Reviewed: Avatar (2009, James Cameron)

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Director: James Cameron

Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver

Studio: 20th Century Fox

As the most commercially successful film of all time, Avatar is easily one of the most influential cinematic releases to have ever been produced. In truth, Avatar should be viewed as more than the revenue it has generated. It should also be seen as a critique of capitalism (specifically Americanisation) and a recount of colonialism and its effect on the indigenous communities that are disturbed. Through blurring the different aspects into one movie masterpiece, director James Cameron has created a film that has impacted upon the film industry for ever.

With a narrative that is told from the perspective of a battle hardened marine (Sam Worthington), Avatar explores the tried and tested formula of transforming a character, from aggressive hater of life, into someone who values a particular culture. This on its own is not a new narrative mechanic, however, under the guidance of its ‘king of the world’ director, Avatar manages to always convert spectacle within its onscreen exploits. Serving as the audience eyes, Worthington’s Jake Scully transcends into the magic that is a Pandora – a mining planet thats home to the indigenous Alien Species Nav’i. A pilot to the avatar program, after the death of his twin brother, Jake is taken in by a Nav’i tribe and is taught their culture.

Torn between his role as a marine and his new perspective on life, Jake is thrust into a conflict between the Nav’i tribe and the commercially driven colonisers from earth. Befriending the mystical Neytiri, Jake is taken in by the culture of his hosts, and the film delights in exploring this individualistic transformation. As Cameron’s narrative is concerned with the conflicting cultures of the two different species, the film can become heavily expositional in developing how one particular culture can (and should) be seen as contrasted to the other. This is done through video diaries that serve as helpful explanations to what is being explored onscreen. The final third of the film is a no hold back action set piece that is multi layered and massive in every regard. Like the rest of this film, the final third has been crafted to showcase a cinematic world of grandeur. The narrative of this film is an outstanding example of epic idea, brilliantly crafted.

Worthington, an unknown at the time of this films production, seems to be a perfect cast within the role of Jake. A tough guy performance that is not afraid to – in places – become softer within the context of the film, his portrayal grounds the narrative in a more accessible manner that enhances the overall feel of the production. Zoe Saldana, as lead Nav’i Neytiri, manages to convey a real humanity within her performance. This is made even greater by the entire role captured through motion capture before being superimposed onto a CGI creation. Managing to excel in delivering the emotional core of her performance, through her facial and eye movements, the personality of the young actress leads to a highly engrossing character that will transfix audiences. Through acting to a high standard, her Neytiri manages to convey a fully realised persona.

Stephen Lang is dastardly in the role of the films main antagonist, working within his acting repertoire to deliver the centric themes of capitalism within his characters motives. A perfect fit, serving as a foil to Worthington, Lang is never seen to be completely evil within his development arc – instead portraying a contrasting viewpoint from the films lead protagonist within his onscreen exploits. Sigourney Weaver, a returning Cameron actress, is also well cast within her scientist role, helping the world of Pandora to be explained fully to the unknowing audience. With a gravitas that allows her to stand out within the film, Weaver brings a further layer of understanding to the plots central themes.

James Cameron is one of the best working directors today, period. This can be seen through the immense commercial success of his earlier films, with his directed Titanic being the second largest box office success also. A pioneer in CGI capabilities and 3D filmmaking, Cameron and his team have crafted a film that throughout its entire duration is a complete spectacle. Creating a fully rendered cinematic planet, with its own rules and eco-structure, Avatar is a perfect example of how a world building should be handled. This brings a level of believability into the explored landscapes, while also adding the level of wonder that resonates throughout the entire picture.  Through having Pandora created as a living location, Avatar manages to produce larger investment into its narrative, bringing a sense of repercussion to what occurs onscreen.

Through an enthralling screenplay (also written by Cameron) Avatar is a film that does a hell of a lot right. Crafted to compliment the revolutionary CGI that was utilised, Avatar’s entire production holds a consistency of quality throughout. Whether its concerned with the various alien species, or the language of its indigenous denizens, every decision made within this film is seemingly done to further build upon the already thorough cinematic world. This creates a beautifully realised narrative landscape, far beyond the norm of the industry and as such adds to the already engrossing development of its many characters. Aspects of the plot may well seem borrowed from earlier productions, but when the production is of such a high quality throughout, this is negligible critique of a brilliant film. 

Plot 4

Acting 5

Direction 5

Retrospect 4

Overall 4.5

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