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Avatar (2009) Movie Review

December 18, 2009

Each person has his own criteria by which he measures the quality of a movie.  While the quality of storytelling is important, inherent in good storytelling is emotion.  The ability of a cast of fictional characters to be so well presented that an audience becomes attached to them is what brings me back to the movies time after time.  Many times before, James Cameron created characters to whom the audience bonded such that each shred of fear and each drop of love felt by the characters was felt by the audience.  This ability to feel for another is captured perfectly in the Na’vi phrase, ‘I see you’.  In Na’vi culture, one greets another with more than a superficial greeting.  This simple phrase carries with it the meaning that both people see each other not just as they are on the surface but as they are within, and all the feelings that encompasses.

The Na’vi is a race of large blue people who live as one with the land.  Their culture is heavily influenced by the mannerisms and ways of various Native American tribes.  In “Avatar”, humanity has left their planet in search of a rare, valuable mineral that rests within the planet Pandora, where the Na’vi people live.  Of course humanity comes to Pandora with the same mindset that seems to follow any expansion of culture from one area to another.  Rather than try to learn the traditional ways of the Na’vi, a large military force funded by corporate executives negotiates with force rather than with diplomacy.

Cameron crafts the planet of Pandora and its inhabitants the Na’vi so well that any viewer with a shred of compassion will soon feel a deep sympathy for the Na’vi and root for them as they fight off the evil humans.  As unusual as it may sound to root for a race of blue Indians in their fight against the invading humans, the way the story is crafted, it is hard to imagine anyone feeling otherwise.

We encounter the Na’vi through the eyes of various humans who transport themselves into Na’vi bodies so that they can interact with and gain the trust of the Na’vi.  The two characters central in the Avatar program are Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver).  Sully is an ignorant soldier who finds himself in the program when his brother dies suddenly.  Augustine is a researcher who is focused on learning and understanding the ways of the Na’vi.

On an early test to see how Sully adapts to his Na’vi avatar, he is separated from the group and becomes lost in the forest.  There, he meets a Na’vi girl who sees signs from her sacred deity suggesting that Sully should be trusted and is taken in to meet the tribe.  He slowly becomes accepted by the Na’vi and is trained in their ways of fighting.  Sully is also taught to understand how the Na’vi interact with the forest and nature and comes to realize the beauty that is there.  Through this journey, while Sully learns about the Na’vi, I found myself developing a deep bond not only with the Na’vi but with the planet on which they live and the nature they live with, in unity.

Sully soon finds that he is unable to convince the Na’vi to move from their homeland, one which rests on top of a significant deposit of the rare mineral the humans came to harvest.  This creates a conflict between the Na’vi and the humans in which Sully finds himself deeply attached to the ways of the Na’vi.  The conflict builds until it erupts in one epic final battle over the land.

It is easy to see “Avatar” as a film with a heavy handed message that corporate greed is bad and that humans are destroying the environment.  In the face of those heavy messages and under it all, there is a story of true humanity and the love and devotion that develop as relationships grow.  Thanks to the amazing technology used in the creation of the Na’vi and the humans who play their roles, it is easy to feel a bond with these deeply human creatures as their homes are threatened by the greedy humans.  I felt a deep sadness as I witnessed the depths to which the humans in the film stooped in the name of greed and I think many other viewers will feel the same.

The soundtrack for “Avatar” was composed by James Horner, a composer who gained great fame through the ‘80s and ‘90s for his emotionally evocative scores.  His work on the soundtrack for “Avatar” is a significant departure from his traditional style and is initially a bit jarring and disappointing to many fans of the traditional style.  However, his work is deeply connected to the Na’vi people and the world they live in and fits the film perfectly.  The ethnic chants, while a bit overused, help represent the deeply spiritual nature of the Na’vi people while the orchestral battle themes make the epic battle scenes even more exciting.

It can be said that “Avatar” has within it a weak and overused story filled with heavy-handed messages that are a bit difficult for many to accept.  Yet if you can get past the familiar story and messages, underneath it you will find something beautiful.  “Avatar” is a deeply moving journey into a beautiful world filled with a beautiful people that I couldn’t help but fall in love with.  Thanks to some stunning uses of CGI effects, the world of Pandora is one of the most beautiful fictional landscapes I have ever set my eyes on in a movie.  Its plant and animal life, though clearly fictional, have a profound beauty that take hold of your being and fill you with life.  “Avatar” is a striking achievement not so much because of its astounding use of special effects but because of the affect its story and characters have on those who experience its beauty.



From → Action, Epic, Fantasy

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