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REVIEW SUMMARY: Outstanding visual effects and a compelling set of characters help this rather simple sci-fi story deliver a very entertaining experience.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An evil corporation wants to mine underneath the

sacred village of the indigenous population and will stop at nothing to achieve their goals. In an attempt to negotiate a peaceful resolution, a group of scientists don Avatars, clones of the aliens grafted together with genetic material from the human pilots. The humans pilot these bodies remotely and befriend the natives but are unable to convince them to leave causing the corporation to use military force instead.

PROS: Best visuals in a motion picture, advancing film special effects, reminds many of Star Wars.
CONS: Incredibly predictable plot, some dialog is really lame.
BOTTOM LINE: This is a must-see film – in 3D – if you’re at all interested in seeing how the future of film (and science fiction in film) will be.

When Star Wars first came out many were suitably amazed at the advancement in special effects it provided. The fact that the plot was relatively simple and the actors mostly unknown was overlooked by many because the experience was so entertaining. For me, Avatar is much like that.

If you decide to see the movie, you must go see this film in 3D. I don’t care if you don’t like the 3D movies you’ve seen so far, or you find it distracting, or any other excuse I’ve seen for why you don’t want to get caught up in the hype. This is the biggest advance in film since sound and color. Don’t believe me? Jeffrey Katzenberg, James Cameron, and Disney are just a few betting their careers and their money on the future of digital 3D movies. There are no gratuitous spears coming at you in Avatar, but instead a total immersion that really adds something to the movie experience. There is a lot going on in this jungle world and I felt the 3D effects made it much more realistic and believable. The insects, the falling ash, the background combat action all work well in 3D.

The film isn’t perfect by any means. The rare mineral the corporation is searching for is called “unobtainium”. It’s frankly embarrassing how lame that name is. It was so bad it was actually distracting in the theater as several of us laughed in disbelief. Might as well have called it “rare-onite” or “can’tgetany-um”. Sheesh. Although, “the force” isn’t exactly an inspired name either this is worse. And the plot is wildly predictable. Do you think maybe the lead character will end up fighting against the evil corporation? Will he and the princess fall in love despite her being promised to the hot-headed warrior? I’m sure you can answer all these without ever seeing the movie. There is one aspect I felt wasn’t a total cliché and that was the symbiotic relationship between the various species of the planet. They all have some kind of sensory organ that connect and allow some feelings to be exchanged between them (including between the aliens and trees.) This connection was at least a pretty interesting idea and this part played a decent part of the plot.

Despite the plot being pretty weak, I felt the characters were surprisingly deep and grow and change throughout. Sure, there are the stock supporting cast. The over-muscled military leader, the profit focused weasel of a corporate exec, and the hot-headed native warrior will all be instantly recognizable. But beyond that the main characters have to expand and grow and make some surprising choices that had them feeling real and compelling to me.

Overall, I recommend you see this movie and see it in 3D. You’ll kick yourself it you don’t.

18 Comments on MOVIEW REVIEW: Avatar

  1. My wife and I saw the 2D version of the film this afternoon.  It’s quite good, and I’d be happy to go back to re-see the 3D version of the movie if we can.  As for the plot (potential spoiler alert), Avatar is mostly a remake of the 1970 movie A Man Called Horse, starring the late Richard Harris. 

  2. The future of science fiction movies? Boring, predictable with great visuals? That’s a future not worth waiting for…

  3. I don’t really agree about the 3D, just seemed gimmicky to me, not worth the extra price and having to wear glasses for 2.5 hours.  It does make some of the action sequences “jump out at you”

    But I agree about everything else.  I was amazed at how well directed it was, somehow even one-dimensional characters like the career-military bad guy seem like real people.  For example, the small touches in their first meeting – how he forces our wheelchair-bound protagonist to follow him around and dodge his robot-avatar – really made him seem like people I’ve known, your basic alpha male who has to let everyone know they’re inferior.  People like that exist in real life.  Somehow the 1D characters in this movie seemed a lot more real than the ones in the GI Joe movie or Transformers, somehow those movies suck and this movie is awesome.  I guess it’s the James Cameron difference.

  4. I’m glad I’m not the only person unimpressed with this latest 3D craze. Sorry, it STILL gives me headaches. AVATAR is just fine in 2D, IMHO.

  5. It is amazing how many reviewers (especially SF people who should know better) miss the fact the “unobtanium” is pureposefully meant as a joke. I mean, seriously, do you just not get it?

  6. Jeff VanderMeer // December 28, 2009 at 5:48 pm //

    Wow. This movie was a piece of crap. Compelling characters? That grow over the span of the movie? Maybe if you like to see cardboard warp as it gets weathered. Otherwise…no. Not to mention the portrayal of the aliens–like really bad stereotypes of bad depictions of Native Americans. Blah. You can take your special effects and shove ’em.


  7. @Al – No, I seriously just don’t get it.  I know the colloquial usage and it didn’t apply here.  If the character was making a joke, it didn’t work.  If it was an in-joke by Cameron to the audience, it didn’t work for me either.


  8. Joshua Corning // December 28, 2009 at 7:27 pm //

    I saw it in 2d and recomend that you see it in 2d.

    3d sucks and will always suck. I never have had a good experiance with it and in many cases have gotten a headache from it.

    Story was predicitable but you could actaully care about the characters and the diologe was not horrible. Pretty much like a Firefly episode if the Firefly episode had a trailer which gave away the entire plot.


    Scifi elements were not very inspired. Again very much like a Firefly episode.

  9. Its an amazing myth -sf combo! The Avatar Concept of Hindu mythology is translated into a convincing techno-scientific plausiblity.Even imagery is quite akin with Hindu gods and characters resmbeling blue skinned  Lord Vishnu and his vehicle Garuna a bird with immense capabilities ,tailed warriors reminding the army of lord Rama (an Avatar of Vishnu ) and so on so forh !But everything is combined with imagined future technologial advances   and looks terrific !

    A great sci fi indeed !

  10. I saw Avatar in 3D, but I was much more impressed with the effects work than the understated dimensionality. I’m pretty sure the breathtaking character animation and environments were what helped me swallow all but the lumpiest chunks in the rehashed plotlines. Hopefully someone will take this leap in moviemaking technology and tell us more interesting stories in the future.

    Oh but it was beautiful. 🙂

  11. Matte Lozenge // December 29, 2009 at 6:46 pm //

    The plot didn’t bother me really. It was serviceable, it did the minumum that it needed to do, and it got out of the way. It didn’t have the volume of ridiculous logic holes, baffling character motives, and contrived cliff-hangers that Star Trek did, although there were a few.

    Avatar has such an enormous superstructure of world-building that the shallow plot is pretty easily overlooked. I laughed with delight the first time Neytiri flew on her bird. The intelligence of the film is all in its look and feel, plus the botany and zoology and language and tech and all the other details. George Lucas has the same obsession with detail, but where in the Star Wars movies it mostly overloads the screen with zooming crap, in Avatar it built a wonderfully intricate environment.

    Bottom line, it is premier escapist entertainment.

  12. A brilliant, visual extravaganza that’s simultaneously thrilling, provocative and surprisingly moving. It’s destined to become a sci-fi classic.

  13. About the symbiotic relationship being new: reminds me of the Gaia idea explored in one of the Foundation books. Probably other places as well.

    Moview? Really?

    Anyway. Good review!

  14. Karl Franzmann // December 30, 2009 at 5:04 pm //

    This was the most spectacular and beautiful movie I have seen.  After the first couple of scenes I had forgotten it was in 3D and was totally immersed in the beautiful alien fora and somewhat cliched but no less thrilling fight between good/nature and evil/corporate greed. 

    Without spoiling the plot for people, think of Avatar as somewhere between the naivety, innocence and hope of Star Wars IV and the dysfunctional future, corporate greed gone too far and action of Aliens.  Both widely regarded as excellent movies, hated by some for the same reasons many people love them.  Plot is immensely important, and it is wrong to say the plot is incidental to the cinematography and direction.  But as with Star Wars, in a huge film universe the plot needs to be straight forward enough to keep the pace going strong even when the epic sweep space, or in this case three dimensional world is spread before you.  The plot for Avatar does this and does this very well.

    Avatar takes cinematography to another level, every plant, creature and natural feature every bit as beautiful as the view you get from a hard climbed mountain top, except alive in a way only an alien world may be. Think of some of the beautiful effects he first played with in his movie the Abyss, then scaled to today’s technology and in 3D… The night time glow scenes were particularly breath taking.

    3D or not 3D? 3D usually gives me headaches. The trailers for other soon to be released 3D tosh (Shrek and even the normally excellent Tim Burton directed Alice Through The Looking Glass) demonstrate how 3D is often reduced to gimmick. Characters and objects fly at you in ways no 2D director would shoot to make you jump. And feel sick after the first 10 minutes.  Avatar is not like this.  Cameron has had experience directing in 3D.  He shot the documentary follow up to the Titanic, Titanic, Ghosts of the Abyss where 3D was a tool to enable you to immerse yourself in the underwater world and splendour, rather than an extra gimmick overlaid onto an otherwise fine (or in the case of all other 3D films I have seen, very much far from fine).  Avatar, when taken with Camerons previous works the Abyss and Ghosts of the Abyss, is the movie he has wanted to make for years.  Only now has technology reached a point where his genius can be committed to (digital) celluloid.  In much the same way Jackson set new standards for cinematography with Lord of the Rings in a way that was just not possible 10 years ago, Cameron has directed a quantum shift in how to shoot a movie.  Few directors have the vision to take direction into a new dimension, literally.  Of course you can see this in 2D, you would still have a pretty movie akin to the effects in the Abyss.  However, you will lose some of the genius that makes this movie one of the most ground breaking movies ever, and for me at least, that is a shame akin to climbing to the top of the Big Sur mountain range and looking out with one eye closed at all times.

    Avatar is the movie you can tell Cameron has been practising for over 10 years.  You can see elements of it in the Abyss and Aliens and the scale of it is only glimpsed in Titanic.  For me, this is one of the most beautiful films ever made.  In time this will truly re-define what cinema can be and yet as with many geniuses, I suspect it will take the next generation of film makers to fully utilise the effects and harness the opportunities thinking in a new dimension can bring.

  15. I thought it was a fantastic film. Definitely a cliche story and characters, but that was okay. I thought it was as fantastic, and as dumb, as Star Wars in an awful lot of ways. 

    I loved the scale, and detail, and color in the film. The world was perfect. The people (whose name I cannot spell) were magnificant. And I really do feel that it was a defining moment, sort of like Star Wars was. And that’s fine. If I get another ten copycat movies like Avatar, at least someone’s making interesting science fiction featuring spaceships, other worlds, aliens, and all the good space opera I love. No one makes that for me anymore, and I miss it.

    I also came out really wishing that I’d seen Avatar when I was about twelve years old. I think that that’s the perfect age for that movie to reshape your future, the way seeing Star Wars might have done.

    (we got to see it in 3D. I’m glad we did. That really was amazing. And, best of all, one quickly began to take the 3D for granted and just get into the movie.)

    (and hey! it had the girl who played Ana-Lucia on LOST, and for the first time, I actually liked her character and cheered for her, rather than my grumbling and wishing a monster on her.)

  16. I agree with Mr. Franzmann’s assessment.

    This was my first 3D experience, and my only issue was that my eyes kept drying out because I kept forgetting to blink!

    Also, the Unobtainium thing is a well-established joke…

    In fact, there was a moment in [i]The Core[/i] (Yeah, I know), when Delroy Lindo’s character says what he’s calling his special material, and Aaron Echardt’s face lights up, and he laughingly says, “Unobtainium, really?” and Delroy replies, “Hehe, yeah,” with an equally big grin and a chuckle.

  17. A very nice movie with great effects, but in my opinion the 3d version is not that great. Maybe its just because i don’t get the 3d hype.

  18. They say version 2 is created allready, well if they take the same amount of time as they did with version 1 it will take a long time

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