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Movie Review: Avatar (2009) December 21, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews.
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How do you follow up the highest grossing movie of all time?

Spend 15 years and more than $230 million dollars to make a technologically groundbreaking blockbuster!  Well, that’s exactly what James Cameron did with his latest sci-fi action masterpiece: Avatar.

In one word, Avatar is a ‘spectacle’.  Do yourself a favour and watch this movie in 3D because it is an unbelievable experience.  While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the special effects were entirely ‘photo-realistic’, it was pretty darn close.  My wife thought some of the computer-generated characters and creatures were partly built with models and make-up (as opposed to 100% CGI), and I’m sure she wasn’t the only one.  The computer-generated alien world was stunningly beautiful, and at times it was impossible to tell whether it was real or not (because some of it was real and filmed in New Zealand).

Without giving away too much of the plot, Avatar is set in a futuristic world on a distant planet called Pandora.  The title is apt but I won’t say anything more than that.  I was very disappointed with the previews, which, as always, gave away waaaaay too much.  Avoid them like the plague.  The film is predictable enough as it is without a start-to-finish synopsis of the entire storyline.  And besides, it really kills the ‘wow’ factor.

Avatar is the first genuine 3D film that I’ve seen.  The purpose of the 3D is to enhance the movie experience, not to act as a gimmick.  In movies like The Final Destination 3D or My Blood Valentine 3D, the 3D was all about making things fly at you at every opportunity, and it gets old quickly.  But in Avatar, it’s there to bring an amazing fantasy world to life, and it really works.  You become immersed in it.  You start to believe it is real.  The excitement becomes more exciting.  The thrills become more thrilling.  The characters become more believable.  It works.

New Aussie superstar Sam Worthington plays the lead character Jake Sully, and it’s easy to see why Cameron picked him (and recommended him for Terminator Salvation) out of thousands of ‘unknowns’ at the time.  He has this unassuming quality about him – an easygoing, down-to-earth disposition that makes it easy for you to root for him.  The rest of the cast is also solid – Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi and Stephen Lang as the imposing Colonel Miles Quaritch.  Each hold their own, though at the end of the day none manage to steal Worthington’s thunder.

I believe the critics have been less harsh with Avatar than they were with Titanic, though there are certain to be cynics out there.  Yes, it’s easy to point to the character designs and say they are a rip-off of the Smurfs (!).  Yes, the dialogue and jokes are cheesy (though some of it is intentionally tongue-in-cheek), it has stock-standard secondary characters, and the plot is entirely predictable.  And yes, it has the audacity to contain thinly-veiled but uninspiring messages about the environment, nature, and political greed (in particular American arrogance and self-righteousness).

But none of that really matters.  Don’t look too far for a deeper meaning when watching Avatar – just enjoy it for what it is – an awesome, utterly spectacular movie experience.  The action sequences, especially the lengthy final climax, are sure to go down as some of the greatest ever.  Despite being almost 3 hours long, I never once looked at my watch – my trusty yardstick for how enjoyable a film truly is.

Just days into its release, Avatar is doing exceptionally well, and may lead to the development of planned sequels, though I’m not sure that’s such a great idea.  That being said, I am already planning a second helping of Avatar – this time, of course, on IMAX!

4.5 stars out of 5!


1. Nate - December 22, 2009

I was ready to go see this on Imax 3D this past wknd but our (awesome!!) snow storm kept me away from the theaters. Don’t know how soon I’ll get to it, Xmas day is reserved for the love of my life: Rachel McAdams in Sherlock Holmes.

Though I haven’t seen it, I have the feeling your review is exactly how Ima feel about the movie: nothing life changing but a hell of a popcorn ride and that’s really all one should want from this movie.

One thing though I have to get on your case about (and every critic has been making this mistake) it isn’t a planet called “Pandora” that’s one of the MOONS around the actual planet. It must not be clear in the movie because everyone keeps thinking the story takes place on the actual planet which name I can’t recall. James Cameron already said that there are several moons and if the movie does well, then the sequel(s) would each take place on a different moon. I wonder by that, how far and long is he going to milk this cow and if he’ll ever get to the actual planet.

pacejmiller - December 28, 2009

You gotta watch it man, if you haven’t already! I must admit the first 15-20 mins I was thinking – this is not that special, partly because I had seen some of the previews. But gradually it did get better, and the final sequences were awesome.

Yeah – the movie was not very clear about Pandora – all it said was that they were on it. Not sure if a sequel would be a good idea, the novelty would be wearing thin.

2. inspiredworlds - December 27, 2009

Its an awesome movie. I agree that u forget about the time – I was sitting on the edge of my seat the whole time. I def was munching on the popcorn during the fight scenes. Spectacular special fx and incredible CGI. I loved those flying bird scenes. No, I don’t think it was 15 years in the making – he’d been thinking about it since 1977 when he watched star wars. He wanted to out lucas george lucas apparently! I’d give it a 4.5/5 as well. I hope they make more 3d movies like this!!!

pacejmiller - December 28, 2009

Haha, I’m not a popcorn eater during movies unless someone else offers it! A lot of people are going crazy about this movie – I do hope they make more films like this but not sure if sequels to Avatar would be the best idea. That said, I’d probably watch them!

3. matthew - January 7, 2010

yeah i’m not a big popcorn fan either cause it makes u really thirsty!

if u ever check out popcorn prices, they scale quite well. the bigger boxes dont cost that much more!

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