My draw group talks about movies and TV a lot, and whenever we mentioned upcoming movies, Avatar came up. As such, Alex has told me at least 5 times, “This is the movie that James Cameron has wanted to make for 15 years but has been waiting for the technology to get good enough to do it.” Well, I think the technology is pretty good now.
Avatar is set on Pandora, a wild, alien moon where humans have come to mine for unobtainium. They, however, have to deal with the wildlife and the Na’vi, a blue humanoid race who live on top of a large deposit of unobtainium. Jake Sully, an ex-marine, is connected neurologically to a Na’vi body and is sent to join the Na’vi clan and convince them to move.
Visually, the movie is stunning. Going for the full experience, I went for a 3D IMAX showing, and although the 3D effects aren’t perfect, I was still amazed 2 hours in the movie whenever an object appeared to race to 5 feet in front of my face. Almost of all Pandora is computer-generated, yet the plants and animals never seem cartoony. They ensured that certain aspects, from bio-luminesence to breathing vents, maintain the same, extra-terrestrial feel. Add in a soundtrack that is so strange yet almost familiar (and a musical score from James Horner), and you will be immersed in the world.
The detail doesn’t stop with Pandoran life, however, as it also extends into Na’vi culture. It’s time that you all forget your Klingon and Elvish, for Na’vi is the new invented language to listen to. The Na’vi are technologically primitive, so they naturally have involved rituals and mystical beliefs. I’ll let you see what they do for yourselves, but pay attention to the details of the Na’vi because their culture is fully developed.
What I felt wasn’t as well developed are the characters. Although I can sympathize and understand many of them, I was never surprised. My friend Trey described the military as very “G.I. Joe,” which sounds about right. Early on, you see the conflict between the Colonel and lead scientist (Sigourney Weaver, who even proudly a shirt from her alma mater!), and it’s easy to slot each of the characters into their roles. Many of them are one-dimensional, and those who change do so in predictable ways. Even so, individual performances were strong, even through computer-augmentation into Na’vi.
One last thing I would like to mention is that I think that the sci-fi and fantasy elements were dealt with very well in this movie. Oftentimes, sci-fi movies will get in a trap of trying to explain too much about how the technology works or how this phenomena makes sense. Avatar certainly relies on far-out technology to explain how these humans can control Na’vi bodies and how Pandora as a whole works, yet never make that a big deal. Instead, we’re only given the principle for how it all works, and that’s good enough to understand the idea of the movie.
Overall, I would peg Avatar as a “worth it, but not the whole package.” If you’re in it for experiencing Pandora and seeing what 3D can do now, you’ll love it, but know that you’ve probably heard this story before.
I have a bit more to say after you’ve seen it, so there are some minor spoilers here that I just want to throw out there.
I’m happy that James Cameron got to make this movie, but I think he had too much time to make it. By that, I mean that the pieces fit together too well.
In my English class, we talked about how in nonfiction, not everything makes sense. You can’t understand the whole world in one go, and parts of it are just inexplicable, from why the grass is cut to why Joey tripped Jimmy back then. This happens to be something that you might even need to go out of your way to fix in fiction, for in a fictional world, everything can be coherent. I know it goes against Chekhov’s Gun, but fiction sometimes feels fake for not having any loose ends.
And I think that’s one thing that bothered me a lot about Avatar. When Jake goes back to capture and bond with the big bird, I knew that James Cameron was one of those sort of writers, and I was searching my memory to figure out what other detail he had left in there that he was going to bring back. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I didn’t catch it in time, but it absolutely happened with the turning point of the battle, and that made me tremendously sad that he did it.
(As my psych prof would say), “All of this is to say that” I didn’t think the movie was great (though still good) because it was canned. The characters were canned, the plot is a classic, and not even the twists made me think. Oh, and the end of the movie was absolutely predictable (though I’m trying to think if I would’ve been more satisfied with any other ending). So yeah, looks good, not a so great as a story.