Thursday, December 24, 2009

Avatar (2009)


After the death of his brother, crippled war veteran Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is recruited by the company his brother worked for to take part in the Avatar program on the planet Pandora. This is necessary since only those with the same genes can utilize the avatar, a physical representation of the human, in the form of the planet's indigenous population, the Na'vi, grown by combining their DNA with human DNA. While Sully is assigned to protect the scientists, he is also tasked with getting to know the Na'vi, gaining their trust, and trying to get them to move as they currently reside on top of a massive mineral mine. Though in gaining their trust Sully finds he's in for more than he bargained for.

If you ever want to know why I always wait at least a day before doing a review Avatar is a perfect example. Coming out of the theater I was like a 12 year old schoolgirl at a Jonas Brother concert, screaming "OMG OMG OMG!" Then after a couple of hours I was still thinking about it, and thought "man the graphics were amazing, Pandora was beautiful, but the plot..." Then after a few more hours "man the graphics were amazing, Pandora was a place I'd like to visit, and the plot wasn't nearly as bad as people say." Then I woke up this morning and thought "screw it, the graphics were amazing, Pandora is awesome, and the movie was everything Transformers 2 wished it was."

You see as a movie going experience Avatar quite literally has it all. The plot is a combination of Pocahontas, Ferngully, and Last Samurai, all thrown into the hands of James Cameron, who we all know loves his special effects. Yet even for all the memorable aspects of James Cameron's plot we gain something far more valuable then a simple narrative: we gain a new world. If you think about what makes a solid fantasy film work, even years after its relevance has faded, it is that it transports you to a new way of existing. We dream of traveling to Middle Earth, spending time at Hogwarts, or battling terminators in a barren wasteland. Truly good fantasy films capture the imagination in ways we could only dream of. We envision ourselves in this world, among its people, and find ourselves lost in the pain and beauty it creates. This is one aspect I feel the fantasy genre has lost over the years, with only a handful of films able to carry the torch.

Calling upon his favorite narratives, fantasy and life found in our deepest oceans, Cameron crafted this world, and utilizing every effect he can call upon. The Na'vi, which represent a Native American like tribe, could easily be a real life population, one we seek out to understand and spend time with. We dream of traveling to this planet Cameron has created, taking on our own Avatar and exploring the world just as Sully gets to do. We are immersed in its beautiful trees, its local traditions, the floating islands, and the heart with which the planet breaths life into every creature. We see its dark side, and its bright side, and in return we see it for what it truly is. A subtle reminder of what Earth once was.

For at its heart Avatar is Cameron's criticism on modern corporatism, and the lack of environmental appreciation in modern times. Cameron's high action, strong emotion, narrative comes at the backlash of walking out of the theater to see a handful of trees, paved parking lots, and resemblances of what was once a rich forest area. Will many even realize it? Somehow I doubt it, and perhaps that is one of the greatest points of Avatar: we never really see the beauty of a world until we've spent some time in it.

As for the movie itself, it is a technical marvel stuck in a mediocre narrative trying to break free of its own restraints. Perhaps the films greatest moments are the ones in which the central plot doesn't exist at all, and we are allowed to spend time with Sully as he learns the way of the Na'vi through the local princess, Neytiri (Zoe Salanda). We get to spend time with Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), who Weaver calls a female version of director James Cameron, and her desire to understand the world and its people. As these characters transform so does our perception of the world. It grows from a scary place, established in opening scenes, to one of beauty and power. A planet that should be both respected and appreciated, not only by the film's characters, but by the audience as well.

Though even as we go to appreciate the planet we all know what will occur, a final battle between the humans and the local Na'vi. The events leading up too it occur like a classic dance routine. We've seen it all too many times before, yet still find it beautiful enough to watch again. Even though we know where it's going, the elegance with which it is presented makes all the difference. James Cameron has never been a narrative mastermind. His plots are often simple, and it is instead the way in which he presents them that gives them life and makes us love them all the more. Here Cameron is no different.

You'll find nothing new in Avatar. It's that same dance number you've seen countless times. Avatar will even take a bad step every now and then, and you'll dock a point here or there accordingly, but it still hits those high notes. It sucks you in, despite knowing little about the characters, because deep down you care about the existence of beings beyond yourself. You know that the world in which these characters reside is more than just a mineral to be mined. It's a living, breathing, planet, one of likes we may never truly encounter in our own lives, and it must be cherished as such. That's the true strength of Avatar. It's well flawed, but powerful and beautiful regardless because it stands for more than a simple love story, it stands for us.

While its narrative may be riddled with flaws, Avatar is more than just a story, its a beautiful tale of discovering yourself, your mission in life, and the beauty of a whole new world beyond the reign of your imagination... if only you're willing to try.

2 better thoughts:

Alex said...

Lovely, intelligent review. I feel like every movie blogger has seen this except me. I have to get on that!

Andrew K. said...

It's so strange I like this more than you when this seems tailor made for you :( As I said in my review Weaver really impressed me.

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