Friday, December 18, 2009

Avatar (Movie Review)

With movies like Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2 and Titanic under his belt, James Cameron has the right to command hype with any film he releases now. And Avatar has had it’s fair share. But how does it stack up after it’s 2 hours and forty minutes are finished and the 3-D glasses come off? That depends entirely on what is important to you in a movie.

Sam Worthington (Terminator: Salvation) plays a paralyzed marine who is chosen to remote control an alien body in order to communicate with the native people on an alien planet. There are two human forces at work. The scientists(good guys), who want to study the planet and it’s people, and the businessmen and their heavily armed mercenary forces(bad guys), who wish to get rid of the aliens and mine the planet for its valuable minerals.

From beginning to end, this flick is a visual feast. I’ve seen a lot of movies, but never before have I watched one with this many visual effects. The credits boast a handful of visual effects studios employed to make this movie happen. Nearly every shot has some element of CGI, not including the constant 3-D effects. The world of Avatar is exotic and lavishly detailed. I have no doubts that this film will get the Oscar in visual effects. For the full experience, do not neglect seeing this movie in 3-D. It will cost a little extra, but you can keep your glasses for the DVD/Blu-ray release and it makes for a much more absorbing experience.

There is also quite a bit of action in the movie. The spirit of adventure and exploration is constantly at work. But try as it might, it won’t carry the movie for some. The plot is very predictable and the entire movie will be charted out by some within the first 20 minutes. This wouldn’t be such a problem if the performances were captivating, but there is not a single character I became invested in. (Very bad for all those action scenes that I’m supposed to be on the edge of my seat for.) The problem is that the movie is being carried by characters rendered by visual effects. Despite this film breaking ground in the shear quantity of visual effects, it makes little progress in the quality of motion capture. CGI characters still look animated in their mouth and facial movements. We miss the subtlety found in a flesh and blood actor’s performances that the digital wizards of the industry haven’t been able to duplicate or capture yet. Without sympathetic characters to ground me, I became numb to the barrage of eye-candy after only about 30 minutes.

The movie has a few concepts and themes that may lead to worthwhile conversation. The “bad guys” are greedy businessmen and a military force anxious for war. The bad guys loosely refer to the aliens as terrorists and the good guys describe the mercenaries as using a “shock and awe” campaign. The movie also draws from a familiar well with its theme of nature preservation. Given these clues, you can probably guess the political affiliations of the filmmakers.

You can also draw comparisons to early American settlers and their conflicts with the Native Americans. Though I can’t tell if the writers are trying to preach a particular message with this theme, or if they are simply drawing from history for inspiration.

It’s also hard to pin-point whether or not this movie supports Pantheistic theology, or is merely using it for inspiration. The alien natives have a clear mental/psychic connection to their planet. Their Deity is synonymous with their planet and they go to their planet in their afterlife. This certainly smells like pantheism. But it is pointed out by one of the scientists that, unlike similar pagan human beliefs, the aliens in this movie actually have a provable biological, neural connection to the vegetation of their planet. So technically, it’s not a spiritual concept, but a physical concept inspired by a theological concept. Either way, it certainly presents opportunity to dissect pantheism if you’re looking for a conversation starter.

So this movie is a mixed bag that some will be content to rent in a few months, particularly if they have a large television. The plot and characters are far from captivating, but those who want to see Hollywood pulling out every stop to demonstrate the cutting edge of the visual effects industry should not miss seeing this movie in 3-D.

Avatar is rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking.

Quality: 8.5/10

Relevance: 8.0/10

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