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Rating History

Avatar (2009)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Too often people let themselves get caught up in the hype of a thing.

An event is announced that signifies a landmark or return of something momentous and suddenly all hell breaks loose. Some side with blatant aggression, raising pitchforks and lanterns and storming forward with disregard of reason or logic or any kind of care. They only see what they want to see, and nothing's going to satisfy their lust but spilled blood.

Then we have the trolls, who are just as bad.

It's a shame, because both sides seem to loose sight of any kind of objective reasoning. And, having made up their minds about the events quality long in advance of the event itself, they don't give themselves a fair shot at experiencing the event for real. They ride on the back of forced emotion and unrealistic expectation, and any kind of disappointment or unexpected surprise is met with fevered hostility.

And no one will ever admit they were wrong.

It's a shame, because many of the opinions you read on Avatar will be skewed by this factor, and while that won't matter on a personal level for most, it could in turn skew the opinion of others into locked down emotion in a similar fashion.

People are easily lead by the opinions of others, and this hype of extremes will play a large part in the way Avatar is heralded.

However, long after the hype has died, once new and better advances have been made, will Avatar stand with the genre classics as a timeless piece of filmmaking?

I'm not entirely sure.

There's no denying Avatar is a fantastic achievement in terms of visual design and implementation. Every penny of the budget is on screen for us to devour. This isn't something to be watched, it's something to be .experienced/. Fully. Throughout the movie I was /there/, on Pandora, sucking in the air and gasping in time with the characters at the beauty of this wondrous new world that Cameron had created.

The CGI is almost seamless. The motion capture technology developed for the film has breathed life into the CGI characters like nothing I've ever seen. Usually with CGI events I scrutinize for flaws and joins and actively hunt for the strings, scissors at the ready, but this time I wasn't even given the chance to catch my breath long enough to focus, let alone handle a pair of scissors with that much precision!

The 3D is great. It's not heavy handed, nor is it used in a gimmicky way to excite the audience. It merely heightens the reality of Pandora, especially in the areal scenes where my sense of vertigo was triggered on more than one occasion. At times it almost felt like there was too much to take in, and repeated viewings might be essential to grasp the full visual value.

I honestly think anyone denying this film is a remarkable technical achievement is in denial about something else entirely. I just couldn't buy it. It's /that/ good.

However, the film is not without flaw.

From the off the story lurches forward at a breakneck pace. We're given very little background or introduction before we're strapped into our shuttle and blasted toward Pandora. At first I assumed the narrative would even out once we reached the moon, that perhaps the beginning was where some of the inevitable snips had been made, that maybe it was an intentional quick-fire to get us into the spectacle as soon as possible, but after the first half an hour I realised this is where the film was going to let me down the most.

There's almost no solid exposition.

The transitions from scene to scene and the introduction of characters feels lacking in flow and a really considered structure. Scenes end abruptly, new ones begin with characters we've never met talking like we should know more about them, and while I appreciate the need to not spoon feed the audience their experience, I was left feeling very unsatisfied in places.

The relationship between the main characters, for example, lacked meaningful build up. Sure, Jake and Neytiri share a lot of time together on screen with her teaching him the ways of the Na'vi, and I got a sense of their bonding within them, but there weren't enough tender moments between them to make the reveal of their feelings toward each other as satisfying as it could have been. I felt a little cheated, and that scene in particular lack impact for me.

Likewise, there is little interaction between any of the characters to support believable relationships in general. I got the /impression/ of Neytiri's relationship with her parents and her intended mate-to-be Tsu'tey (one moment in particular where her father berates her causing Neytiri to stomp like a bratty teen is particularly endearing), and I get the /gist/ of Jake and Grace's growing fondness for each other, but I never felt truly satisfied with the way the relationships were built. There just wasn't enough time on screen for them to grow naturally as well as make room for all the spectacle Pandora had to offer.

That's not to say the characters were weak at all, they were all written and portrayed strongly and surely and each had a very defined personality, it's just that they all felt a little disembodied, separate, and for all the themes the film contains of harmony and togetherness, it felt a little ironic that Cameron would let this happen.

This is particularly evident at the end of the movie when certain characters are killed with little-to-no reaction from anyone. One minute they're risking their lives for each other, then they're gone with no further mention or memory. It felt hollow in that regard, or perhaps like something was missing. I'm hoping this was due to time constraints and that a Special Edition will fill in these gaps.

I'm pleased to say, however, that the dialogue is mostly fine. Sure, there are some corny lines, and some of the more emotional deliveries I found a bit unbelievable due to the problems mentioned above, but for the most part everything fit the characters just right and felt natural and honest.

The acting is also very good, with the exception of moments of Jakes video log recital feeling like they were voice-overs for a trailer rather than an film narration. Remember that line from the main trailer where it sounds like Sam Worthington describing the concept of Avatars? That's part of the actual movie, and it pulled me out of the moment.

As I said, though, the acting is very fine for the most part. Lines are delivered with conviction and real emotion and this helped a great deal in overcoming some of the issues I've mentioned so far as, regardless of them all, I was still given a very solid impression of each character's personality and their metaphorical weight within the universe. I found both Weaver and Saldana especially intense and alive, Worthington very watchable and warm, and Lang suitably bad-ass and believably threatening.

The story itself is a very clear-cut case of 'Good' Vs 'Evil'. There was never any doubt to me that the privately funded marines were the bad guys, the scientists the reluctant middlemen, and the Na'vi the embodiment of innocence and goodness. This simplicity will no doubt turn off some who hunger for something meatier to chow on, but for me the simplicity was a strength. It was Jake's journey that hooked me, and a convoluted and 'smart' plot would have bogged that down and over complicated the pure emotion of it all.

Also, the historical allegory the film makes to our imperialistic nature of a species could be misconstrued by some as a political commentary on contemporary events, which might cause some confusion and alienate potential viewers. I never felt like I was being preached to, and for the most I felt like I was discovering these truths along side Jake, and even though I was never as surprised as he was, it still felt like the revelations were part of a fiction rather than a lecture.

The action is, of course, masterfully handled. The direction in general is a wondrous return to the old-school of long panned shots and well considered space and the editing is smooth and consistent. There's no ROTF huddles of incomprehension, or shaky cam for the sake of cool nonsense, this is Cameron showing the kids how it's done. Even if new directors don't enjoy the film as an overall experience, the film will still be a wonderful educational tool for them.


Just as the Na'vi 'jack-in' to Pandora, I felt jacked-in to Avatar. It flowed into me in euphoric waves of excitement and awe and for the first time in a long time, I felt the ice of my cynical adult expectations thaw and the child-like wonder I thought I'd lost took my hand and led me through the jungles of this beautifully realised world.

However, the lack of depth of exposition and in the relationships between the characters left some of the potentially most affecting moments of the story unsatisfying and gave the film a slightly hollow feel in places. And while the spectacle of the visuals and the emotional impact of the individual performance themselves certainly carried me along with the emotions of each scene, I didn't' connect with everything in a way that would have made me hail this as the instant classic I've been wishing it would be since it was announced.

Perhaps my expectations were too high given the quality of Cameron's previous efforts, but there is one thing that I absolutely cannot deny: the overall sense of awe this film generated transported me on a magical journey that felt exactly like I was experiencing an alien world, like I was breathing the air, running with Jake through the training grounds as we both marvelled at his new avatar body, and cheering with the natives as they gathered their strength and courage to defend their homeland. It felt like I was a child again experiencing wonder for the first time.

And that's something very rare indeed.