Avatar 3D – review

I’ll discuss the general plot in this review but I’ll give you a warning before there are any real spoilers.

Avatar teaserI was very dubious about this film. I really wanted it to be a great movie, but it could so easily have just been a tacky display of special effects without any substance. I try to keep faith in James Cameron, the writer/director. After all, he’s given us Terminator and Terminator 2, Aliens, True Lies and Strange Days. He’s also given us Titanic. It’s not a spotless track record.

In truth, this movie lies somewhere between eye shatteringly, brain stunningly awesome and Meh, it’s all right. It actually has aspects of both. The basic story is this: It’s some time in the future and Jake Sully, a paraplegic Jarhead war veteran, is shipped to the planet Pandora, which is inhabited by the Na’vi. Jake’s brother was trained to interact with the Na’vi, but was killed. Jake, as his twin, has the necessary genome to take over his brother’s role. That role is to lie in a box, remotely operating an artificially grown Na’vi body or Avatar. Of course, the humans are actually there for a rare and valuable resouce and moral dichotomies ensue. The rare resource itself nearly made me get up and walk out right away. It’s called, wait for it…

Unobtanium.

Fucking really?! I was appalled at that. It’s worse than Adamantium in the X-Men movies that my wife can’t hear as anything but Adam Ant Ium. Unobtanium. Man, that’s really, really bad.

Avatar JakeAlso, there’s something kinda weird about the whole Avatar concept itself. The planet has a toxic atmosphere for humans and the Na’vi are about twelve feet tall and the planet is all hostile and so on. So I suppose that’s why they’ve gone to these ridiculously complex lengths to interact with the natives. It does sort of work, but I couldn’t help thinking that it was a bit like white people going into Africa with boot polish on their faces saying, “We’sa here to um-help you, bongo bongo.” That aspect of it all was a bit uncomfortable for me.

The Na’vi are a race absolutely in tune with their green and vibrant planet. The humans are a bunch of yahoos desperate for this rock and want the Na’vi to move so they can mine the best of it. The Na’vi want nothing from people, so the people decide to muscle in and take it. Jake manages to get deeper into Na’vi culture than anyone ever has before, he learns about how they’re just lovely folk and falls in love with one of them. Naturally, even though he said he would report back to the army with intel, he ends up siding with the scientists and trying to save the Na’vi from the marauding humans. There are heavy and obvious overtones of looking after your mother planet, the humans not understanding the Na’vi’s deep bond with all of nature and so on.

So you can see that we’re following a story by numbers here and this is where it’s hard to call this movie good or bad. On the one hand it is visually fan-fucking-tastic. The world building, the scenic backdrops, the native life, the whole vibe of the planet Pandora is absolutely beautiful. The use of 3D is clever, without trying to shock the audience all the time. There’s very little stuff-flying-at-your-face-to-make-you-gasp 3D and a lot of just normal, well shot cinema that just happens to be in 3D. The 3D does have some flaws. In fast action sequences the focus is sometimes lost, for example. Also, everything seems to have a slight sheen over it and you are fundamentally watching a movie with your sunglasses on. Taking the glasses off, the film, while blurry because of the 3D effects, is actually brighter and more vibrant. You’d think they could crank the brightness up a bit for 3D to account for the fact that everyone is wearing shades. Small gripe though. The futuristic nature of the human’s vehicles and computers and stuff like that is well thought out and interesting to look at too. There’s no doubt that as pure cinema this film is a stunning achievement.

It would have been really nice if the story had been as powerful and mould-breaking as the technical extravagances. But, even though the story is predictable potentially to the point of boredom, it’s very well done. It’s painting by numbers but they stay very neatly within the lines. There’s nothing here, nothing at all, that will surprise you. You can see the major plot points coming like one of those massive hammerheaded bull things smashing through the forest (you’ll know ’em when you see ’em) but that somehow doesn’t spoil it. Although it’s cliche, it’s well-scripted cliche. There’s enough going on that it doesn’t seem like a kid’s film and by the time it all starts coming to a head there are very few punches pulled and that helps to lend it credibility.

So yeah, it’s a pedestrian story but an incredible spectacle and worth seeing on the big screen, especially in 3D. After the next picture there are SPOILERS and what I really thought of some parts of it. There are some problems I had that I can’t discuss without spoilers. Read on if you’re interested or go and watch the movie and then come back and see if you agree with me.


You must learn the ways of the forest. Feel the Force, Luke…

I mean, draw the bow, Jake.

Seriously, Unobtanium. FUCKING UNOBTANIUM?! I’m still offended by that name. It’s almost like Cameron said, “What does it matter? Call it anything. We just want mad blue dudes diving around in a glowing forest anyway.” Which is a shame. Unobtanium, for fuck’s sake… all right, let it go, Al. Let it go.

There are other problems with this flick. The whole Avatar concept I’ve mentioned up above and that is a bit weird, but we’ll just accept that because it’s the foundation of the entire movie.

The other major problem I had was this. Jake and the scientists, with one rogue chopper pilot, decide that what the company is doing is just plain wrong and they take a stand against it. Would no other people there stand against it too? Why would just one tiny handful of people decide genocide was wrong while the rest of the humans there go along with it? We’ve reached out to the stars, but we’re still that dumb? And that then leads on to another problem. Against all odds (naturally) Jake and the Na’vi stop the humans from destroying the Soul Tree, and round up all the remaining people and ship them back off to Earth. So you’ve just handed the US Marine Corps (which appears to have taken over as the entire Earth army) a massive spanking. These tall blue hippies with their bows and arrows have sent the Marines packing. So those Marines get back to Earth and tell everyone what happened. You can imagine what happens next. Avatar 2 would be a very short film – Earth arrives with multiple battlecruisers, hundreds of thousands of foot soldiers, massed gunships and tears through the Na’vi population like a teenage boy through his prom date’s knickers.

Or are we supposed to believe that the humans “learned a lesson” and will leave the Na’vi alone from now on?

Hmmm.

Also, the biggest deposit of Unob… you know, I just can’t bloody say it. I’m going to call it Plot Device Stone. So, the biggest deposit of Plot Device Stone is right under the big old Home Tree. Or was it under the Soul Tree? Whatever, basically, it’s exactly where the Na’vi are. But there’s an entire planet out there – what’s the rush? Why couldn’t the company mine all over the place where there weren’t any indigenous populations and let the Avatar program spend months or years more interacting with the Na’vi. They might have learned more, might have negotiated mining rights or whatever. If nothing else the slaughter would have been delayed by a fair chunk of time. More realistic than it was presented in the film anyway.

Still, that sequence where they blow the shit out of the Home Tree was pretty damned impressive.

Lastly, something that simply did my head in. What the fuck was it with Sigourney Weaver/Grace’s nose?! All the Avatars were essentially Na’vi people that resembled their human operators. Except Grace. She was an Avatar with Sigourney Weaver’s face. That was just bloody freaky, especially a Na’vi with a human nose. Imagine how much that would have freaked out the Na’vi when she first showed up, especially as she was one of the first. She walks in and the entire population screams, “What happened to your face?!”

There are other small plot issues that I have. The usual convenient story events, the blatant set ups (like him flying the big orange dragon thing) and so on, but we can ignore those. It is a shame that such an incredible looking film had such a predictable story, but there you go. It wasn’t all bad and I have to be honest – I sat in the cinema and lapped up every second of it. (Except Plot Device Stone and Grace Face – they were both just wrong.)

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38 thoughts on “Avatar 3D – review

  1. I still haven’t seen Avatar yet, but I’m curious about it.

    As a name, unobtanium doesn’t bother me much because the name’s a longstanding joke in science fiction. It’s appeared in multiple novels, and even published engineering papers when referring to non-existent substances.

    Thus, when I saw a reference to it, I was mildly amused though I imagine that the joke would wear thin over a three hour movie.

    As for the plausibility of humans doing horrible stuff and everyone just going along with it… Though it’s hard to imagine, the horrible stuff that the Belgian King Leopold was doing in the Congo was basically discovered by one guy who noticed that their ships kept coming back with piles of stuff, but leaving empty for Africa. Look it up. It’s amazing (but in a very bad way).Granted, that happened in the early 20th century, and so it might not be possible in an age of more pervasive media.

    All that being said, your review hits a lot of the same points as others I’ve read. I imagine you’re probably right.

  2. Ha! I thought this was totally funny. I have no desire to see this, but I know the rest of my family does. If/When I see it, I’ll be sure to keep this in mind. 😀

  3. I haven’t seen it yet, but apparently there are some other useful resources on Pandora…

    reallyrareium
    cantquitereachitium
    preciousmetallium
    and, ihaditjustamomentagoium

    They weren’t interested in the more common resources of earthium, leafium and waterium.

  4. Jim – to be honest, it’s only mentioned by name a few times, but that was enough! The problem with humans is not what they have done, but what they’re supposedly still doing in the future. Perhaps I’m too optimistic!

    ganymeder – I’ll be interested to hear what you think.

    Graham – “ihaditjustamomentagoium” Haha, that I would have loved!

  5. HA!I’ve never really thought about Adamantium… but I am a retard when it comes to XMen – I’ll eat about anything up. I love my comics.

    I want to see this movie, but you had me really giggling with “Unobtanium”. I will probably laugh out loud every time I hear that name.

    ~2

  6. Alan, I am sorry to say, but you are not the least acquainted with mytho-symbolic content of stories.

    You comment on only the most superficial of features.

    Every story is a reflection of the cultural matrix from which it is formed. Every story is some sort of social or self commentary.

    A notable review of the story would be to decipher some of the more subtle themes and meanings. Your very superficial review has spurred me to put forth my own because I fear that most critics and “reviewers” suffer from the same literalism as you do.

    Western culture suffers from mythic illiteracy as a whole. Western culture became mythically illiterate when we began to interpret mythic texts in literal terms. The movie is not about some futuristic scenario.

    The movie or all stories are projections of human themes that have either happened or are happening. The futuristic parts lie only with the clothes, architecture and technology but the thematic content is either borrowed from the past and/or present.

    I sum up only the most overt symbolic aspects of “Avatar” as a mythic exposé of Western/USGovCorp economic militarism…the life blood of capitalism. It is also know by its euphemisms of colonialism or the European invasion of the New World or neocolonialism via the ongoing the Westernization of the Muslim world, aka the unjustified invasions of resource rich Iraq and Afghanistan.

  7. Al,

    Suffice to say that I’ll not be reading the Avatar book when (if) it comes out, and I agree with you on many fronts.

    However, Avatar (3D) was the most immersive cinema experience I’ve ever had, and I was totally blown away when I saw it today. Perhaps as I was not expecting the plot to be up to much, I just sat and enjoyed the spectacle.

    The CGI was so good that you couldn’t really tell what bits were real and what were computer effects – in particular the motion capture was stunning, unlike most films with computer generated humanoids which move in really inhuman ways. The 3D was subtle rather than gimmicky, and made you feel like you were looking through a window into the scene.

    Perhaps as an author you are less forgiving on certain areas, but for me it is the most incredible film I’ve seen in a very long time.

  8. 2mara – It only gets mentioned a couple of times, thankfully.

    James – I agree about the spectacle. Like I said at the end of the review, “It wasn’t all bad and I have to be honest – I sat in the cinema and lapped up every second of it.”

    Rohaan – Well, gee, ya think? Not every story has to be mytho-symbolic, not everyone in the west is mytho-illiterate. For you to say “The movie or all stories are projections of human themes that have either happened or are happening” is just academic literary elitism. On one hand, it’s well known that George Lucas studied mythology heavily and constructed Star Wars using deliberate mythological tropes. That doesn’t mean that everything needs to be that way. I expect more from my sci-fi these days. Not all story-telling needs to be self-indulgent navel-gazing with the obvious constantly pointed out by people like yourself. Maybe you need to see beyond “the most superficial of features” in my review.

  9. I am also annoyed at Rohaan. It’s one thing to comment on this blog as a response to the post, no matter if it’s an unjustified attack. But it’s totally unacceptable to publish the retort, then tweet that URL with mine and others @ names attached to it. I don’t follow you, Rohaan, and what you did is called spamming. Can you say block? Yes, I can and did.

  10. @Alan Every story by definition is a mytho-symbolic articulation of human experience or human fantasy. But even a fantasy is based on human experience.

    The archetypal thematic content of a story is inescapable. Some stories may be shallow dealing with only the most trivial and superficial of human themes, but one cannot tell a story that is not infused with either past or present themes.

    We may construct our stories with and without the intimate knowledge of mythogrammatics. I’m referring to Lucas. But the more well rounded the writer the more well rounded the story.

    There is nothing elitist about what I said because I do not insist on the inferiority of poorly constructed stories nor did I say that stories must conform to x guidelines or be of x genre. I insist only that stories by definition are the projections of human themes. That is not an elitist statement, but rather a self-existing equation.

  11. Rohaan, you talk like you have this greater knowledge and no one else gets it. That’s elitism.

    You say “one cannot tell a story that is not infused with either past or present themes” – BUT, a story doesn’t have to be limited to those things. It’s pretty much impossible not to include them somehow, but I expect more of my science fiction. By definition it’s something that looks forward. It considers the maybes and what might bes. It looks beyond the past and present.

    In my review I said, “It would have been really nice if the story had been as powerful and mould-breaking as the technical extravagances.” That’s what good science fiction should be. You seem to think that that’s impossible, which is utter rubbish.

  12. No point in editing the comments, it’ll only make the rest seem nonsensical! But thanks for the apology, gladly accepted.

  13. I’m looking forward to the sequel when the hippy blue space elves get spanked about. Seriously, bows and arrows verse spacefaring humans? It really should be no conest.

  14. Really? Such rage over a name? SERIOUSLY?? You drop these overused Tokens of Incredulity on us over an inside sci-fi joke that 10 seconds of Google might’ve resolved for you? We are thus subjected to your painful rant over the naming of Unobtanium? REALLY?

    Sorry, James Cameron’s possibly trolled you on this one.. Too bad it might’ve destabilized moments of enjoyment otherwise deserved by the film

    Also, Neytiri was hot. I have out-shallowed you. Not going for elite here 🙂

  15. @Andrew did you watch the movie? They did get spanked, every battle. Other factors led to the human defeat

    elsewhere —

    It is also *overly simplistic* to characterize the movie’s depiction of “humans as yahoos”. This is a corporate mining operation, outfitted with mercenaries. These are not ambassadors of earth, nor are the fighters military. They do show some anxiety over impressions they will create back on earth (hence, the pricey diplomatic effort)

  16. alienjazzcat – Well, I hope all the nerds enjoyed snorting into their 2 litre Coke bottles at the inside joke. You’re not subjected to anything – you chose to read it. I wouldn’t call it a troll, really. A bloody shame, but hardly a troll.

    And yes, Neytiri was hot.

  17. I’m pretty surprised at some of the responses to the movie review. I naively assumed movies were a somewhat nuetral and non heated topic…at least this one.

    Hubby changed his mind anyway, so probably won’t see it after all. It’s a shame since I’m sort of morbidly curious now. Maybe we should discuss something less controversial…like Euthanasia or the Death Penalty.

    Just Kidding. 🙂

  18. I didn’t even catch the name of the mineral, it was just a murmur…but it served well enough as a plot device.

    The military-esque people there were ex-Marines hired by RDA, so they weren’t really a government army…but I completely agree that once they had come back to Earth defeated, Earth would send a *real* invasion force to wreck shit up. I got dirty looks from people when I said this aloud…

  19. I just woke up from a really visual nightmare in real – life… Hoping somehow that Pandora had nothing to do with it. Initially, I was in full agreement with Alans’ synopsis but found myself waining when I read everyones contributions. I have no idea of about 90% of what you guys are arguing about, but suffice it to say, this was an excellent ‘movie’. To the people who are ‘contributing’ their thought processes, the simplest way to go about this would be to ask… Can you produce a better film? Everyone has aspects they would just love to have seen and ideas they would love to have had stolen, but the real world doesn’t allow this. We don’t need self proclaimed ‘educated people’ with a tethered opinion to tell us what a good film is, we just need to see and live it for ourselves. Please guys, get off your high horses, stop telling everyone what they already know and give us some realistic comment so as to help with the building of the genre.
    I have many gripes about the storyline/s but the mainstay for me, was how the hell Jake manipulated a 3.5 ton (or should that be 5?) flying Lizard into letting him ‘harness’ her?
    I’m sure many more shortcomings about the film will follow…
    All I can say for the moment is that an excellent experience was had and nothing better has arrived since LOTR and 300…
    Am I missing something?

  20. Have never responded to a blog entry before but feels enlightening to do so. The subject of ‘Avatar’ will be raised many times this year, no doubt at the many ‘awards’ ceremonies to come. Just plz keep in mind that this is the product of a single mind, an artistic process and ultimately a corporate thought process with financial gain in mind. Just ask why some seats are ‘x’ price to sit in and others are ‘xx’?
    Political thought process?… far from it, I just thought I’d voice an opinion while I still have an audience! Thx Al .
    BTW… The nightmare has gone… still cusping my hands around my mouth though… And thinking if only Gary Oldman was an Avatar!

  21. I went with my 11 year old son to see this, and it was the first film ever he hasn’t spoken, so it was really good from that point.
    Yes it was cheesy, yes it was Americans in space again, but it was visually amazing, and good fun.
    Not a lot of humour, but it wa good entertainment.
    And it left it so wide open for Avatar 2 – the search for hardtogetholdofium.

  22. Wilz – I don’t know how many awards it will get other than special effects awards.

    skynet – the Ferngully comparison is being drawn a lot.

    Peter – Avatar 2, The Nuking Of Pandora.

  23. Just came home from the movie. Breathtaking, to say the least. This included all that I LOVE about going to the movies:
    -immersion into a new world/culture
    -an agonizingly amazing fight scene between flying creatures and helicopters
    -plot-driven
    -thoughts that I would never have had it I’d sat at home with my books (example: the feeling that I was actually flying, shot at, etc.)

    I liked how short all the scenes were. Smart editing.
    I liked how native, different, almost . . . feral the The People were. The yell the girl made as she was flying was awesome.

    James Cameron sucks at names. Not just Unobtanium, either. Spirit Tree. The People. Dire Horse. Hammerhead Titanothere. Mountain Banshee. The Hallelujah Mountains. I had to roll my eyes at almost every new name he thought of, so boring. Even Pandora is a cop-out. He definitely needed help with the names.
    There wasn’t anything surprising in this movie except for the gorgeous new world. But that was enough for me.
    It was fun to read what everyone thought about it.

  24. I think Cameron took a leaf out of Lucas’ naming guide (and I’m speaking of the original Star Wars films there). “Luke Skywalker”? “Han Solo”? And for chris’sake, Tataouine (“Tatooine”) is a town in Tunisia where they shot Ep IV – anyway it’s fairy tale stuff, which is what Avatar was. I’ll put my 2c on the “it was mind-blowingly spectacular” camp, and leave the plot for the kids to enjoy.

    And Grace/Sigourney is hot, can’t let that lovely bone structure go to waste! 🙂

  25. Don’t want to be the spelling police, but, what the hell, may as well be, it always goes down well…
    Unobtainium – with an I, after, you know, unobtainable, not tan-able.
    Whatever it was, yeah it was bad. In fact it had one or ten too many Ja Ja Binks moments that made me want to find and slap the producers to pay for my cringes.

  26. Wow, it took this long for that typo to be noticed. I’m going to leave it there in honour of the little typo that could. It’s a bollocks word anyway, so I feel no compulsion to spell it right.

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