Written and directed by James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi
Jake Sully (Worthington) has been enlisted to be a part of a unique mission on the moon Pandora. When he begins to understand the native people of the moon, Jake begins to question his objectives.
Following a string of documentaries, director James Cameron (Titanic) got back to fiction with this science fiction film. Cameron both wrote and directed the film, which would later become the top grossing movie of all-time. The movie would go on to be nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. The movie stars Sam Worthington (Clash of the Titans), Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy), Sigourney Weaver (Exodus: Gods and Kings), Stephen Lang (Public Enemies), and Giovanni Ribisi (Cold Mountain).
This movie has an incredibly derivative story that is as predictable as they come. The movie feels like an amalgamation of moments from films like Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai, and a number of other similar films. While the setting is rather unique, there isn’t much done with the possibilities. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of nice moments sprinkled in. The world building has major holes, but some moments really do seem to take a deeper look into some interesting possibilities. Unfortunately, the story took a back seat to the visuals. (Backseat might be better described as tied to the back bumper.) This film was nicely summed up on Rotten Tomatoes when they stated “It might be more impressive on a technical level than as a piece of storytelling…”. If you’re looking for a great story, look elsewhere.
The acting in this one is a mix of good and decent. While none of the stars brings anything special out of the material, no one seemed to bring it down. Unfortunately, the writing didn’t build the characters enough to make them interesting. With a story of this nature the writing needed to make sure that the audience would care about the events. This really stunted the actor’s abilities when it came to bringing out anything great from the characters. Worthington, Saldana, Weaver, Lang and Ribisi all do decent work despite the weaker material. To their credit, it has to be tough getting into a role when you’re in front of a green screen for 99% of the production. Fortunately, the stars all seemed to know that scaling back their delivery might ease up on the cheesy dialogue written for them. While the stars didn’t make this better, they didn’t hurt it either.
In major contrast with the failures of the story, the visuals are a collection of successes. The nine Academy Award nominations included four for visual achievements. The movie would take home wins for Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, and Best Art Direction. Additionally, the film was nominated for Best Film Editing. These different aspects are nicely displayed throughout the movie. This world of the film was largely created by a digital effects team of more than 900 people in New Zealand. Their work allowed Cameron ability to make the film as he’d hoped to. All of the aspects of this film work around the digital imaging and motion capture technology. At the time, this film pushed digital imaging to levels never before seen. While it might not stand out as much today, this still looks incredible.
The visuals represent the high point of this movie. The score, composed by James Horner, feels like a collection of leftovers from his other work. At some points it almost sounds like the theme from Titanic has been recycled. The music seems lazy and repetitive for anyone familiar with his previous works. The fact that the score was earned Horner an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score is sad. The sound mixing for the film is otherwise good, but still not great. Despite nominations for Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing there is little to like about these aspects. With the highs and lows of Avatar, James Cameron might have made one of the most lopsided films in recent history. This didn’t discourage people from watching, as the movie would go on to gross more than $2.75 billion dollars worldwide.
This is a movie that succeeds with visuals while ignoring some of the fundamental aspects of storytelling. If you’re a fan of great visuals this is one to see. I would also suggest this to anyone who likes Cameron or any of the stars. While I have my issues with this movie, I don’t regret seeing it. The imagery is a great example of a film maker taking things to the next level. Like many films of this nature, I won’t be rushing to see it again soon. I give this one 2.5 out of 5 stars.