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A World of Beauty and Wonder

December 21, 2009

     The biggest sci-fi movie in a long time is James Cameron’s Avatar, the epic story of one man’s realization of the truth behind Earth’s interest in a far off moon called Pandora and his encounters with the beings that live on Pandora.  Now, when I first heard of this movie, all that I knew was that it was preventing the upcoming Avatar: The Last Airbender movie from actually being called by its rightful name.  I wasn’t too happy about that.  Then I saw how cool Avatar looked, and how dopey the Last Airbender looked with white people pretending to be Asian, and I switched around my thinking.  The plot of the movie is that a marine named Jake Sully who recently lost the use of his legs in battle decides to go off to Pandora to participate in scientific research, mostly due to the fact that his recently deceased twin brother was involved.  The research involves the use of Avatars, beings made up of DNA from the local Na’vi people of Pandora and the researchers, who transfer their minds into those of their Avatars to interact with the Na’vi.  Personally, I find the Avatars themselves to be a tad unethical, what with the growing of a body and (I assume) hollowing out of its mind and consciousness to allow for someone else to take it over.  Anyway, although he at first joins the researchers with orders from the officer in charge of the defense of the Earth outposts, Colonel Miles Quaritch, to provide intel on the Na’vi for a potential attack, he falls in love with one of the Na’vi, Neytiri, and becomes accepted into their culture.  As such, when conflict inevitably stirs due to resentment and human greed, Sully has to pick his native or adopted world.

     Now, if this plot seems familiar, it should.  The idea of “going native” is one that has been discussed in many stories, including Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, and the evils of industrialism and hostility towards natives is likewise a popular topic.  Plus, there’s falling in love with a woman with whom there is mutual antagonism at the beginning, the beauty, purity, and goodness of shamanstic, natural cultural traditions, the evil of gung-ho military people, etc.  I could go on, but you get the point.  This is a very clichéd plot.  And it does not even attempt to deal with any of the concepts it introduces in any sort of nuanced way.  Aside from Michelle Rodriguez’s typecast character of Trudy Chacon, all of the military people are evil.  And the locals are just so good, because they’re in touch with nature, unlike us polluting, ignorant humans.  So if you came to this movie expecting to be intellectually stimulated due to complex, thought-provoking concepts and themes, you came to the wrong movie.

     And yet I enjoyed it immensely.  Why?  For one, it is possibly the most gorgeous movie I’ve ever seen.  Utilizing top-of-the-line graphics, Cameron’s team of techies constructed essentially an entire world, one which is so wholly engrossing that you can’t believe it’s fake.  The various animals and plants of Pandora are boggling, particularly the ikran, the large, pteradon-like creatures that the Na’vi ride upon.  Seeing the Na’vi ride on the ikran through the skies is amazing.  And the Na’vi themselves, made up of a combination of motion-capture technology and CGI, look shockingly realistic.  One of the biggest concerns I had was that looking at humans and Na’vi together would be jarring, since the Na’vi might look like giant smurfs or something.  Instead, they look absolutely awesome.  And I mean that in terms of both definitions of the word.  It’s such a wholly realized world in terms of looks and culture that you can’t help but love it.

     Then, the plot may be rather trite, but it’s not bad enough that you can’t stand it.  You do feel a lot for the main characters, especially Neytiri, whose actress Zoe Saldana (Star Trek’s Uhuru) does the best performance of the entire movie.  And when you have Sigourney Weaver as one of the main supporting cast members, Dr. Grace Augustine, that’s a big deal.  Of course, Sigourney Weaver did an amazing job as well.  The other cast members’ performance shine a bit less.  Sam Worthington was good as Jake Sully, but he wasn’t anything truly amazing.  It would have been nice to see more of the main character’s back story so we understood him better as well.  And it would have been nice to flesh out the villains a bit better to understand why they were the way they were.  However, again, it’s a fun enough story that you can overlook these story problems.  The music is also pretty nice, if nothing revolutionary.  So all-in-all, it’s a great time with some of the best visuals you’ll ever see.  So long as you don’t spend too much time scrutinizing the plot for being rather derivative, you’ll enjoy yourself immensely.

Story: 7.2      Cinematography/Graphics: 10      Soundtrack: 8.5      Acting: 8.8      Overall: 8.8

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