Saturday, May 22, 2010


James Cameron, 2009 (8.1*)

Basically, Avatar is another war/western in space, much like Star Wars and Starship Troopers. The story could easily be the U.S. vs the Souix nation, who are sitting on gold in the Black Hills, their sacred ground given to them in a government treaty, which was then ignored when gold was discovered. In Avatar, on planet Pandora (don't expect any mythology here, it's not that intelligent), the Na'vi are stting on "unobtanium" (silly name, right?), which is under their sacred tree, and of course, a giant earth-based corporation wants to mine the valuable substance like gold, oil, copper, uranium on earth; this 'evil empire' also uses ex-military misfits as a mercernary army to subdue the planet's natural dangers. The natives, like the Souix, the Incans, and countless others, are both expendable and primitive (they shoot bows and arrows for gosh sake!), therefore irrelevant to the profit-minded and anyone with more military power. (Here the big battle is helicopters vs. dragons, land robots vs. men on horses and angry rhinos)

One crippled soldier, played by Sam Worthington, is introduced to the Na'vi culture through use of a computer-connected cloned being, called an "avatar", hardly a God incarnate like the original meaning of the word. In this case, more like soldiers and scientists, who are led by a largely-wasted Sigourney Weaver, incarnated to both study then exploit these natives.

Though the special effects and animation design are superb, the story is not original, has nothing unexpected or new in it, and is actually predictable and frustrating. If you've read science fiction, it's a combination of Ursula K. Le Guin's novella "The Word for World is Forest", Roger Zelazny's novel "Lord of Light", and Cecelia Holland's aliens from "Floating Worlds". At least someone around Cameron has some science fiction literacy, but not much originality.

If you liked Star Wars, you'll like this, as it's aimed at the same roughly 12-yr old audience. Star Trek (the 2009 one) is actually a better sf film, and even won the Empire Award in the UK for "Best SF/fantasy Film" over Avatar. Three technical Oscars® (special effects, art direction, and bafflingly cinematography which won over the great work done in Hurt Locker) were about right for this - it is an obvious crowd pleaser 'yarn', but not very artistic, subtle, complex, or literate. Stephen Lang is terrible as the macho military commander (read "evil incarnate"), but then with lines like "On my mark", "light her up", and "take em out", he couldn't be very good no matter what. I'm not sure that 3-D would help this much, and I'm also not sure why people are going to see this over and over - I suppose because no one reads great science fiction novels any more. Cameron's Aliens is still a better sf film (so is Terminator 2), even that film's limited dialogue was better and funnier, as in "game over, man, game over!", and "then why don't you put her in charge?"

Note: Ironically, the IMDB avg fan rating is 8.4 - I didn't see this until after I ranked it, but that was my original rating, before rewatching it. It's currently #93 on the IMDB 250, but that will probably fall over time as fans are the first to rate these, then they slowly decline to their more proper place. Cameron's Aliens is ranked #53.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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