It’s about a military mining operation on the planet Pandora that is hindered by the location of a village of the native Na’vi. To avoid killing the natives, a contingent of scientists attempt a peaceful negotiation through the use of Avatars, home-grown versions of Na’vi that are genetically linked to humans. A soldier, Jake Sully, is elected to join the Avatar program and learn their ways so that he might convince them to relocate.
There’s been a lot of opinions floating around about this supposedly landmark film…usually emphasizing one extreme (“A new standard!”) or the other (“It sucked!”).
Here are my impressions of the film…
- The visuals were excellent overall. What really made it was the incredible attention to detail. There were an amazing number of animated elements that made it look more real.
- The vistas were stunning, eliciting the sense of wonder that draws me to science fiction.
- The CGI characters were very good. Certainly past the Uncanny Valley (if that could be said to exist with human-like aliens), though if you look closely at certain times you can see that the physics of their movement wasn’t quite right.
- The 3D was OK. There were a few scenes – particularly those with floating debris in the extreme foreground – where I felt like swatting the debris out of the way.
- Decent worldbuilding – We get to see many aspects of the Na’vi culture and Pandora itself.
- Sets a good example for how cool a military SciFi film could look. Those mecha-robots looked they jumped right off the cover of a Warhammer book.
- Clichéd – Maybe I’ve just seen too many films that feature an Evil Corporation. (Sigourney Weaver’s presence only reminded me of The Company from Aliens.) And films about ravaging the land (with its accompanying New Age soundtrack). And the hero who disobeys orders to fight for what’s “right”. And the friends and foes who join together in the cause. And the inevitable love interest. And the inevitable confrontation with her betrothed. Etc.
- Two-dimensional, archetypical characters. Sympathetic hero? Check. Tough Military superior? Check. Heartless corporate suit? Check. Jealous boyfriend? Check. I had hoped that the wheelchair-bound Sully getting his Avatar legs would be a bigger part of the film and would lend the character some depth. It wasn’t and it didn’t.
- Unobtainium? Really? I get the in-joke, but the name is too much a part of that joke to skip past it without wincing.
- Predictable – Every single plot point was visible long before it actually happened.
- Awkward dialogue. “Shut your pie-hole?” Seriously?
- Bad science – Ignoring the fact that much of the science behind the Avatar project was a lot of handwaving, some things were just downright silly:
- I get that Pandora’s gravity is less than that of Earth, but what’s up with floating mountains? I mean, the planet has working waterfalls and floating mountains?
- Near the end of the film, the Major falls from a ship from very high up. I don’t care if he was in a mecha-robot – the impact would have killed him.
BOTTOM LINE: Excellent visuals but it has lackluster story. It’s on par with the Star Wars prequels; great eye candy, but not much more beyond that.
See also: Scott’s review.