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Smurfette gets all doe-eyed.

Avatar (2009) is yet anoth­er movie in the vein of Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi (1983), The Last of the Mohicans (1992) and Apocalyto (2006) about the “fact” that white peo­ple are tech­nol­o­gy-dri­ven gold-dig­gers and indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties are pure-spir­it­ed naturelovers.

I think we all get it already so I’ll spare you a lengthy analy­sis of how this is a para­ble for numer­ous such sto­ries from his­to­ry, includ­ing that of the Native American strug­gle, or even the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in the Middle East. Therefore, it would be a good idea to for­get that paper-thin premise and just focus on the glo­ri­ous visu­als, where the movie quite lit­er­al­ly shines. But first allow me to rant a bit more.

I inten­tion­al­ly read noth­ing about the film going in, so all I knew was that it is set in an unspec­i­fied future and that I get a nifty pair of 3D glass­es (read: com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed spe­cial effects galore). My igno­rance was not a prob­lem though, because I could imme­di­ate­ly hear (and see) the sto­ry cogs creak into motion as I was told in glo­ri­ous voiceover (yuck) some cocka­mamie back­sto­ry so gener­ic I had already for­got­ten it by the five-minute mark.

I want to live on Pandora!” sobs Nadia for half an hour after the movie.

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a young Matt Damon-type marine in a wheel­chair, some­how joins a mil­i­tary megapro­ject to mine unob­ta­ni­um (no joke), a valu­able sub­stance con­cen­trat­ed under a patch of land on the moon Pandora. The only way to do that is to uproot a large alien com­mu­ni­ty, ide­al­ly by con­vinc­ing them to leave, or by using force “if nec­es­sary.” Nadia tells me James Cameron spent the last five years work­ing on this film, but beyond this premise I doubt he spent one month on char­ac­ter devel­op­ment. Good thing the movie was in 3D, oth­er­wise I would have grown tired of the two-dimen­sion­al char­ac­ters well before the juicy bat­tle sequences began.

The mil­i­tary sends an under­cov­er team of recruits to min­gle with the natives, vicious-look­ing but ulti­mate­ly lov­able Smurfoids with long sinewy limbs. To help them fit in, the recruits are put in tan­ning beds on steroids, where they hiber­nate and “dream” through alter-egos, or “avatars,” that take on the form of the natives, in a man­ner some­what rem­i­nis­cent of La Jetée (1962), which I should men­tion is still one of my top five sci-fi movies of all time.

Upon land­ing on Pandora, hero Jake’s avatar gets into a scuf­fle with the local wildlife and is sep­a­rat­ed from the rest of his team. He is saved, in typ­i­cal movie “meet cute” style, by Smurfette (a nuanced per­for­mance by Zoe Saldana and one of the few intrigu­ing char­ac­ters in the movie). Eventually, he is accept­ed by the natives as one of their own and sym­pa­thizes with their plight, but not before hand­ing his supe­ri­ors all the nec­es­sary intel to bomb the hell out of the natives.

This mega­bat­tle takes up the last third of the three-hour opus, yet I was pleas­ant­ly sur­prised to find myself enter­tained even after hav­ing sat through end­less scenes of Jake and Co. tam­ing a series of wild beasts then fly­ing them all over the place. The visu­als are extreme­ly detailed, very rich in tex­ture and col­or, and beau­ti­ful­ly ren­dered. For once we have com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed char­ac­ters that don’t talk and walk like they’re her­ni­at­ed, and bat­tles that are not just a mish-mash of explo­sions, but rather well-chore­o­graphed sequences dur­ing which I was able to fol­low the actions and emo­tions of all the main char­ac­ters.

Besides a mild headache, which I assume was brought upon by the 3D, what I felt by the end is both fas­ci­na­tion that I could actu­al­ly sym­pa­thize with a bunch of blue com­put­er graph­ics and frus­tra­tion that I did not get the chance to learn more about their com­mu­ni­ty aside from the fact that they enjoy slip­ping into mass trances as their spir­i­tu­al leader chants to some tree-god.

Corinne gave the movie a 10/10, argu­ing that it’s OK for sto­ry and char­ac­ter to take a back seat to such enter­tain­ing visu­als. To that I say fair enough, despite rec­og­niz­ing ele­ments from count­less oth­er sci-fi movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and RoboCop (1987). However, con­sid­er­ing the fact that I donat­ed almost three hours of my life to the movie (and I’m 33, so every sec­ond counts), I wish Avatar had one less fly­ing-beast sequence. Instead I might have enjoyed a cou­ple of more inti­mate char­ac­ter-dri­ven scenes, say of Papa Smurfoid cook­ing lunch with his daugh­ter and maybe Mama Smurfoid telling her about the birds and the bees, or their Pandora equiv­a­lent.

Rating 610

Directed by James CameronStarring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Joel Moore, Giovanni Ribisi and Michelle Rodriguez

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Shoodi January 13, 2010 at 6:33 am

It would have been much cooler with a few more intimate character-driven scenes as you pointed out. I've always been into RPG's like Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) and I liked your one example of Papa Smurfoid cooking lunch with his daughter... possibly something glowingly yummylicious or horrorlicious :D

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Shoodi January 13, 2010 at 9:33 am

It would have been much cooler with a few more intimate character-driven scenes as you pointed out. I've always been into RPG's like Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) and I liked your one example of Papa Smurfoid cooking lunch with his daughter... possibly something glowingly yummylicious or horrorlicious :D

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Mamiko January 13, 2010 at 12:34 pm

I definitely agree, wanna live in the pure world, Pandora. Human is sometimes stupid, and they opened the Box of Pandora....And it happened very sad and poor things....The movie made me very pure! I try to protect nature hardly!

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Mamiko January 13, 2010 at 3:34 pm

I definitely agree, wanna live in the pure world, Pandora. Human is sometimes stupid, and they opened the Box of Pandora....And it happened very sad and poor things....The movie made me very pure! I try to protect nature hardly!

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