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MarzGurl Thinks – James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’

December 28, 2009

I will warn you now, what you’re about to read contains spoilers. How you can read a review and expect for there not to be spoilers is beyond me, but yeah, just to let you know, spoilers abound.

Avatar movie poster
With any major movie, you catch a lot of hear-say before you see it. I remember even before the movie had been close enough to release to even be screened, people were saying that Avatar was going to very strongly remember an under-budgeted CG-animated movie called “Delgo”, something I had never heard of previous to hearing about this piece. After all of the waiting, the movie was finally released. I hear all kinds of things like, “It’s exactly like Fern Gully / Dances With Wolves / etc.”, the list went on and on. But overall, the reactions have been very favorable.

Of course, I wanted to make sure I saw this movie in 3D, as it was designed specifically to be in 3D from the start. One of these days I’m just gonna pay regular price for the standard movie, bring in one of those sets of polarized “Real-D” glasses that I ended up accidentally walking out of theaters with a couple years ago, and then sneak into the 3D movie to avoid paying for glasses that I don’t need an extra set of and they don’t even want you to keep because they keep those glasses bins outside the theater doors to recycle and use again for later releases. Everyone always said this movie simply had to be seen in 3D. So, who am I to argue? Let’s do this 3D style.

First, I kept waiting for the title of the movie to pop up on the screen. See, I have this tradition that I don’t eat my movie snacks until I see the title of the movie. Well, I slowly came to realize that the title wasn’t coming. What’s up with movies these days, throwing their title in at the end, when the movie is over? It’s become fairly common. I’m not a big fan of it. But I guess in the long run, it doesn’t really matter.

Jake, Avatar's main character
So, you start off in space, with the movie narrated by our main character jug-head, Jake. I’ll start by saying that for the most part, the military and I don’t get along. I will admit to holding prejudice toward many militants, their behaviors, and their blatant disregard for cultures other than their own. For that reason, I don’t stomach many modern movies well at all to begin with. As you can see, I find that I relate not at all to a main character who is a member of this kind of organization. Jake is presented to the movie-going audience with very little backstory. He’s been in cryo-sleep for over five years, and is just reaching the planet of Pandora. Not exactly original, as there have been other stories that use “Pandora” to name important locations. Most recently, the game “Borderlands” used the planet “Pandora” as their setting. Anyway, the only things that make you feel anything for this character is the incredibly skimmed-over fact that Jake had a twin brother who had died just barely before the movie got started, and that Jake is paralyzed from the waist down, a.k.a. he has no use of his legs. But his behavior ensures that you never feel pity for him. He never once appears to mourn his brother’s death, and his attitude remains that of a man bred to be a jughead. My prejudice for him lies not in the fact that he’s a cripple, but because his initial attitude is exactly what sets me off kilter.

So Jake ends up taking over his brother’s job as a scientist, which he proves time and again that he’s never studied for a day in his life. In reality, he was chosen for this job because his twin was a dream-walker; he was one of the few people chosen to walk in the body if Pandora’s indigenous species, the Na’vi, a very human-like race (except for being blue and huge, with tails and cat-like facial features). And to be more precise about how he walks in their body, a Na’vi was especially “grown” for use by Jake’s late brother, and now that body is used for Jake himself. Science has apparently been advanced so far that it is now possible to pass one’s conciousness from their own body to that of these sleeping Na’vi husks. So imagine Jake’s delight when he realizes that this suddenly means he can walk again on new legs. And of course, since he’s the main character, he’s able to use them without any sort of physical training or therapy of any kind. And also since he’s the main character, nobody punishes him for acting out of order. In fact, he’s rewarded because they realize he’s super special awesome.

Parker
Every story needs a jerk in a business suit who plays golf up in his office while everyone else works their asses off. And that would be this guy – Parker Selfridge (the ‘self’ in Selfridge says it all). He’s essentially running the show, although there are some other outside influences during the course of the movie. This guy is the business man, and he’s here for one reason and one reason only – Unobtainium.

Unobtainium

Yeah.

Unobtainium.

As in, “We’re telling you right here and now that they will NEVER get this mineral, because the name of the mineral says right in the name that it’s unobtainable.” That. Is. Stupid. Oh, and by the way, we’re not gonna tell you what the uses of this rock is. It’s just special, important, and expensive, okay? Supposedly there’s some book that better explains the importance of Unobtainium, but in personal opinion I feel as though that information would have been better placed in the movie.

Quaritch
The most obvious enemy throughout the duration of the movie is Col. Quaritch, who you can smell as being the villian from three hours away. He completely characterizes everything about the military that disgusts me, and what disgusts me even more is that I would be more than happy believing that officers really do behave the same way he does. Together with the man in the suit running the operation, they’re trying their damnedest to drive the Na’vi out of their homes to get to the Unobtainium as quickly as possible, either by brains or by brawn (Quaritch, of course, fulfilling the brawn end of the bargain). Of course they like throwing around words like “savages” to describe the native race. If it wasn’t obvious that this is just a retelling of the story of the white man driving the Native Americans out of their homes in North America, it’s obvious just by listening to them talk. The whole time, I wanted someone to say, “Hey, I read this in a history book once,” but it’s like no one ever has.

So, anyway, Jake is told to report back to Quaritch (Heh, Quaritch. That’s like Quarrel. Get it?) with any information he has on the Na’vi so that he can later use it to his advantage. Basically, this starts as an infiltration mission. And Jake is totally along for the ride, doesn’t even question it. Nothing worse than an uneducated, uncaring, unsocialized pair of jugheads. Quaritch promises that if Jake assists in this, he’ll get him the surgery he needs to give him the use of his legs back. Obviously, this sounds pretty damn good.

Dr. Grace
Dr. Grace, played by Sigourney Weaver, is probably my favorite character in the movie. Aside from being an intelligent scientist, she seems like a real person with real joy in learning about new things in a new environment. Anyway, she’s running the science operation and is also hopping back and forth between human body and Na’vi body. For a time, she had taugh a small few how to speak English and communicate with the Na’vi, as well as learning their native tongue. She takes Jake and their fellow scientist, Norm, on a walk out on the planet’s surface, but when the native fauna attacks, Jake gets separated from his workmates. Grace and Norm begrudgingly leave Jake out in the night, and fear he won’t survive. I’m assuming, of course, that if you “die in the game, you die for real”. Meaning, if your brain is in that Na’vi body when it dies, your real body dies. That conflict, of course, is never quite encountered.

Neytiri
Jake stays out all night attempting to survive. He’s spotted by our first glimpse at our main heroine, Neytiri, who is at first more than ready to quietly kill him. However, this floating jellyfish thing touches her arrow as she’s preparing to shoot and this sign keeps her from firing. But after Jake makes a mess of the forest and defending himselves from the animals attacking him, Neytiri decides she needs to step in before he does more damage.

Neytiri and the other Na’vi take him back and analyze him. He insists that he is open and ready to learn their ways, and so they say, “Okay, we’ll keep him.” Of course, no one expected Jake to infiltrate and be accepted into the Na’vi so suddenly and quickly. Of course, main character is instantly fantastic in speaking and interacting with this race. Oh, and of COURSE, Neytiri is the daughter of the chief of the tribe – essentially, a princess. And she’s been chosen to marry the best warrior in the tribe (oh, yeah, I’m certain this guy is destined to die). Hmm, where have I seen THIS before?

Oh yeah, that's right, Pocahontas.

And of course Colonel is pleased with the news. He gives him three months to learn and interact with the people peacefully and gently suggest that they move, or at least give strategic military info so they can barge in and forcefully take what they want.

And so he does, and all the “no-duh” stuff happens. You know, for some reason he’s incredibly skilled at learning everything, and he somehow manages to wrestle down all of the animals he needs to learn how to ride. Oh, yeah, and did I mention that everything seems to have this weird set of tentacles? Yeah, hidden in the Na’vi’s hair are these wormy tentacle things that they can use to connect with the wormy tentacle things of animals, plants, and other Na’vi. Because they have this, they can essentially mind meld, learn things from one another, read thoughts, communicate with little interruption… basically, it’s a USB drive. They can download whatever information they want from any living thing ever. So, this is how Jake learns things and learns how to ride the indigenous horses and birds so well. He’s also told about the biggest, scariest bird-thing on the planet, and that only five Na’vi have ever ridden it in the history of their people. Great, when is Jake gonna get to ride it, oh obvious plot point?

And that’s another thing. Throughout the course of the movie, the animals all make the SAME noises as the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park. Every time I heard the horses honk, I couldn’t get an image of velociraptors out of my head. The black panther-like thing made the sound of the T-Rex. Later on, it even comes up an a rear-view mirror, just like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park.

In any case, Jake obviously ends up growing fond of the people and especially fond of Neytiri. Honestly, can’t one of these movies actually have the main character end up HATING his situation? I think that’d be pretty awesome. Well, the two get it on with one another, and it would seem that they essentially married. Well, nobody likes that. Not the Na’vi, and not the humans. Again, who didn’t see that coming? It’d be awesome if the humans had been like, “Way to go, score that blue tail!” But, no, there more “savages” speak, and no one’s a fan of what happened. It makes it worse that Jake decided to pound the hell out of the external cameras of the steamdozers coming in to tear the place up. I can see here the part that everyone says is so remeniscant of Fern Gully. But, still, I see more Pocahontas than Fern Gully.

Jake decides to warn the Na’vi about what the humans’ real intentions are, which is how they find out he was originally sent to spy. This is where we see Taming of the Shrew (or, for you young’uns who haven’t read Shakespear, 10 Things I Hate About You).
“You were sent here?”
“At first, yes, I was. But then I changed. I fell in love with you and with everyone and everything.”
“I TRUSTED YOU! GET OUT!”
Honestly, the man is sitting there pouring out his honesty, trying to help you, and you turn away his help. Not only that, but you imprison him and then try to fight the “Sky People” with no knowledge, technology, or planning. Hello, Old West, Cowboy-vs-Indian battle!

So Colonel Three-Scar comes along and BOOM! there goes the biggest, most important tree on all of Pandora. And even still, Neytiri refuses his help and condolensces after losing her father.

And that’s when Jake gets ripped out of his blue slumber (technically for the second time, actually) and gets imprisoned, along with the rest of the science team.

Trudy
But the fairly-unimportant (but I wish they would have expanded on her character) Trudy comes in and saves the day! She frees the science team, they steal an aircraft and the Na’vi pods, and fly off. But Colonel Jackass shoots wildly and actually manages to hit Grace in the gut. Gotta admit, Grace is pretty hardcore herself, saying, “This is going to ruin my day.”

They take Grace and her Na’vi body to a great tree and try to transfer her being into her Na’vi body (did I mention her Na’vi face looks eerily like Sigourney Weaver?). But that doesn’t work and instead kills her. Well, she was gonna die anyway, right?

So, finally, Jake mounts that giant bird thing we were waiting for him to ride, and he flies it down into the Na’vi tribe, and Neytiri is like, “Oh, crap, I was wrong.”

SUPER FINAL BATTLE TIME!

I’ll admit, this part was very pretty, very action-packed. They round up every other tribe on the planet, and we somehow have this amazing battle that’s remeniscent of the Ewok battle on the moon of Endor. Like, honestly, if this was a real battle in a real war, the Na’vi would have never won. In fact, oh yeah, this DID happen once. When we pushed the Native Americans out of their homes. And guess what? They lost HARDCORE. Of course it helps that we were the same species and we gave them a ton of diseases. Just about completely wiped them out to begin with. But, still, modern war technology would have never had that much of a difficult time defeating Earthly war tools.

But they did.

But I’ll admit, the REAL final battle between Jake and the Colonel was pretty damn hardcore, too. It’s been said that it should be noted that they basically both have their battle in bodies that have been artificially created. Jake’s body was manufactured in a lab, while the Colonel jumped into a badass mech built probably somewhere in a factory. I really like the design of those mechs. I felt like I was watching a battle straight out of Warhammer 40,000. That mech’s entire purpose completely skips the unnecessary feature of having guns and simply serves to PUNCH things. That’s pretty freaking awesome, I must admit. And the Colonel KEPT fighting, even as his windshield breaks and he’s running out of oxygen. What’s sad, though, is that it isn’t Jake who gets to land the finishing blows, but Neytiri. I guess that’s cool, that she was able to show how much of a warrior she was, but still, it ended up being Jake’s story, and by this point he had actually managed to redeem himself. Of course, it’s not like I can blame him. His sleep pod was damaged during the battle, and Jake was slowly dying without oxygen. Luckily Neytiri was intelligent enough to figure it out, AND to figure out he needed an oxygen mask.

And now, as could completely be forseen, Jake’s human body and his Na’vi body are taken to the magic tree so that he could be permanently saved in the new body. Hooray!

Again, this was really just about the most predictable movie I’ve seen in a very, very long time. Despite the fact that it was very pretty and very entertaining, I pretty much feel like I don’t really need to see it ever again. Why should I? There were other movies that did it much better the first time. But, alas, it’s already broken the box office, and there will be no convincing any other movie goers that it’s maybe not the greatest movie on the face of the planet. I can totally see it winning oscars, too. But honestly, with my complaints from the steeling of dinosaur sound effects, to the Unobtainium, to the fact that I’ll never understand how both Jake’s human body and his Na’vi body were able to have the exact same vocal chords, plus that one blue tit that managed to make its way into almost every shot in the movie, there were lots of things distracting my attention (honestly, that blue tit… once it shows up, you can’t stop staring. Not because it was hot, but because it was even there. When it’s on the screen, you simply can’t pull away.).

Avatar Happy Meal
I’m also a bit surprised that this movie managed a PG-13 rating. There was quite a bit of nudity an swearing, just short of dropping an F-bomb. I’ve heard that you can basically either have nudity OR and F-bomb in a PG-13 movie, but not both. Sheesh, PG-13 ratings sure have changed since I was a kid. This would have never passed for PG-13 back then. Not that I’m complaining, but I’m a bit surprised that a PG-13 movie is having their toys placed in McDonald’s Happy Meals.

All the same, I won’t tell you not to see Avatar. I’ll even tell you that it looks very pretty. But I won’t tell you that it’s anything surprising, or anything you’ve never seen before. When people say they see Fern Gully, Dances With Wolves, Delgo, Pocahontas, or any other movie in this one, they aren’t kidding. It’s really just like all of those movies, and that’s not just a bunch of bull, that’s a promise. Go see it once, but it’s probably not worth the purchase once it hits DVD and Blu-Ray. Not unless you’re planning on watching it on one of Sony’s up-and-coming 3D TVs. And even then, it’s little more than pretty to look at.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Dinger permalink
    December 28, 2009 7:31 AM

    I have to admit that I will take a movie with the title at the end, opposed to one where we get movie-title sequence-rest of movie. That style just seems to break the flow of the film.

  2. December 28, 2009 8:19 AM

    Alright, first thing I’m going to say is that I really like your writing, and actually wish you would post more of it. (There were a few typos here, but nobody likes a grammar Nazi, so I’ll shut up).
    It was a good review and I think you summed up the movie very well: Nice to look at, but incredibly predictable and unoriginal.

    The second thing I wanted to say is that, as a serviceman in the US Airforce for almost four years now, I can tell you that not all of us are evil jerks who kill anything that moves. In fact, I have a desk job filing paperwork for crying out loud. Sure I’ve met some real bone heads in my time in service, but I’ve met some very nice people too.
    I understand if you don’t like the military as a whole, but at least give the people in it some credit. We’re giving up a lot to do these jobs, and we’re doing it because we want you to be free and have the right to say what you want.
    I’m not mad, I’m just pointing out that I think you’re wrong to judge us all so quickly.

    And what is up with opening titles these days? If it’s a dying art then it’s one I’m sad to see go.

    • December 28, 2009 8:35 AM

      I admit my own prejudice. However, I once dated a man in the Air Force with a desk job, so I’m well aware that not everyone is a jughead. But, man, do the steriotype jugheads upset me.

  3. Dinger permalink
    December 28, 2009 6:14 PM

    you mean Jarhead right?

  4. NightChime permalink
    December 29, 2009 8:46 PM

    The Na’vi don’t actually have nipples, Neytiri just has these shaded parts on her not-boobs that look convincingly like nips from a distance. There are a couple shots where she doesn’t have hair covering them, and the shot is close enough that you can see it’s just skin, no enlarged sweat glands. And you said it yourself, that they don’t quite drop the F-Bomb, so PG-13 is spot on.

    Also, you definitely wouldn’t need to watch this on an “up-and-coming 3D TV”; they’re going to release this in just the same format, with glasses, as they’ve done with other movies. I don’t know this as a fact, it’s just something as predictable as Avatar’s “plot-twists.”

    Your review is a bit lengthy, and I think too much of it is basically a plot synopsis. Spoilers are fine, but if the plot is so predictable, you shouldn’t have to spell it out for us. However, I enjoy your writing and sense of humor, and just might tune in for later posts.

  5. Leifonuss permalink
    January 3, 2010 8:50 AM

    Hey, I’m glad I’m not the only one who noticed the obvious jurassic park sound effects!

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