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Blue World

         
 

18 December 2009| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

The visual spectacle of Avatar is so cool that it almost becomes an overload of cool. Every shot in James Cameron’s blue world extravaganza is magnificent from left to right, packing it in, never giving into visual short-shrift. His storytelling efforts are also ambitious and extensive. But when it comes to storytelling, they are indeed efforts.

The screenplay duties by Cameron on his “Titanic” were much bolder and streamlined than they are here even if the Billy Zane character in his 1997 opus was a two-dimensional louse in a tux. In “Avatar” two villains exist, Stephen Lang as merciless honcho Colonel Miles Quaritch and Giovanni Ribisi’s wormy mission director Parker Selfridge who is a nod similar to Paul Reiser’s cretin in Cameron’s “Aliens.” Besides being far too single-minded and intractable, these are fairly well-drawn villains.

This is the year 2154 (the human behavior, the technology feels like it), and earthlings have stationed in Pandora where mineral unobtainium must be extracted to save Earth’s energy crisis. The hero of the picture is Sam Worthington as paraplegic Jake Sully, a still enlisted Marine, who enters the Avatar program headed by Sigourney Weaver as a Ph.D. In a sensory deprivation tank, human consciousness is linked with a cloned Na’vi, a blue alien species whose characteristics include towering height, green-yellow eyes, and facilitated with spring-powered legs.

As a clone, Jake can now run and climb and do everything he used to be able to do (when he wakes up he’s a paraplegic in a tank again). As an avatar, Jake can now assimilate himself with the Na’vi people and learn from them. His first Na’vi he meets is Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who saves his life and then introduces Jake to her people. The Na’vi are knowing that Jake’s appearance is an avatar.

What’s peculiar is that the blue people want Jake around so they can learn as much about him and he wants to learn about them. Something that Cameron fails to give us a sound and convincing motive. The script has references to “schools” where the two species integrated and failed to come to a satisfying cooperation. But the Na’vi are content in their perspective that the white man is evil. It’s true, the white man only wants the Na’vi to relocate so they can drill in their sacred land. This sets up current event overtones on what our U.S. military is doing in sections in the Middle East.

James Cameron directsCameron wants you to be aware of the intolerant prejudices happening today, and while it could have been cleanly inserted into his plot with subtlety, he gets bogged down in it all. Dr. Grace is the sounding board of reason, and yet while argumentative with Colonel Quaritch and Parker Selfridge, they are unsympathetic to such Na’vi social traditions and beliefs. They are going to plow the land no matter what, in fact, they decide the blow it up. What unnerved me, taking me out of the story, was that the humans become a wrecking team with no harvesting crew to collect the precious minerals after they have just blown up a Na’vi sanctuary.

For two-thirds of the movie you wonder where are the rest of the Na’vi people (is there only one tribe?), and when they all do come together you fail to get a sense of all their people as once collective force. In all that time however, you are wowed constantly by the green plant life and hybrid animals that pop in and out of the screen in propulsive realistic detail. Academic viewers will hypothesize how this and that was done with CGI, but Cameron must be today’s maestro on CGI. “Avatar” contains the best special effects in years with people and landscapes in exceptionally realistic composite shots. The rapid machine gun fire looks more fake, though, doesn’t it? The muzzle flash looks computerized.

“Avatar” doesn’t always work as a cohesive and tight-wired story, yet for its splendor and imagination it works as sheer entertainment. Worthington, who is like a tougher meathead version of Ewan McGregor, has enough gravitas to keep you emotionally invested. Saldana is an interesting, multi-layered character as a Na’vi until she devolves into a clichéd character. In the closing scenes, one of the villains doesn’t get a proper comeuppance. The action at the end doesn’t always support the story, and the story doesn’t always justify the action. Let’s repeat that “Avatar” works as sheer entertainment and keep it at that.

162 Minutes. Rated PG-13.

ACTION & ADVENTURE / MYTHOLOGY / BLOCKBUSTER WEEKEND CROWDS

Film Cousins: “Star Wars” (1977); “The Emerald Forest” (1985); “The Abyss” (1989); “Titanic” (1997).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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