Avatar was directed by the great James Cameron (Aliens, Terminator, Titanic…and many more) and stars Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, Zoe Saldana in motion capture as Neytiri, Sigourney Weaver as Grace, and Stephen Lang as Colonel Michael Quartrich.
At this point, most people should know Avatar, as it somehow managed to remain the highest grossing movie of all time, even beating the much anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That being said, Avatar follows Jake Sully, a former soldier before losing the use of his legs. Jake’s brother, a scientist preparing to go to the world of Pandora, dies in an accident and so Jake needs to take his place since he has a similar DNA structure, which will allow him to link with his brother’s intended Avatar. Throughout the film, Jake has to juggle his duties as a soldier, and his growing fondness for the Na’vi people, which becomes very difficult for him.
This is my second viewing of Avatar, my first being a few years after it’s initial release. I have only ever seen it on DVD so I will not be biased towards the likely incredible movie theater experience, I am going to judge this movie as it always will be unless we see a limited rerelease in theaters.
It may seem random for me to review this movie 8 years after it’s release date and 3 years before the intended release date of Avatar 2. The truth is, I recently visited Animal Kingdom in Disney World, which just opened an addition called “Pandora: World of Avatar.” The portion of the park was simply incredible. Everything was gorgeous and perfect, and the two rides were mind-blowing. Of course, this made me want to run home and watch the movie again to see if it was as good as the park is. In the end, I really enjoyed seeing this movie again.
Starting with what everyone raves about in this movie, the visuals, I was still blown away many times upon rewatching, even using a standard DVD format of the film. The fictional world of Pandora is fantastic. The people are so fascinating in their tribal ways, and how they interact with nature and it’s creatures. I also love how the movie almost completely confirms the existence of their deity, Eywa. With so many religions both in fiction and in real life, I thought it was a very interesting choice to base this religion not only on belief and faith but rather show clear results and even allow the Na’vi to physically communicate with Eywa by connecting to it through the trees. Speaking of the Na’vi and their connections, I thought it was fantastic how they can connect to anything from animals, trees, and even each other through follicles on their hair. This was a wild way of giving the Na’vi a sort of natural “internet-esque” connection to the world around them. By plugging into a Banshee, the Na’vi can see what they see and ride them not as a pilot, but as one with them.
The animals were so cool too. They all had fantastic designs, and (mostly) looked great on screen. I especially love the Banshees, but that may be because I RODE ONE (in Disney, of course…).
The score was also magnificent, and so immersive in nearly every scene. You just felt the magic and freedom of riding a Banshee, you felt the serenity of the night life on Pandora, you felt the weight and power of battle. It’s a soundtrack that, quite frankly, gave me the same feeling I get walking through Disney World: like I’ve been transported somewhere else, somewhere incredible.
As for the characters, when they hit, they hit hard, but when they miss, it hurts. Jake starts out as a generic wounded warrior you see in many stories. He soon grows as a character once he regains his mobility using his Avatar. You see how everything he once thought was right is suddenly not what it seems, and how he needs to either grow and move on, or cause a lot of harm to a lot of people if he doesn’t. The standout for me was Neytiri, the Na’vi princess who befriends Jake and teaches him the ways of the Na’vi. Their relationship was so fluid and well done, just what you would expect from the man who brought us Titanic. While it can sometimes be cliche (liar revealed), I thought it really worked for the movie.
As for flaws, this movie, unfortunately, has many. Revenue does not mean quality, and this is nowhere near a perfect movie, no matter how much money it made. Starting with the characters, the Colonel is extremely one note. He is the soldier, who will do whatever it takes to complete his assignment. He hates the Na’vi for really no reason (one scratched his face?), and he’s so clearly the antagonist the second you see him. He has no redeeming qualities, nothing to make you even slightly sympathize with his cause. He’s just the bad guy, and that’s a shame. Giovanni Ribisi, who is one of my favorite actors, played such a bad character. He played him perfectly fine, but all he had to work with was a guy standing at CGI projection tables babbling about how he needs the ridiculously named Unobtainium and that the native Na’vi live right under a pile of it. I just watched the movie two hours ago and I swear I can’t even remember why humanity needs this metal, it’s just an easy way to cause conflict between the natives and the humans. I understand that this movie was James Cameron’s not-so-subtle way of telling us to take care of nature, but there’s a reason everyone compares this movie to tons of other movies and stories like Ferngully and The Lorax. Also, 8 years later, the CGI is sometimes very dated. In the forest, at night, and when there’s only Na’vi, it looks amazing and almost seamless. But whenever Na’vi are near humans, it just looks wonky. Bottom line, I don’t believe they’re really there, and that’s a shame. Also, some of the animals looked fake at times. The Banshee’s were pretty perfect always, but the rest just looked a little dated. Maybe it looks better on Blu Ray and maybe watching a DVD on a 4K tv accentuated the shortcomings, but I’m just saying what I saw. It’s just a shame that these human-shaped beings were never once actual people in makeup, there were plenty of non-action scenes with no humans that would have made practical effects easy(ish) to do and would have added a layer of realism to the movie that I felt was lacking at times.
In the end, I feel the good outweighs the flaws in Avatar. Pandora is a fantastic world that will, hopefully, find it’s place in movie and pop culture history alongside Star Wars, Middle-Earth and so on. I love the Na’vi and I want to see so much more of them. I hope the next movie does not involve humans at all and instead deals with a conflict either amongst Na’vi or something violent in nature. My favorite parts of the movie were in the middle when Neytiri showed Jake the ways of the Na’vi and explored the land around them. It was beautiful, charming, and gave me a feeling of complete immersion. It’s a shame that the movie has some moments of clear dating, and it’s a shame that the plot is as cliché as it is, but I always felt Avatar was more of an experiential movie than a masterful storytelling one. I know this movie doesn’t work for everyone, but it certainly worked for me. It’s not a movie I need to rewatch yearly, but it’s a movie I’ll be buying on Blu Ray and will no doubt watch again many times over in my lifetime.
Also, on the topic of the Walt Disney park addition, I thought I would talk about my experience in “Pandora: World of Avatar!”
The sites are just insane. Everything is so gorgeous and looks perfect. The rocks really look like they’re floating! The area is based off the Banshee Rookery, as seen in the middle portion of the film where Jake gets his Banshee.
The first ride, “Flight of Passage,” was a very Soarin-esque ride. Everyone straps in on the motorcycle shaped seats, put on their glasses, and are thrown into Pandora on the back of a Banshee. It was incredible, using the Soarin techniques of smells, as well as splashing water on you, and even simulating the breathing Banshee on your legs!
The second ride, Na’vi River Journey, was a much calmer ride with no thrills, but it did have practical and projection visuals that created such a beautiful and fascinating ride. I really felt like I was there, and I wanted to get right back on line to sing with the Shaman.
Also, I had a fruity Night Blossom drink at the Pongu Pongu beverage stand, which was so sweet and delicious with yummy Boba Balls on top! I had two during my week in the resort, and I can’t wait to go back for more!
I recommend everyone gets out there to see this part of the park, it really makes Animal Kingdom worth visiting! It also revitalized my enjoyment of the Avatar world and franchise, which is not a bad thing!
^^Actual picture of Pandora in Walt Disney World (insane, right?!?!).