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  1.  (7456.1)


    http://andrenavarro.wordpress.com/

    James Cameron has been a filmmaker since 1978, and to this day, if we skip "Piranhas 2" and start in 1984 with "Terminator", he has only made seven films, counting this one. All of them exceptional. Cameron isn't into quick jobs. He tackles every project like it's the most important thing he'll ever do, and the passion he puts into his movies always shows and ensures that whatever he comes up with will easily make the best efforts of hacks like Michael Bay seem laughable by comparison.

    "Avatar" is a fantastic film. It's flawed -- maybe more than any other movie Cameron directed. But it's also his most ambitious and daring film, and what he and his crew have achieved here warms my heart. Nothing is half-assed about this production. Every inch of it was carefully constructed, and even if it fails to work for you -- you've got to respect the effort. It's passionate filmmaking.

    Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a paraplegic ex-marine whose twin brother, a scientist named Tommy, has died. Tommy was part of a team of scientists on planet Pandora, where the invading humans and a native species called Na'vi are clashing for territorial control -- thanks to the former being interested in an extremely valuable mineral the planet possesses. Jake takes his brother's place as an avatar pilot -- avatars are bioengineered versions of the Na'vi, controlled mentally by the scientists to roam around the planet (due to the atmosphere being toxic to humans) and improve relations with the native population.

    However, the scientists' efforts are gradually being replaced by a military approach led by Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who sees no future in diplomacy with the Na'vi -- an opinion shared by corporate little shit Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi). Together, they convince Jake to report not only to the team of scientists, but to their team well, detailing the infrastructure of the Na'vi land for tactical purposes. But when Jake's avatar manages to be welcomed by the natives, he falls in love with their culture and their world, and finds himself in a very difficult position.

    Which pretty much means that in "Avatar", Cameron makes the humans the villains, and has the task of making the audience root for the Na'vi instead of our own species. While normally this wouldn't be a problem for my misanthropic self, Cameron made sure we would cooperate by creating a fictional alien world that is nothing short of magnificent: from the vegetation, to the biology of every creature, to the religion of the Na'vi, every detail of the world has been carefully thought and executed -- to call the experience "fascinating" is an euphemism. Even some details that would usually go unnoticed anyway are explained by the film, like in the moment Quaritch mentions the planet's low gravity -- which is, after all, why the Na'vi are ten feet tall and why everything in the planet is huge in comparison to humans, who evolved in higher gravity. Speaking of that, I was happy, in the beginning of the film, to see the interior of an interstellar ship being in zero-g while travelling in space, since the concept of articificial gravity has always been an omnipresent sci-fi movie cliche.

    I will avoid describing the details of this world any further -- it would be a disservice to whoever hasn't seen the film yet, and useless to who already has. Part of the beauty here is to be constantly surprised by the creativity of the filmmakers in detailing the planet they've created. Okay, just one more, mild thing: even the deity worshipped by the Na'vi receives a vague, but interesting scientific explanation -- like a version of the Internet invented by Nature, would be my definition. And this is important so something that happens in the third act sounds plausible to skeptical viewers like myself.

    Cameron is less successful with his characters -- a few miss the mark, however most work very well. It's always interested me, the way Cameron makes stereotypes and cliches work for him -- some of the characters he's created throughout his filmography aren't deep, but strongly characterized: the hysterical Hudson from "Aliens", the unstable Lt. Coffey from "The Abyss", the asshole Simon from "True Lies", the arrogant Caledon Hockley from "Titanic". In "Avatar", these stereotypes are used to portray the military and the corporations in a farcical way: while Parker is introduced playing mini-golf in the middle of an operations room, Colonel Quaritch, played by Stephen Lang in a competent, balanced performance, has a simplistic approach to his job, a southern accent and apparently enjoys practicing a few punches while piloting mecha armor (one of the film's most inspired visual gags, and there are many moments of well-done comic relief throughout the movie).

    (continued in comments)
  2.  (7456.2)
    And while the antagonistic Tsu'tey (Laz Alonso) is a walking cliche, laughing at the protagonist's efforts to join the Na'vi, and Mo'at (CCH Pounder) is a stereotyped shamanic leader (in this case the stereotype fails), the protagonist himself, Jake, is not only very well interpreted by Sam Worthington but also interestingly developed by Cameron's script -- a good example being the scene when he is delighted to recover the use of his legs through his avatar. As the movie progresses, I started to share his awe and admiration toward the Na'vi culture and their land -- which is a vital point, and one Cameron succeeds in brilliantly. And if Norm (Joel Moore) and Max (Dileep Rao) didn't leave much of an impression on me, Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) and the pilot Trudy (Michelle Rodriguez) are both compelling in their distinct portrayals of "tough women" that are so typical in Cameron's films -- while Weaver is always excellent, especially working with him, Rodriguez also manages to leave a mark with significantly less screen time. Also I can't resist noting: goddamn she's beautiful (and to be fair, so is Weaver, who remains attractive at sixty years of age).

    But the heart of the movie is truly Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldana in a brilliant performance that rivals Andy Serkis as Gollum in "Lord Of The Rings". Always moving with sharp precision yet irresistible grace, Saldana's expressions are remarkable -- from her intimidating scowl to her beautiful, sincere smile. She uses the amazing performance capture technology to its fullest -- in fact, she makes that technology her bitch for the entire duration of the film, resulting in a character that feels completely alien and yet beautiful, admirable and fascinating. Completely aware of this, Cameron introduces her with an excellent close-up of her face as she examines the stranger in front of her.

    It should come as no surprise that the visual effects in "Avatar" are the greatest achievement in the area I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing in Cinema so far. And it's not just the magnificent rendering, the detailed performance capture and the amazing eyes of the Na'vi, always full of life unlike most digital creations in other films -- the colorful cinematography and unbelievable art direction are vital to create a three-hour-long visual spectacle. Even the animation of the Na'vi's ears is impressive.

    Once again proving his commitment not only as an innovator but also as a filmmaker, Cameron never uses the technology for the sake of using it, instead applying it as a great storytelling tool -- resulting in an unforgettable scene that has everything that's good about "Avatar": Jake's first flight on an Ikran. As he and Neytiri fly around floating islands, beautiful landscapes and framed by the colossal planet that decorates Pandora's sky -- all this to James Horner's excellent soundtrack -- I realized I had a wide smile on my face, delighted by what I was seeing.

    But "Avatar" is a flawed gem. Its many qualities are not enough to overshadow its problems -- aside from some of the weak characters, the narration by Jake -- thinly disguised as a videolog -- comes off as unecessary most of the time. The movie also loses some of its emotional momentum on the third act, when Cameron allows for excessive dramatic slow motion, and falls victim to some cliches -- like a character dying on another's arms -- when it would have been more impactful if he was found already dead.

    However, I said it loses emotional momentum -- when it comes to action, though, the third act is sublime, featuring a sky battle that is almost impeccably filmed, never leaving any doubt as to what's happening in it, and competently scored by James Horner as well (except for a few moments when, in typical Horner fashion, the composer overdoes the drama a bit). And the fight between a Na'vi and a human in a mecha suit is not only exceptional, it also reminded me pleasantly of a similar moment in "Aliens" -- except I was rooting for the alien this time. Full circle, eh?

    Many complained about the film's "obvious" message, but I don't see that as a flaw. The message itself is perfectly valid in today's world -- just replace the movie's fictional mineral with oil. Honestly, would the same message be better under layers and layers of subtlety? No, in this case I think it would only seem more convoluted -- Cameron wanted this one to be obvious, and there's no reason it shouldn't be. And at least within the film's universe, the message works. I didn't want the humans to succeed in their invasion of Pandora because at that point I had already fallen in love with the planet, and the tractors piloted by humans destroying all that amazing vegetation and threatening such an interesting culture were painful to witness.

    "Avatar" is a fascinating, beautiful experience. Its main flaws are hard to overlook, but Cameron thinks big, and sets out to bring his vision to life as best as he can.

    I went to an alien planet and in the end I was sad I had to leave. I could care fucking less about the flaws. "Avatar" is a resounding success.

    OBS: In 3D, I believe the theatre I went to wasn't properly equipped to handle the film, since the glasses darkened the visuals immensely (which is a problem with 3D in general, but in this case seemed excessive), ruining the cinematography. I could tell, however, that the 3D is properly used, never trying to call attention to itself gratuitously (pay attention to that one, Robert Zemeckis). But probably due to the problematic 3D theatre I went to, I found the experience much more beautiful in 2D.
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      CommentAuthorYoav
    • CommentTimeDec 28th 2009
     (7456.3)
    Bang on Andre. Bang on. Gob smacking visuals that meant the casting, predictability and bad dialogue washed straight over your head. Just incredible technology that left me sat in astonished disbelief... and totally fancying a 10 foot weird looking blue nosed alien. She was gorgeous!

    The 3D cinema I went to had it bang on. Andre, it added loads to the experience. Well worth seeing again in 3D. Was used amazingly. The climbs, flying sequences...etc, had a real sense of perspective. Only issue was when diffused light bounced off, say, a face in the foreground, and the glow off the head stayed in that plane and made for an odd feel.

    Interesting article with Cameron

    Excellently written piece Andre. No ends to the talents then...
  3.  (7456.4)
    Thank you, and exceptional article you linked.
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      CommentAuthorYoav
    • CommentTimeDec 29th 2009
     (7456.5)
    Not sure if Cameron has credited him but Roger Dean (one of my old favourites) MUST have been an inspiration for the Pandora world:





    • CommentAuthorRenThing
    • CommentTimeJan 2nd 2010
     (7456.6)
    While I do agree with you regarding Zoe Saldana and the movie's visual effects, I think that you give the job that James Cameron did on the plot more credit than it's due honestly. How is this movie, fundamentally, any different than a ton of other movies where "X white person joins Y group (be they PoC, aliens, or some other oppressed minority) to study them, discovers they are some take on the Noble Savage trope, and sides with them over his former corporate/military/imperial masters"? I mean, we saw this plot with such movies as The Last Samurai and, in some ways, Enemy Mine; there were 100% no surprises.

    The characters themselves were also cliche in just about every way, showing about as much depth as paper cut-out shadow-puppets, with the female pilot being an almost exact knock off of Vasquez from Aliens and Sigourney Weaver's character (and I did enjoy Sigourney Weaver) being like every other lead scientist in a movie who is saddled with some know-nothing layperson who eventually has their respect earned by their bumbling-yet-successful ways. I mean, can we not have a bad-ass female who isn't Latina?
  4.  (7456.7)
    While I do agree with you regarding Zoe Saldana and the movie's visual effects, I think that you give the job that James Cameron did on the plot more credit than it's due honestly. How is this movie, fundamentally, any different than a ton of other movies where "X white person joins Y group (be they PoC, aliens, or some other oppressed minority) to study them, discovers they are some take on the Noble Savage trope, and sides with them over his former corporate/military/imperial masters"?


    The setting was a fundamental difference. There are indeed flaws, but I disagree that there were no surprises -- the very world Cameron and his crew invented surprised me constantly. It was all in the execution, and the flaws and admittedly cliche structure became, although impossible to overlook, much less important than the amazing things "Avatar" achieved, to me.

    The characters themselves were also cliche in just about every way, showing about as much depth as paper cut-out shadow-puppets, with the female pilot being an almost exact knock off of Vasquez from Aliens


    Aside from the obvious "tough girl" thing, I see no similarities. Vasquez was a boneheaded body-building marine who didn't care much for anything besides shooting things. Trudy is much more cheerful, has more of a sense of humor and isn't turned on by violence.

    and Sigourney Weaver's character (and I did enjoy Sigourney Weaver) being like every other lead scientist in a movie who is saddled with some know-nothing layperson who eventually has their respect earned by their bumbling-yet-successful ways.


    Her character still worked, I think. She spent so long working on that, her grumpy mood and determination felt perfectly natural, not as a cliché to me.

    I mean, can we not have a bad-ass female who isn't Latina?


    Ellen Ripley?
    • CommentAuthorRenThing
    • CommentTimeJan 3rd 2010
     (7456.8)
    The setting was a fundamental difference. There are indeed flaws, but I disagree that there were no surprises -- the very world Cameron and his crew invented surprised me constantly. It was all in the execution, and the flaws and admittedly cliche structure became, although impossible to overlook, much less important than the amazing things "Avatar" achieved, to me.

    And the thing is I don't think that the *plot* achieved that. Were some of the performances good? Yes. The setting and the visual effects good? Yes. The plot was the same hacknied, recycled cliche in a host of other movies. Hell, we saw the same plot, with only slight adaptations, in Fern Gully.

    Aside from the obvious "tough girl" thing, I see no similarities. Vasquez was a boneheaded body-building marine who didn't care much for anything besides shooting things. Trudy is much more cheerful, has more of a sense of humor and isn't turned on by violence.

    I would argue that Vasquez was a little bit more than that, she obviously cared about her compatriots and wasn't

    Her character still worked, I think. She spent so long working on that, her grumpy mood and determination felt perfectly natural, not as a cliché to me.

    I agree with you that what Weaver brought to the character was good but it still doesn't change the fact we've seen that character, without any significant change other than what the actor brings to it,

    Ellen Ripley?

    Ok, I should've said "stereotypical bad-ass side-kick". See this movie, Aliens, Resident Evil 2, and several others.
    • CommentAuthorSBarrett
    • CommentTimeJan 3rd 2010
     (7456.9)
    The lack of surprises or the predictability of the film didn't really bother me. I mean, every time I go see a movie that isn't billed as a crazy suspense thriller I can predict the ending.

    Where I think this movie went right is that the N'avi aren't out to save their world just because it is pretty and they are conservational noble savages. They <em>literally</em> have a link to their planet and can actually commune with it. The "natural internet" description is pretty spot on. The N'avi don't seem too upset to have the humans on their planet. Just so long as we do it way over there and leave them alone. It's not until the humans decide they want to strip mine right over the place that is the repository for their entire ancestral memory that the natives take umbrage.

    In general the world fascinates me. The idea of this natural internet is awesome. I want to know more about what Earth and any other colonies are like. Seems like everything has gone sort of cyberpunk. How else would this company be able to have it's own army?
  5.  (7456.10)
    And the thing is I don't think that the *plot* achieved that. Were some of the performances good? Yes. The setting and the visual effects good? Yes. The plot was the same hacknied, recycled cliche in a host of other movies. Hell, we saw the same plot, with only slight adaptations, in Fern Gully.


    The plot of "Avatar" depends heavily on its setting, which is how beautiful scenes like Jake's first flight on an Ikran were possible. That said, I agree it is indeed cliched in its structure and it's one of the movie's flaws.

    I would argue that Vasquez was a little bit more than that, she obviously cared about her compatriots and wasn't


    I think what made Vasquez so interesting was precisely that she wasn't much more than that. All we see her do in the movie is crack jokes, work out and kill things, without caring much for details. She isn't particularly complex: she cares about her teammates and loves her job, which involves killing lots of things with a huge gun -- something she's very good at.

    I agree with you that what Weaver brought to the character was good but it still doesn't change the fact we've seen that character, without any significant change other than what the actor brings to it,


    If Weaver and Cameron made it work, then why does it matter? You could argue The Joker in "The Dark Knight" is a cliched character -- heartless psychopath with amazing planning abilities, yet it works wonders in the film thanks to the way he's written -- notice the way he's introduced: the pencil scene. It's vital to set him apart from most psychopaths in Cinema by giving us a glimpse of his horribly distorted sense of humor and incredible ability to foresee his opponent's next move. Carl Fredricksen, protagonist of "Up", is your typical bitter old man, unhappy with the way society's going. And yet, the writing made him completely different from Clint Eastwood's protagonist in "Gran Torino", despite them both being very similar -- in fact, identical -- in structure.

    Tsu'tey, however, is a character we've seen before without any significant changes -- he's essentially a Na'vi version of the guy in films like "The Last Samurai" who humiliates the protagonist's efforts to be one of them (in The Last Samurai there is a scene where the protagonist is repeatedly defeated in a fight). As I mention in the review, Tsu'tey's is, without a doubt, a walking cliche.

    Weaver's character was, to me, far from that. She had her own glow. And while she is by no means a memorable character, she wasn't a bad one either.
    • CommentAuthorRenThing
    • CommentTimeJan 3rd 2010
     (7456.11)
    If Weaver and Cameron made it work, then why does it matter? You could argue The Joker in "The Dark Knight" is a cliched character -- heartless psychopath with amazing planning abilities, yet it works wonders in the film thanks to the way he's written -- notice the way he's introduced: the pencil scene. It's vital to set him apart from most psychopaths in Cinema by giving us a glimpse of his horribly distorted sense of humor and incredible ability to foresee his opponent's next move. Carl Fredricksen, protagonist of "Up", is your typical bitter old man, unhappy with the way society's going. And yet, the writing made him completely different from Clint Eastwood's protagonist in "Gran Torino", despite them both being very similar -- in fact, identical -- in structure.

    See, the thing for me is that I don't necessarily see such things as particularly attributed to the person who wrote the script. Sure, Cameron wrote the dialog (or at least most of it) as did the writers of Gran Torino and Up, but would the performance of those characters be quite the same if we didn't have the people acting them the way they did? Look at V is for Vendetta: I think Hugo Weaving's job as V was fucking inspired and I wholeheartedly believe that the character of V would probably not have been done as well if done by a particular other person. Same thing with Gran Torino and UP; the characters might be slightly cliche but it is often the actor, not the script, that make them little more than caricature. Also, arguably, your two examples have underlying plot reasons of why those individuals are both at the same time cliche and not; in Avatar we have an angry Marine commander who is simply an angry Marine commander. Sure, he might have some scars across his face but he has about as much depth as a piece of printer paper. Neytiri was, in many ways, the cliche native who falls for the White guy/savior who ends up with feelings (misplaced or otherwise) of betrayal but it was the job that the actress did in performing that cliche that made it more than that.

    To put it simply: I think the individual actors, by the way they went about performing the cliche writing of Cameron, made the movie better. My comments aren't directed at their good (or mediocre, I don't think anyone was truly bad) performances but at what they had to build off of; I don't find the overall plot of the movie any more than an overdone cliche and that the movie is saved by individual performances and the brilliance of the visuals. I think that if Cameron hadn't pulled off the look of the movie as well as he did it would've been a flop. Maybe not an Ishtar-sized flop but still a flop.

    Tsu'tey, however, is a character we've seen before without any significant changes -- he's essentially a Na'vi version of the guy in films like "The Last Samurai" who humiliates the protagonist's efforts to be one of them (in The Last Samurai there is a scene where the protagonist is repeatedly defeated in a fight). As I mention in the review, Tsu'tey's is, without a doubt, a walking cliche.

    I know exactly the scene you're talking about (TLS happens to be one of my favorite, guilty pleasure movies) and I agree.

    Weaver's character was, to me, far from that. She had her own glow. And while she is by no means a memorable character, she wasn't a bad one either

    I can agree with you there.
  6.  (7456.12)
    Where I think this movie went right is that the N'avi aren't out to save their world just because it is pretty and they are conservational noble savages. They literally have a link to their planet and can actually commune with it. The "natural internet" description is pretty spot on.


    I love the way the movie depicts the Na'vi's deity.

    See, the thing for me is that I don't necessarily see such things as particularly attributed to the person who wrote the script. Sure, Cameron wrote the dialog (or at least most of it) as did the writers of Gran Torino and Up, but would the performance of those characters be quite the same if we didn't have the people acting them the way they did? Look at V is for Vendetta: I think Hugo Weaving's job as V was fucking inspired and I wholeheartedly believe that the character of V would probably not have been done as well if done by a particular other person. Same thing with Gran Torino and UP; the characters might be slightly cliche but it is often the actor, not the script, that make them little more than caricature. Also, arguably, your two examples have underlying plot reasons of why those individuals are both at the same time cliche and not; in Avatar we have an angry Marine commander who is simply an angry Marine commander. Sure, he might have some scars across his face but he has about as much depth as a piece of printer paper. Neytiri was, in many ways, the cliche native who falls for the White guy/savior who ends up with feelings (misplaced or otherwise) of betrayal but it was the job that the actress did in performing that cliche that made it more than that.


    It can be a combination of writing and performance, and let's not forget Cameron was also the director and therefore partially responsible for the acting as well. This is the man who made Ed Harris cry. ED FUCKING HARRIS.

    To put it simply: I think the individual actors, by the way they went about performing the cliche writing of Cameron, made the movie better. My comments aren't directed at their good (or mediocre, I don't think anyone was truly bad) performances but at what they had to build off of; I don't find the overall plot of the movie any more than an overdone cliche and that the movie is saved by individual performances and the brilliance of the visuals. I think that if Cameron hadn't pulled off the look of the movie as well as he did it would've been a flop. Maybe not an Ishtar-sized flop but still a flop.


    If he hadn't pulled off the look of the movie I doubt he'd even have made it. It's pretty clear by now that Cameron doesn't waste his time.

    I know exactly the scene you're talking about (TLS happens to be one of my favorite, guilty pleasure movies) and I agree.


    Extremely sappy, overdone ending, but I think it's an enjoyable film.
  7.  (7456.13)
    I saw it. I liked it, but I didn't love it. To me the unoriginality of the story was my complaint. The story is basically Disney's Pocohantas but in a new sci-fi version. I mean I've seen this story in other recent movies too like Apocalyptica and District 9. I did however come to enjoy the 3D experience because that's ultimately brought people to the theaters, I thought it'd be the typical 'flying wheel popping out at you' deal but was surprised to see that it was quite a different version of 3D. Instead of having things periodically popping out at you in front of the foreground, it instead gave more depth and detail to middle-ground and background and the layers between them. After leaving the theater I felt dissatisfied with watching any TV or Movies without the 3D. I hope that in the near future more new movies will adopt this tech and studios will reformat older movies with it too. Imagine seeing The Dark Knight in 3D, wow.
    • CommentAuthorRenThing
    • CommentTimeJan 5th 2010
     (7456.14)
    What was it that the new BSG used to say?

    Oh yes... This has all happened before.

    Game, set, match. *grin*
  8.  (7456.15)
    I skipped this movie when it was Battle for Terra and I'm skipping it again.
    • CommentAuthorSBarrett
    • CommentTimeJan 16th 2010
     (7456.16)
    Seeing as how Disney's Pocohantas is based on a true story, shouldn't Avatar's ideas be also based on the actualy events and not just some Disney version?
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      CommentAuthortedcroland
    • CommentTimeJan 18th 2010
     (7456.17)
    Disney's Pocohantas is not exactly "based on a true story". More like a bunch of names you might read in a history book accompanied by a story ripped from Lawrence of Arabia and some musical numbers.
    • CommentAuthorjohno
    • CommentTimeJan 26th 2010
     (7456.18)
    So many great stories out there that could benefit from the technica magic of Avatar. Visually the technical aspects were amazing but apart from that nothing new, and the story well quite simply too simple
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      CommentAuthorJay Kay
    • CommentTimeJan 27th 2010
     (7456.19)
    I haven't seen it yet--mostly because I needed to find and then have the money to see it in Imax 3D--if the movie's about spectacle, I want to get my money's worth, go all out.