By Carter B. Horsley
The most expensive movie ever made to date,
Avatar was a much anticipated major "event" because
of its presentation in 3D and the ballyhooed "king of the
world" fame of its director, James Cameron, whose other major
films include Titanic, Aliens, Terminator 2 (see The
City Review article), and True Lies.
The movie has many silly characters lifted
almost in total from other films such as the obnoxious head of
the mining company operations and the gung-ho female fighter pilot.
Indeed, much of the movie is juvenile in its premises and preposterous
in its invented posthistoric animals.
There is no denying, however, that parts of
the movie are magical, not so much in the tradition of The
Wizard of Oz (see The City Review) but in the mesmerizing
flying sequences through "islands in the sky" and, more
importantly, in the romance of the two leading characters, Jake
Sully, a disabled human being who becomes an avatar in the world
of the Na'Vi, and Neytiri, a very heroic Na'Vi female.
The Na'Vi people have large, pointed ears,
striped blue skin, very long tails, yellow eyes, very tall and
very athletic bodies and squashed noses. They act a bit like 19th
Century American Indians, riding horses and carrying their bows
The Americans, on the other hand, are an unattractive
lot with huge iron suits of armor that are a combination of Alien's
metal and hydraulic outfits and Robocop, the 1987 movie
with Peter Weller, both true "heavy metal" studs.
While the special effects are impressive and
it is easy to see where Cameron spent his money, it is the motion-capture
computer realizations of the Na'Vi that is truly spectacular even
if not original to this movie. One can easily be "turned
on" by the gracefulness of the Na'Vi and Neytiri is a fabulous,
sexy, and memorable heroine/amazon.
The plot and dialogue are not terribly original
but the technical achievement is very impressive, especially some
of the non-human inhabitants of Pandora, the moon where the mining
takes place in 2154. The jelly-fish-like diadems are lovely and
the brightly-colored, parrot-like dragons are most impressive.
The hammerhead-like lizards are very nasty and the mean, hungry
dogs are mean.
"Quest for Fire" invented a new language
for its prehistoric humanoids and placed them in a very beautiful
landscape. Stanley Kubrick's monkeys and pre-humans in 2001 (see
The City Review article) were very convincing.
The goofy monsters populating a bar were the best thing in the
sophmoric Star Wars movies. The crab-like baby monsters
and slimy black adult monsters of Ridley Scott's Alien (see
The City Review article) in 1979 have
no horrific peers. The worlds of King Kong, especially the one
created by Peter Jackson, are appropriately filled with wonder
What makes Avatar "special," then,
is not its environmentally conscious and anti-war plot and its
alignment with the maligned Na'Vi, but the mystique and allure
of the title - avatar - and its sophisticated notion of a computerized
"stand-in"/kindred spirit/thought-action projection,
and the thoroughly intriguing and interesting personalities and
aesthetics of the Na'Vi themselves. They are likable and admirable,
agile and heroic, and usually gentle. There is a moment, however,
when Neytiri gets angry and snarls a snarl that would frighten
As the male lead, Sam Worthington is very,
very bland and uninteresting in his human form and Giovanni Ribisi
as Parker Selfridge is swarmier and sleazier and more disgusting
than Paul Reiser ever was in Alien 3. Stephen Lang, however, is
a beguiling, menacing and very believable villain as Colonel MilesQuaritch,
the military leader of the mining expedition who sends Jake Sully's
avatar into Pandora to infiltrate the Na'Vi and convince them
not to oppose the mining operation that intends to destroy their
beloved tree to obtain a previous mineral, which the movie calls
unobtanium in a throw-away attempt
at humor. Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace Augustine has aged considerably
here and her role is very clearcut.
As awesome as the computer-created personalities
and landscapes of Avatar are, they cannot compare with the regenerative
capabilities of Cameron's Terminator 2.
Avatar is definitely worth seeing for the Na'Vi
and their flying dragons and dramatic sky-islands, but it is not
the earth-shaking revolution its advertising led some to believe.
If a "director's cut" could be made that eliminated
the slow beginning and the stupidity of the Rimisi character and
just "cut to the chase" so-to-speak it would be a fine