a critiQal film review Avatar (2009)

Plot: On the lush alien world of Pandora live the Na'vi, beings who appear primitive but are highly evolved. Because the planet's environment is poisonous, human/Na'vi hybrids, called Avatars, must link to human minds to allow for free movement on Pandora. Jake Sully (Worthington), a paralyzed former Marine, becomes mobile again through one such Avatar and falls in love with a Na'vi woman (Saldana). As a bond with her grows, he is drawn into a battle for the survival of her world.

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  • ...an imaginative concept is waylaid by a lot of one-dimensional characters and an incredibly predictable storyline - but oh, the visuals!

With our recent subscription to NetFlix®, we’ve been spending a lot of time lately watching things through our Wii – whether it’s catching up on some of our favorite shows (“Bones” (TV)) or checking out a barely-remembered action pic (Maximum Risk (1996)), we’ve spent a lot of time browsing through NetFlix® streaming library.

But, with a subscription to NetFlix®, you also get at least one actual DVD delivered to you at a time, as well. Our first choice? Well, that’s obvious, isn’t it? After weeks of the movie not being available through redbox®, we couldn’t resist picking Avatar as our first NetFlix® delivered DVD. After all, aren’t we about the only people who haven’t seen this eye-popping visual event yet? But, would Avatar be worth the months of waiting? Or did we choose un-wisely?

The cast has quite a few recognizable faces, among them some viewers can readily associate with. One of these is Sam Worthington. While viewers had mixed reactions to the recent reboot film Terminator Salvation (2009), they seemed to be pretty solid across the board in favor of Sam’s part in that. Thankfully, he does just as good of a job – if not better – in Avatar, and is a huge part of why the film works.

Of course, Zoe Saldana, the lead female Na’vi in the film, is also a huge part of that. As Worthington’s blue alter-ego gradually grows to understand more about the world he’s on – and the Na’vi themselves – she is the guide, leading both him and the viewer into the wonders that abound on-screen.

While Zoe acts as the viewer’s guide, Sigourney Weaver acts more as a passive echo of the viewer. While Sam is who the viewer can and should relate to the best – thus involving them knee-deep in the action from start to finish, Sigourney’s pure happiness at rejoining the Na’vi lets the viewer worry less about the weak points of the film and concentrate more on the peaceful beauty that is the Na’vi’s home. True, her character isn’t all about basking in happiness, but those brief instances she does highlight in the film give her character a lot more depth than can be said for most of the others.

Giovanni Ribisi, usually a highlight of any film, is sorely used in Avatar. As the de facto boss of the corporate mining, he quickly hands over the reins and, as things spiral further and further out of control, he’s suddenly nowhere to be seen. It’s an odd character for him to play, and seems largely unfinished – something not worth his talents, in other words. Apparently, he just wanted to be in the film, and jumped at any role that was offered – no matter how weak it was.

The rest of the characters are purely one-dimensional, sadly. Aside from those stand-outs, the rest quickly fade into the background, only to pop up for their predictable closeups later on in the film. Even the “bad guy” of the film, played with silly simple-mindedness by Stephen Lang, is purely one-dimensional, an unthinking soldier whose only purpose is to kill – a villain typical of action flicks starring Seagal or Van Damme, not epics directed by James Cameron.

The plot is simplistic as well, and quite predictable. Viewers will never doubt where the story is heading, or even how it will turn out – each section of the film is clearly laid out, and no surprises await in the big scheme of things. Toss in some rather cheesy dialogue near the end, and the film’s flaws are easily evident – thankfully, while it is predictable, it’s never quite boring, and the lengthy running time flows past smoothly.

Where Avatar really stand out, however, is just where expected – the visuals. Stunning is a mild way to put it, as viewers are immersed in a spectacular kaleidoscope of wondrous sights for most of the entire film. Whether it’s the Na’vi, the creatures around them, or even the trees and mountains, each scene is filled with amazing imagery that has to be seen firsthand. It’s so impressive, viewers may find themselves wondering what impressive view awaits beyond the next minute, more than worrying about what’s going to actually happen next in the storyline. Thankfully, since the storyline is so predictable, that’ isn’t really a problem.

Sure, Avatar has it’s problems. Quite a few one-dimensional characters, a predictable story from start to finish, and a couple of cheesy one-liners tossed in during the climactic final sequence. But, with awe-inspiring visuals and solid performances by a few key players, Avatar is still an immersive experience -if not quite the “Event” everyone has been talking about.

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