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Avatar Movie Review: The Best Movie Ever?

9 January 2010 9 Comments
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Avatar Movie Review - Jake SullyAvatar recently screamed past the $1 billion mark, easily placing itself as the second highest grossing film in history right behind titanic, which not by coincidence was also directed by James Cameron.

Everyone has heard the talk. The CG is stunning. The immersive land of Pandora is breathtaking. Viewing a movie in 3D finally was worth the extra $2-3. All that talk is true. It’s really an awesome piece of work and the visuals is well worth the ticket price.

When you visit movie sites and read the user reviews, you would think this is the movie of the century. A+’s all around. Best movie ever. Highest praises you could possibly mark. But is Avatar the best movie ever?

Avatar Movie Review Part I – The Story

This will be part I of hopefully a two part series. In this first post let’s discuss the Avatar’s most sticky point and point of contention: the story. Then in the next post we can talk about the themes and worldview.

Avatar’s Story, Is it novel or is it predictable?

Some quotes from various sources and user reviews.

“At the same time, “Avatar’’ is merely the latest white man’s romance, and it hits every stop in the playbook: The broken hero who finds renewal by leaving his decadent people, who joins a tribe of noble savages and becomes purified, who leads his new children to victory (because they can’t lead themselves) and becomes a legend in the doing. Tarzan has been here, and Herman Melville, and so has Kevin Costner. As a cultural cliché, it reflects profound disgust with the society of men and a yearning for authenticity – for a connection deeper than anything our fallen modern world can provide.”

Now the story of Avatar is not bad. You have to understand, I enjoy movies. Where people criticize some lines being corny or something being unrealistic, I like to immerse myself into the movie, suspend my critical side (in terms of realism or plausibility) and just enjoy it as it is. So the story itself is fun and acceptable. However it is true in Avatar the plot is very linear, has no twists or movement making it very predictable. You simply know what is going to happen and how everything will play out. So then what could they have done differently?

Let’s hear what others are saying!

Avatar Movie Character Review: Character Dynamics

“…giving the corporate slimeball an idealistic edge. Maybe he’s not just thinking of the quarterly report: maybe he wants the unobtainium because it offers the chance to restore the ruined Earth and make life better for the people living in poverty there.”

“My biggest ‘want’ would be for them to make the villains folks you can identify with. In my opinion, the best villain is a villain you fully sympathize with. Magnito from the first X-men movie for instance was an awesome villain. The opening scene is his parents being dragged into a gas chamber and then fast forwarding 60 years into the future where he gets to watch a nation move towards repeating that horror. Anyone who can’t put themselves in Magnito’s shoes and sympathize with his views isn’t thinking hard enough.

In Avatar, the villains are universally folks you have no sympathy for. The corporate guy is a traditional big ol’ evil corporate villain. The military guy is a psycho who gets his rocks off blowing up the natives. Eh, it isn’t hard to root for their downfall.”

I completely agree with these sentiments and that was one of the first thing that came to mind. As a bit of a creative junkie myself, I was disappointed in the fact that the most of the characters were very one dimensional. Let’s touch upon three of these Avatar characters.

Colonel Quartich: Avatar’s Bad Guy:

Talk about a charicature of a bad military man. Don’t get me wrong, he played it to perfection. Loved the acting, but the character itself was a bit cartoonish. You simply can’t imagine a person being so one dimensional and narrow minded. Cameron could have at least developed perhaps a deeper fatherly relationship with Jake putting their ideals at odds. Even better perhaps we could have had some background history on why Colonel Quartich became the way he was. Perhaps he used to be sympathetic to the natives until he lost a close military friend? Perhaps there was some other idealistic and perhaps understandable reason he is doing what he is doing? Perhaps they needed the unobtainium (did you catch that fun name) in order to help or save the people back on earth? By the end of the movie you just know he is going to be in the final battle and will die after some gruesome battle and as a viewer you simply don’t really care all that much what happens.

Colonel Quaritch - Stephen Lang

I fought Wolverine. I’m not lying… look at my scars. I worked him.

One military “bad guy” I adored was Ed Harris as Brigadier General Francis X. Hummel in “The Rock”. That is a man you respect and hope he would never die despite being the lead of the enemy group.

By the way, same comments about Parker Selfridge (image below), the man who is the leads this whole expedition. Again it would have been a nice twist if all he did was not just for money but if there was some sort of altruistic benefit such as helping people back home – that would have created some better drama.Selfridge with Unobtainium

See this stinkin’ rock? It was in my shoe. It hurt real bad. Why me?

Jake Sully: Avatar’s Hero:

I had some issues with the type of character Jake was which I’ll address more in the next post. It is typical of our current culture that a young guy who breaks all the rules, never listens to authority, that chases personal love (Neytiri) above any sense of loyalty to his people or any sense of obligation ends up being the hero. Think Wolverine. Think Harry Potter. Our culture eats up bad boy characters who break all the rules but in being true to their own desires wins the day. I’ve already gone into it too much. For a later post.

Jake Sully - Avatar

You want me to what? Isn’t the blue man’s group a bunch of performers?

Jake Sully was also quite one dimensional. He really didn’t develop as a character all that much. Yes you can argue he warmed up to the Na’vi, but he was never all that opposed to them. The moment he met the girl he was already fascinated and open. He was already one who delighted in what he found in Pandora. It would have been great if we were given some backstory of what happened to his legs. Even better if he started off heartless towards the Na’vi and completely self-focused in wanting to earn his legs back. Perhaps he could have started with a terrible bias against the Na’vi either due to some misunderstanding or just a lack of empathy. He was open to the Na’vi, very brash and careless from the beginning to end. Also after seemingly completely betraying the Na’vi, all he has to do is ride the big dragon creature (The Great Leonopteryx) and suddenly all the Na’vi treat him like a war hero. That was an incredible jump that was only forgivable by the sudden eye candy war sequences that made us forget all about it.Avatar - Jake Flying Great Leonoptyrex

My dragon is bigger than yours. Plus I am the only Na’vi with a gun! Growl!

Tsu-tey (Future Leader of the Na’vi):

Speaking of War Heros. Tsu-tey, the future leader of the Na’vi could have been a lot more dynamic. He was just really angry all throughout. Then when Jake came in riding on his new fancy ride, it was suddenly ok that he stole his future bride and his leadership position. Perhaps Tsu-tey should have met a tragic but brave death in an earlier battle where his bravery becomes clear and he tells Jake to help protect his people. Perhaps Tsu-tey learns to trust Jake during a big battle scene and Jake earns his trust as they fight together. I am reminded of Last Samurai (very similar story) where the leads of the samurais are never displaced but slowly warm up to Tom Cruise as a brother in arm. That was far more realistic then Tom Cruise betraying the samurai then suddenly he comes riding in a giant elephant and all the samurai including all the military leads decide to concede all their power. I understand the Na’vi are more spiritual beings and had special beliefs about people who can rode on the Great Leonopteryx, but that was quite the stretch.

Also when Tsu-Tey dies, as a viewer, again you don’t really care all that much. It’s not tragic. When the lead characters in Last Samurai die, you agonize because you’ve come to know them and appreciate them. There is very little attachment to characters like Tsu-Tey because there was a lack of character development.

Basically the characters could have used more depth and a richer background and growing development.

Plot could have been more Dynamic

The story was good but very predictable and cookie cutter. My first wish would have been to make Jake’s decision to turn against his own people and side with the Na’vi much harder. Perhaps make it a moral delimma. The story brings a guy with no legs living a life trying to prove to others he can keep up – and given a chance to have new legs, live in an incredible new world, get a beautiful prominent girl and gain considerable prominence and stature. It’s a brand new life that is a million times better than the first. Also he is going against evil people who only cares about killing a human like species for financial game. Well that is a pretty easy decision to make. He is a man with nothing to lose and everything to gain. Yes he was promised new legs by the Colonel, but he already had new legs and a superior body as an Avatar. It never really became something that hindered him.

I wish the story would have shown depth and make the decision much harder. Give him some historical background that makes the decision harder. Is there someone back on earth he loves and would have to give up? Family? Wife? Perhaps the earth is degrading or some disease is spreading and the technology they can use with this new mineral could help it? Perhaps he develops a deep friendship with some of the other soldiers who he has to face in battle? The possibilities are endless. Makes me tingle just thinking about it. His decision to betray his own people and watching the scene as he ends up killing 100s of his own people had no moral dilemma or no emotions attached to it.

Additional Thoughts: Avatar is a Great Movie!

I offer my opinions above not to hate on this movie. I really enjoyed this movie. I thought it was worth every penny. Only because the visuals were so wonderful and the scale so big, do I wish so much that the plot was developed much better. I am completely satisfied with the movie as is, but I thought it would be fun to share what other people (not just me) have been expressing in terms of what the movie COULD HAVE BEEN.

< h3>Interesting Backstory on Avatar

James Cameron Avatar Movie

Let’s give credit where it’s due. James Cameron (left) did an incredible job on this movie. The man wrote and created this vast world. Also before everyone goes bashing the story, let’s make one thing clear – the movie was originally some 4-5 hours in length. Tons were cut out. I am very excited to see not only the makings of (remember – creative junkie) but all the deleted scenes. The original written story had far more depth and all the scenes and wishes viewers are clamoring for (even some I noted above) were actually in the original story. For the sake of cutting down the movie, much of the content was cut out. This is understandable.

So what are some of the interesting backstory of Avatar and Pandora?

Here are few tidbits.

  • Pandora is a well known planet by the people on earth. The corporation that is trying to utilize the resources on Pandora is charated by the Interplanetary Commerce Administration (ICA) which is earth’s trade regulating body. They have been given permission to exploit planets and moons as long as they follow strict rules. One such rule is that they can only have a limited military presence and cannot use weapons of mass destruction.

Note: Many viewers comment why the military doesn’t just nuke the Na’vi especially after they have been sent off the planet. Well this is why.

  • Earth IS going through an energy crisis. Part of the reason unobtainium is highly sought after. It could be a source to help relieve this problem back home.
  • The reason they wanted Jake Sully was because the na’vi clone was built using his brothers genes. The fact that this Avatar is growing is considered a big deal because it is very rare for that a human/Na’vi Avatar to be successfully linked and created.
  • Also intersteller travel from earth to pandora takes massive amounts of energy, costing about one million dollars PER POUND. Many of the initiatives to relate with the Na’vi is with the purpose of training them as an indigenous workforce. It is much cheaper than spending trillions and trillions of dollars to bring workers from earth. All the resources they put into this is chump change to the potential economic benefit. The hope was to have the Na’vi help refine the unobtainium in their refineries on Pandora so it’ll be cheaper to ship the refined material back home.
  • The backstory also includes tons of psudo science that helps explain many of the phenomena found on Pandora. It explains why the floating mountains float and how it relates to the unobtainium. The unobtainium is a powerful room-temperature super-conductor. The floating mountains are able to float because Pandora is actually a moon of Polyphemis, an enormous gas giant with a super magnetic field. The floating mountains holds ton of unobtainium so the gravitational pull keeps the moutains afloat.
  • Jake also doesn’t win the trust of the Na’vi by just jumping on the back of a giant bird. He actually voluntarily leads a group into a very dangerous mission to save Na’vi prisoners. Many had died trying to execute this mission, but his bravery and success earns much of the respect from the Na’vi. That would definitely have been more realistic.

Interesting no?

What would you have changed or added to Avatar’s story?

  • Love to hear what you thought about the movie.
  • What was your favorite part of the movie? What was the most disappointing?
  • Also what story elements would you have changed or have added?

let us know!

9 Comments »

  • Dub said:

    Thanks for this review. I agree. Special FX were sick but the plot and characters were lacking. The whole movie was too predictable and South Park had it right – it’s Dances with Smurfs all the way. The bad guys are too bad and like you said, nobody cares for them or sympathizes with them. As an audience member I like to feel torn but o well. I think the DVD version with the making of, behind the scenes will be cool to watch too bro.

    I think comparing to Jake to Wolverine could be spot on but dunno about Harry Potter. Harry does pursue the romance but he gives up Ginny because he knows he has a job to do. He gives up his life and surrenders himself to Voldermort for everyone else knowing he will die. Voldermort knows that Harry Potter’s weak point is his loyalty and love for his friends and tries to use that against him. Yeh, born a hero but he grows into it and puts his desires and himself last in the end. You clearly didnt read book 7………

    But other than that you’re on the money. Tsu-Tey and how Jake becomes brothers in battle with him. Ken Watanabe in Last Samurai with Tom Cruise was so much better. My bros and I actually cried like a bunch of girls. Bad guys are boring bad guys like Stryker in X-Men. I fought Wolverine. Classic. Your captions are awesome and that alone makes the post worth reading when I’m bored in class.

  • cleancutmedia (author) said:

    Thanks for your sharing your thoughts Dub,

    You are right, I did not read much of the Harry Potter series. Gasp. So I have to base my notes off of what I see in the films. The only reason I made that reference was Harry Potter fits the role of the rebellious type, doesn’t follow the rules, doesn’t listen to authority yet is justified by what he is able to accomplish. He is one who often makes decisions off of his feeling ands emotions. Such characters are very common in today’s storytelling (people like it!) and it paints a specific type of “norm” to those who watch. Such a dedication to one’s feelings rather than to the wisdom of experience can have disastrous consequences.

    Having said that, it’s just that specific point the reference was made. I agree with all you said about him growing into his role, maturing over time, and putting his desires behind the duty before him. Those are good characteristics found in that character.

    I didn’t expand on it much since I’d like to create a second post talking about messages and themes… hope i can get to it. :)

  • Peter Tseng said:

    On a slightly different note, I think the attractiveness and immersiveness of the world of Pandora and the Na’vi was important to the movie’s success. The believability of a utopian existence as portrayed by the movie allows it to be an effective commentary on the real world (ours) – about our relationship with nature, spirituality or lack thereof, our values (e.g. money), etc. Avatar is so effective in this regard that apparently some people experience depression after watching it: Avatar Depression CNN

  • cleancutmedia (author) said:

    good points Peter – I am also aware of that depression article. meaning to write up on that….

  • dragonfyshe said:

    Look at it as a metaphor. What does the human race do best? Takes what it wants, makes money and doesn’t care about what it’s doing to the planet. I personally thought the villians (humans) were played very typically. Think of all the corporations out there making millions with crappy wars because they want someone’s oil fields. War will never go away until someone stops the greed. This is just one step further. We’ve stuffed our planet so lets go TAKE what we want from someone elses. Let’s try and use them as a slave work force…… see where I’m going with this.

    Perhaps I think too deeply about this kind of thing but I found Avatar to not just be a brilliant fun film but a great statement on the way the large corporations stomp on the little guy to get what they want.

    I would definitely put this movie in my top 3. And I am extremely fussy over my movies.

    I do agree that it would have been better with a bit more of the back story that you wrote about but movies are so long these days I guess they have to cut something out. LOL must admit my preference is cutting out all the mushy stuff lol. I loved the action, the CGI and like you am looking forward to the making of and no doubt in the future a director’s cut of the movie.

  • Joshua Linville said:

    It is hard to hand over a movie the title of “Greatest Movie Ever” based on the amount of money its made. True, a lot of people have seen Avatar, but I feel like people would see anything nowadays. Our society has become more and more fixated on seeing the “next big thing”. Movies have become a primary form of distraction, a fallback in the face of boredom so to speak. A common outing amongst people involves going to the movies because, they argue, there is nothing else to do.

    Is great CG the only characteristic of a great movie? This seems unfair, as special effects are constantly improving. So when Avatar 3 comes out in 2016, will it automatically enter the running for “Greatest Movie Ever” simply because it will have better graphics than its predecessors?

  • cleancutmedia (author) said:

    dragonfyshe – haha thanks for your thoughts on the movie!

    Joshua – very good point. I completely agree. There is definitely much to be said about our culture in the way we chase mindless entertainment. Also I agree, the CG seems to be overshadowing all the other flaws within the movie.

  • A fan said:

    I was glad to see that Avatar did not win best picture at the Academy Awards. As much as it was amazing to see, it was all flash (cost and made a lot of cash) and no real substance. No story, no character development. It’s good to see that in the end, The Academy still knows that it takes more than crazy impressive graphics in 3-D to take home the big Oscar. The Hurt Locker came out of nowhere, didn’t even play in my town. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Go wifey #3!

    On a side note, I was also pleased to see Sandra Bullock win for her role in the movie “The Blind Side” (loosely based on the story of Michael Oher/the Tuohy’s). She had just won a razzie for her performance in “All about Steve” and would go and win an Oscar. In the end, Avatar grossed millions and millions more than The Blind Side but I believe there was something in the story of Michael Oher and the Tuohy’s that American yearns for and knows to appreciate. You just wanted that movie to win something but you knew it was too Disney feel good for it to win film of the year. Good to see racial relations, rich white folks and even Christians shown under a good light. Oh…………….and go “Up” 8D

  • cleancutmedia (author) said:

    I saw blind side. good movie. great story. as you say, definitely did leave the theater feeling like something was just right about the story.

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