment for this movie is the way it has managed to merge 3D rendering with real actors fluidly. The aliens are generated in 3D and are animated amazingly well. The scenes where the 3D renderings interact directly with the live actors are done seamlessly and smoothly, you would have sworn the aliens had an organic presence for the live actors to interact with. Awesome stuff, my hat goes off to James for that spectacular achievement.

Being 2 hours 45 minutes in length, this movie is very long so I will try to nutshell the plot as much as possible. The movie takes place on Pandora, a moon covered in Amazonian jungle and teeming with Amazonian jungle creatures. The atmosphere of Pandora is unbreathable to humans so they all need oxygen masks to work outside. A mining company, RDA, is on the planet to mine it of a rare mineral called Unobtainium, and I am not making that up. That ridiculous name is what the humans call it, usually used by engineers to describe a material that is perfect for their uses but does not exist, yet here it is in a movie. RDA also hires a group of ex-Marines as security guards to protect them in the hostile environment of Pandora. An indigenous race of blue, feline-like humanoid aliens called the Na’vi inhabits an area that has a rich deposit of the rare mineral beneath them. In an attempt to create better relations with the Na'vi and try to get them to relocate, the scientists of RDA create Avatars; human-Na'vi hybrid clones from which the original human whose DNA was used could link to the Na'vi body and control it as if in that body. Personally, I would have called those bodies Prius' but my mates thought I was being stupid.

Then enters our main protagonist, Corporal Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington fresh from his Terminal Salvation stint, as a paraplegic ex-Marine who was drafted in to join RDA after his twin brother was murdered. They do not explain properly how his brother was murdered and if that person was caught, but it doesn't matter because it is glossed over in 2 seconds whilst Jake doesn't even twitch. His twin brother was a scientist at RDA and one of the Avatars was made using his DNA. Because they are twins and are genetically almost identical, he could 'pilot' the body, and since Jake was crippled he thought 'what the hell', and then leaves for Pandora.

The movie rapidly descends down a typical outsider movie cliché of 'Avatar Jake' getting to know the locals, becoming accustom to their ways and falling in love with the Chief's daughter. Then of course, the Na'vi discover Jake knew all along that the humans would betray them so they disown him, only for Jake to do something symbolically awesome to regain their trust again, and prepare for WAR! It gets very predictable very fast after that.

Sam Worthington does a pretty good job of being a 3D Na'vi during the scenes he is linked to his Avatar through the magic of science, and that is because we can only hear his voice and not see him try to act. There are even times in the movie where you can catch a hint of an Australian accent busting through his thin veneer of acting. The only person I know that is worse at accents is Keanu Reeves trying to be English in Bram Stoker's Dracula. The movie begins with an exposition by Sam's character, Jake, and he quickly talks over the death of his brother as if it was nothing important. 'My brother was murdered for the paper in somebody's wallet', and we see his brother get cremated while he looks emotionless like some gormless ex-Marine. You would almost think his paralysis had crept up onto his face. Next thing you know, he happily accepts the Pandora trip offer. So far, he appears to be a complete and utter ass to me. The voice acting though is very good as it feels organic and real, and done as well as how they did it in that PS3 game Uncharted 2, and there is no higher praise than that. So if voice acting is great from Sam, why does he lack any onscreen presence? Usually actors who can talk the talk can walk the walk, but here he can talk the talk and he can't walk, literally. Jake is later given 3 months to negotiate the relocation of the Na'vi, but instead ends up having his loyalty tested after living with the Na'vi, learning to become one with nature and falling in love with a Na'vi local. Later on, he gives a really cheesy speech to the Na'vi to gain their support, but was it as epic as the speech in Braveheart? Nope. I cringed during Jake's 'heart warming' speech where all the Na'vi began to get excited for no reason. It actually made me compare it to the Street Fighter the Movie speech by Guile/Jean Claude Van Damme. Eee... shiver.

Sigourney Weaver plays Dr. Grace Augustine, the head of the Avatar Program and expert of the Na'vi ways. As always, she displays a solid performance and is a joy to watch. It is a shame that she only had a bit role supporting the main cast when necessary in this movie as she was one of the best actors in the movie. Her character, Grace, created the human-Na'vi clones and made first contact with the Na'vi, teaching them the ways of the human such as speaking English and watching football (not really!) She is antagonistic towards Jake when he first arrives at the science facility saying that she requires someone who is smart and not someone who used to punch people in the throat. Jake, being stupid, didn't argue that he was paraplegic so was only half a throat puncher, therefore the other half was ready, but he's not very bright. He is relegated to bodyguard status in his Na'vi suit and then things happen that lead to him being separated from her. Grace later begins to warm up to Jake, especially after he manages to get accepted (through plot convenience) into the Na'vi tribe, in order to learn their ways. She gets a little preachy later on with Jake as well when the humans want to attack after negotiations for the Na'vi to relocate fall through, which leads to one of the funniest moments in the movie (I'll explain later).

Joel David Moore, fresh from his part time work on the TV forensic drama Bones, plays an assistant biologist, Norm Spellman, to Grace in helping her collect jungle samples and furthering the learnings of the Na'vi. I can't help but feel that Joel was type casted into this role because he has that nerdy geeky look that just permeates from him in every way. He is an assistant forensic anthropologist on the show Bones, and he is an assistant biologist here. I wouldn't be surprised if his next movie would have him as an assistant gynaecologist. His performance here was quite weak as a support character since he doesn't do anything significant nor say anything interesting at all. The ways he speaks is pretty much how he speaks in his other roles, so much so that I was expecting him to look at some bones and say something sarcastic during this movie. Along with Jake and Grace, he is the only other character to have an Avatar, and he doesn't get much screen time with it either. If I am honest, they could have just had 2 Avatars in the movie and it would have been exactly the same, but of course everything has to come in three's since three is ‘complete’.

Michelle Rodriguez, playing a Scorpion pilot called Trudy Chacon, makes an appearance in this film, but like Joel above, she only has a small support role. She has one significant part where she breaks out the imprisoned Avatar riders, then pilots a Scorpion Helicopter Gunship out of the RDA facility because RDA wants to attack the Na'vi. Michelle is well known for her roles as a tough girl, be they military related or hardcore boxing femme fatale, and it is pretty much the same old typecasting as before. But in this role, the toughness has been toned down a bit, and she is actually spends some of it worrying about something else other than her ego. I knew that this would be the case because her character's name, Trudy, doesn't really conjure up images of a hardcore tough bad ass ex-marine. No, it reminds me of an aunt from Dorset. My heart strings were slightly twanged by her acting here, and that has never happened before. Well, except in Resident Evil when she died and I rejoiced, but that's another review.

Dileep Rao, of Drag Me to Hell fame, is in this movie as Dr. Max Patel working as a scientist on the Avatar Program. His role is more or less insignificant until near the end when he works as an insider, reporting to Jake after their escape from RDA. He might as well been a computer AI that assists the main characters as he had no reason to exist other than at the end to inform Jake of an attack. Dileep is a pretty good actor, but he was completely wasted here.

Giovanni Ribisi, known for his many roles such as in Friends and Saving Private Ryan, is Parker Selfridge, the head of RDA and he does a fantastic job in being the sleazy, money loving conglomerate boss. He doesn't overact and he shows his love for money very subtly at first, but later on goes on to more drastic measures when negotiations do not work out. Giovanni displays a look of a man who is thinking 'What have I done?' amazingly well during the scenes of the Na'vi being blown up, yet even with this he continues the onslaught, which further displays his character's disregard of his humanity for a quick buck.

Of the 3D Na'vi, the only person I recognised was Zoe Saldana, known for her role in Pirates of the Caribbean Curse of the Black Pearl as Anamaria, and you can just about make out her facial features in the 3D model. Her voiceover work is done really well, and she really makes her Na'vi character come to life. She voices Princess Neytiri of the Omaticaya clan, their future spiritual successor. Neytiri rescues Jake from a pack of alien dogs when Jake was lost in the wilderness while in his Na'vi body. At first she dislikes Jake, calling him primary school insults like 'baby, child, full cup' but he retorts with 'my cup is empty'. Indeed it is. She calls Avatars 'Dream-walkers', and that's like calling someone a spanner, or a tool. She later gets to teach Jake the ways of the Na'vi, then falls in love with him for his bravery and then things happen, oh yes they do (bow chika bow wow!) Look out for this scene where she finds her father dying (or dead I can’t remember) after the first human attack, so she rushes over to him screaming, ‘Wakey wakey!’ Even though she had a grief stricken tone in her voice and it was probably a fake word for, ‘Oh no Dad, you have been crippled by some injuries that may kill you!’, it made me laugh and caused people to stare at me as if I passed wind in the theatre.

Now we’re onto my favourite character of the movie, good old Colonel Miles Quaritch, played by Stephen Lang. He offers Jake his legs back if he completes his mission, which Jake obviously fails in doing. The Colonel is a bad-ass in every sense of the word and he is by far the best actor in this movie. He is like the live action version of Commander Rourke of Disney's Atlantis, and basically all head field officers of any American war movie. He speaks like a redneck tough-nut and I really enjoyed his performance. There is a scene when he showing off how hardcore he is by bench pressing 200kg or something, and he utters, 'The low gravity will make you soft!' It is things like that which kept me really engrossed in the movie because he just oozes charisma. When Jake and Grace try to explain that the Na'vi and the jungle were connected to each other and that they could not destroy the jungle for some rare minerals, the Colonel and Parker go, '... Pah ha ha ha! That's a good one! These are just savage blue monkeys we can blow them up!' The short pause and then the laugh cracked me up because it was just timed perfectly, and is easily the funniest scene in the movie. Then later to further show off, at the scene when Jake and Co. were escaping RDA on the Scorpion, the Colonel boots down a pressurised door with one kick (read pressurized), walks out into the unbreathable atmosphere, and fires his assault fire at the Scorpion. Everyone inside the facility is shouting, 'GAS! GAS!', and are putting on their oxygen masks, but not the Colonel. He is so awesome that even after emptying his assault rifle, he takes out his handgun and continues shooting. He is the Colonel! He needs no sissy thing like oxygen! One of my favourite scenes in the movie was when the RDA military fly their Gunships over to the Na'vi territory, and blow everything up with Incendiary missiles. All these aliens are dying around them, whilst throwing useless spears and shooting arrows at the flying metal machines as the Colonel is enjoying a hot cup of joe. Although it was a somewhat sad scene, I couldn't help but laugh at how the Colonel just didn't care and was enjoying his coffee as if watching a spectacular light show. I could almost picture him saying, ‘Yes, that’s a fine cup of joe’, and winking at the Na’vi as they turn crispy. It doesn't end there either, the ex-marines working for RDA have these large land walking robots similar to the ones in Matrix Revolutions. But the Colonel's robot had to be a little bit more bad-ass than the others, so his one comes with a massive machete. In one of the final scenes, he whips out that humungous mini-sword that no other robot has, and starts fighting with it. It was just a joy watching Stephen Lang in this role, as without him as the Colonel this movie would not have been as fun to watch.

There are things in the movie that I want to rant about because there were some concepts that were hard for me to grasp and brought up questions. It is established that the Na'vi are these massive aliens that stand 2 humans high, have blue skin and feline-like features. One of the most interesting concepts is that the jungle, and all of nature is like a giant brain that the Na'vi can plug into using their braided hair. This network of brainpower is treated like a deity called Eywa, and that it would be disturbed if humans destroy even part of it, so the jungle can be treated as if alive. The first thing that I want to rant about is the braided hair plug-in thing. They can plug their hair into trees and animals; trees to record memories and the animals to control and ride them. Now, I used to work a lot with computers so I could not ignore the fact that it seemed like they tried to make the jungle seem like a giant USB hub and they were plugging into things like a bunch of USB devices. There are horse-like creatures which I assume only required USB 1.0, whereas there are these flying creatures they can ride that required USB 2.0, so they are harder to connect with because you probably needed more bandwidth. Then there is this giant red flying creature, who is the king of the sky, which has only been connected to 5 times in the past because of course, they needed a Firewire connection which nobody had. But Jake comes along with full Firewire compatibility and brings it under control. Then when you have the Na'vi all together, they can setup an eSATA connection which is fast enough to transfer you into another body. I'm sorry, but the whole concept of connecting to things with your braided hair just doesn't work for me. An organic USB connection? No! What if the braid was cut, how would they connect then? Next thing you know, in the sequel they would address that with Wi-Fi access, 802.11g for warriors and 802.11n for the chief and his children. The aerial would be provided by their tails. You see, I have thought of everything.

The Na'vi, as we see mostly with the Omaticaya clan, is a cross something between indigenous African Maasai warriors and indigenous Australian Aborginal warriors, but with blue skin and a cat-like faces and tails. They have super strength as proportionate to their size, great agility, an awesome sense of balance and naturally occurring carbon fibre bones. I can accept the native jungle warrior-ness and the super powers, but what I find ridiculous are the NATURALLY occurring carbon fibre bones that make their bones super tough. The thing is it is hard enough to make carbon fibre nowadays, and yet these alien can grow this stuff as bones, so I have to think about what James Cameron was smoking when he wrote that. Sorry to be pedantic, but carbon fibre is only strong if you stretch or bend it, but if you bash it hard with something or stack loads on top of it, it would shatter like pig iron on a brick wall. The Na'vi gets bashed about a lot in this movie, and yet their carbon fibre bones are not shattered in any way, shape or form. What a load of... a word I cannot use. How would they heal bones injuries? Carbonize some food they've eaten to create new joins? Who knows?

The other thing that annoyed me was that everything glowed when people touched it in the jungle. Brushing pass a leaf, glow. Stepping on a branch, glow. Farting on a tree trunk, glow. That's not very helpful for the Na'vi when they are hunting or doing stealth assassin missions is it? And yet here it is, like a Michael Jackson Billie Jean music video.

I didn't like the fact that there were floating mountains in this movie. Called the Hallelujah Mountains, they hover with rocky vines beneath them for access (conveniently). I don't care how much less gravity there is on Pandora, but mountains that vast do not float, even with the moon's gravity. There is no magic in this movie, so why have that in there? Plus there are waterfalls coming off from these mountains and pouring off from the sides. My question here is where the heck is all that water is coming from? A magical water making tree? I would want one of those.

The last thing I want to rant about the Na'vi in this review (since the rest are not suitable for public consumption) is that the James Cameron got a bit lazy with the names. They call the tree where they live on the Hometree, they call the tree they can connect to upload their memories and connect to their ancestors the Tree of Voices, the Tree of Souls which is the most sacred tree of the Na'vi and the floating mountains the Hallelujah Mountains. Now, he calls the people all funky names like Neytiri and Mo'at, and their beasts have funkier names, but the places where they live or the important ancestral tree of memories? Nah, something simple please. It was as if James got to near to the end of the script, and we are talking about a man who has penned the whole Na'vi culture and language, and just couldn't be bothered. Yup, all done! If it is worth doing, it is worth doing all the way, James!

Outside of the Na'vi, the one thing I have to say that slightly ruined the movie for me was the obvious preaching of the movie on saving the environment, respecting other cultures and about us humans as ugly, money hungry creatures compared to the noble, natural vegan soya loving Na'vi. I felt at times that the movie was like a massive anti-racism, anti-deforestation advert with 3D graphics. When some guys wanted to be eco-friendly and open-minded they get locked up as heretics. They escape, become vegans and instead of chaining themselves to the RDA facility, they get their other vegans mates over to fight because the more the merrier, strength in numbers, etc. The difference of course was that the Na'vi ate meat, so they preferred a juicy steak rather than organic tofu, possibly put into the movie as a way of balancing it all out. I appreciate a good moral message, but if a movie has more than one in there and spends most of the time banging on about it, it gets old very fast. Look at what happened to Linkin Park's album Minutes to Midnight. It was a pretty ok album, but the fact that they were songs of anti-Bush war decisions, most of us pretty much thought 'What?' and did not really buy it, nor listen to it. But do you know what James missed out on? It is the controversy surrounding cloning, as this movie clearly supports it, whereas the Pope does not. Did anyone else want to bring that up or was it just me?

Overall, would I recommend this movie? Well, yes and no. If you are going to watch this movie expecting everything to be epic then you will be disappointed. If you are going in to experience the 3D, stereoscopic vision, super special effects of near perfect live action and computer generated fusion, then this is the movie you were expecting. This movie has nothing original besides from the seamless fusion as mentioned a moment ago, but it can be a lot of fun if you switch off your reasoning mind and put on your 8 year old cap. It is a visual thrill-ride that you would not forget, even with the flaws I have mentioned earlier. The main question now is this, if this movie was made 10-15 years ago without all those special effects so it was done using classical techniques like rubber suits or stop-motion would this movie be as appealing as it is now? The answer is obviously no, and there is the main selling point of this film. Kids will definitely love this movie though, I know that for sure! One final bit of advice if you do decide to watch this movie in 3D: being a long movie means that your eyes and your brain will start to hurt eventually, so be sure to let them rest every now and again.

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Comments on this review

  • promotions_lass published 25/07/2010
    Absolutely loved reading your review. I totally agree with you there about it only worth seeing in 3D for the special effects. I found it abit long too. I wonder if James Cameron will have any more Titanic / Avatar style adventures.
  • simplereview published 14/05/2010
    this is a very detailed review and luckily i have already watched the film before reading your review, else it really getting to spoil the film ;-) Nice and comprehensive work ;-) Well done
  • leeCargill published 16/02/2010
    a very comprehensive review of the film, although I don't share some of your opinions, it was a great read.
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Product Information : Avatar(DVD)

Manufacturer's product description

A paraplegic ex-marine war veteran is unwillingly sent to establish a human settlement on the distant planet of Pandora, only to find himself battling humankind alongside the planet's indigenous Na'vi race in this ambitious digital 3-D sci-fi epic from Academy Award-winning TITANIC director James Cameron. The film, which marks Cameron's first dramatic feature since 1997's Titanic, will be shot on the proprietary FUSION digital 3-D cameras developed by Cameron in collaboration with Vince Pace, and will offer a groundbreaking mix of live-action dramatic performances and computer-generated effects. Australian actor Sam Worthington stars as the reluctant human settler, Jake Sully, with actress Zoe Saldana signing on to portray the local woman who enters into a romantic affair with the hero. The revolutionary motion-capture system created for the film allows the facial expressions of actors to be captured as a virtual camera system enables them to see what their computer-generated counterparts will be seeing in the film, and Peter Jackson's Oscar-winning Weta Digital visual-effects house has been hired to supervise AVATAR's complex visual effects. Joel Moore, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, and Michelle Rodriguez round out the cast.


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