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January 17, 2010

*Review may contain spoilers*

The one word on everyone’s lips these past few months have been Avatar. And no not the awesome Nickelodeon show about a god reincarnated in the form a kid but James Cameron’s long awaited follow-up blockbuster. Avatar has become hands down the most hyped film in years through advertisement, critics whose lips have stayed attached to Cameron’s ass, and the billion dollars that’s it’s made. The hype alone made my desire to see Avatar flaccid but as a cinephile I knew it was my duty to see this “masterpiece.” Well I finally did and to my surprise it was good. That’s it, just good. After constantly hearing how great of a film it is, I told myself I would either absolutely love it or truly hate it. So imagine how shocked I was at just how mediocre I found it.

I’m sure there are some exploding with anger convinced that I didn’t like it because I didn’t want to but to be honest, Avatar was just not that great of a film. See if this story sounds familiar: Paraplegic ex-marine, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), is assigned to go to the planet Pandora as an Avatar, a genetically engineered clone of the blue-skinned inhabitants of the planet. His goal is to become “one of them,” learn their ways, and make them trust him in order to convince them to leave their area so a mining corporation can rape the land of its natural but valuable resources. If he’s successful the Marines will pay for a costly operation to repair his legs. However Sully realizes that the majestic beings of the planet are not the savages’ he and other humans initially thought.

Take away blue people and intergalactic aspect and the story sounds awfully familiar. Pocahontas anyone? Dances with Wolves maybe? How about even Point Break? They all share the same formula except Avatar’s story was the weaker link of the aforementioned. The film’s script seemed underdeveloped and rushed in some parts —odd considering the film is almost 3 hours. The audience is meant to sympathize and care for the three main Avatar specialists Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), Sully, and Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore). Yet Spellman is an underplayed and unfunny sidekick while Grace is the stereotypical annoyingly tough as nails HBIC and Sully is so ridiculously stubborn that I stopped caring about him 45 minutes into the film.

Sully’s transformation into becoming the humane righteous one that the first five minutes of the film constructs him to be just doesn’t work. He is given over three months to live among the Na’vi people in order to convince them to diplomatically relocate. Yet his first day on Pandora as an Avatar, he is struck by the planet’s beauty and majestic qualities. It becomes assumed that he spends every day on the planet accepting and falling in love with the people and land yet day after day he continuously supplies the Marines information without a hint of regret. Had there been scenes of him looking at his legs or showing some form of guilt over his talks with commanders then ok I’d buy it. But he doesn’t, he just plays the part of a traitor. Instead it takes him until his last day or two to have a change of heart…regardless of the fact that he’s already assimilated early on and loves life on Pandora.

However what I appreciated about Avatar are the social implications it alludes to such as war, carbon footprints, race relations, colonization, and greed. The film also calls for tolerance and universal humanness. Nevertheless while great to see such themes in a blockbuster its presentation was almost laughable. Avatar plays out almost like a white man’s apology to indigenous people whom were the products of colonization as the actors who played the Na’vi people were all of African descent. Throughout the entire film the heads of the Marines and government are so over the top in their hate for the “blue monkeys” and nonsense savages that pray to a tree, they might as well have been Boris and Natasha or better yet Dr. Claw.

Regardless the visuals were undoubtedly the highlight the film. Cameron’s ability to create stunning images in film has always been impressive from Terminator to Titanic. The Na’vi people themselves are astoundingly beautiful as their images are framed from the actual actors, so much so that expressions and movement of their lips and eyes not only look real but are. The visuals of Pandora are so beautiful that CNN reports that viewers are feeling “depressed” after watching the film because they can’t live on Pandora. A sad bit of “news” to hear considering Pandora’s beauty has nothing on the real beauty of planet Earth or what psychedelics can produce.

Strip away the CGI and Avatar is an extremely average film. It’s style and narrative is plain and similar to classical Hollywood by making sure the audience is caught up to every major fact within the first 30 minutes. Yet it’s simplicity works since there’s so much eye candy that it becomes difficult to pay attention to dialogue. Avatar was in no way a “bad film” but it’s just one of those movies that come DVD release, audiences will realize it’s mediocrity. Perhaps in 3-D my opinion of the story would change but for now Stephen Colbert summed it up best when he referred to it as “half an hour too long and a little preachy.”

SEE IT. Only because it’s kind of a big deal.

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