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Overall Rating
3.45

Awesome38.61%
Worth A Look: 15.82%
Average: 15.19%
Pretty Bad: 12.66%
Total Crap: 17.72%

7 reviews, 116 user ratings


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by Peter Sobczynski

"Blue Cheese"
1 stars

Although I am not one who is ordinarily enthralled by epic-sized excursions into sci-fi fantasy filmmaking as a rule, I have to admit that for the last few months, I have been awaiting the arrival of “Avatar” with some degree of enthusiasm. Sure, it seemed impossible that any single film could possibly live up to the hype that it had generated due to its long gestation period, enormous budget and rumored technological breakthroughs and the first extended images offered up last summer via its first preview trailer weren’t especially awe-inspiring. However, even as the negative rumblings began to grow, I still remained somewhat optimistic that it would somehow work and this was almost entirely due to the fact that it was the creation of James Cameron, the man behind such contemporary masterworks as the first two “Terminator” films, “Aliens,” the criminally underrated “The Abyss” and the enormously successful “Titanic.” (Hell, I even maintain a certain affection for his infamous debut “Piranha II: The Spawning” on the basis that it is perhaps the best film that you are likely to ever see involving genetically enhanced flying piranha.) In each of those efforts, Cameron combined cutting-edge technology and old-fashioned storytelling to create films that were genuinely bold and visionary as well as incredibly entertaining. In the case of “Avatar,” however, the technology is certainly there but it has all been placed in the service of a screenplay so profoundly square and silly that it single-handedly renders all of its other efforts moot. The result is just a big, dull and noisy bore that desperately wants to be the next grand step in the evolution of cinema but which winds up being little more than this decade’s “The Phantom Menace,” both in terms of the intense expectations that it has generated and the shockingly banal ways in which it fails to live up to them.

Set in the year 2154, the story opens as paralyzed Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) flies through space to the remote planet of Pandora to replace his late twin brother as part of an enormous project being spearheaded by a quasi-military corporation. It seems that the planet is the home to a rare mineral known as “unobtanium” that is worth an enormous amount of money to corporate interests represented by the sleazy stooge Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi). However, Pandora is also the home to the Na’vi, a tall, blue-skinned and vaguely feline race of creatures who are living atop the largest deposit of unobtanium and have no particular desire to have their land ravaged. In the hopes of reaching a peaceful accord with the Na’vi, a group of scientists led by the tough-talking Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) have combined human and Na’vi DNA in order to create avatars, artificial Na’vi bodies that humans can control through a dream state that will allow them to mingle amongst the creatures so as to get a better understanding of who they are and what they stand for. Of course, the military man in charge, Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), isn’t particularly keen on the whole tree-hugger approach and recruits Jake to serve as his personal spy, even going so far as to promise the restoration of his legs once the mission is complete.

On his first trip to the surface of Pandora, Jake is separated from the rest of his fellow avatar explorers and is almost killed by a number of the planer’s bizarre creatures when he is rescued by sexy Na’vi Neyteri (Zoe Saldana). At first, she is wary and suspicious of the interloper but before too long, she begins to warm to Jake (“You have a strong heart”) and over the next three months, she teaches him all about her people, their culture and the importance of the unobtanium to their own survival and the two inevitably begin to fall in love, much to the displeasure of the Na’vi native (Laz Alonso) who was supposed to be her eventual mate. Just as inevitably, Col. Quaritch decides that he is done waiting and begins a brutal invasion designed to drive the Na’vi away from their land once and for all. Horrified, Jake tries to convince his superiors to call off the invasion but when they ignore him, he recruits Grace, fellow avatar-operator Norm (Joel David Moore) and sympathetic military pilot Trudy (Michelle Rodriguez) to help him get back into his avatar form so that he can lead the wildly outgunned Na’vi into a final desperate battle that pitches overwhelming technological might against a people armed only with primitive weaponry and, more importantly, a fierce determination and a keen understanding of the terrain they are fighting over.

As anyone who has seen the likes of “A Man Called Horse,” “The Emerald Forest,” “Dances With Wolves” or any number of like-minded films can attest, the basic plot of “Avatar” is not exactly unique but then again, Cameron has never been known for his bracingly original storylines. His gifts as a storyteller--and they are considerable--have always resided in his ability to take familiar genre archetypes and fuse them together with incredible technological advances and genuine human emotions into clean and classical narratives in which everything fits together with clockwork precision in ways that satisfy both the fanboys and those simply in the mood for a well-told story. In his unjustly maligned screenplay for “Titanic,” for example, he starts off with a story that most people were familiar with, at least in the broad strokes, and then spent time filling it in with technological and historical details about the ship and what presumably happened when it went down and emotional beats developing the two central characters and their evolving romance. As a result of all of this prep work, which many other filmmakers might have been tempted to set aside in order to get to the good stuff, when the boat finally began to sink in the second half, audiences were uncommonly gripped by the unfolding action because they had an understanding of how the chaos was unfolding and because they were following characters that the genuinely cared about by that point. Yes, there were bum moments here and there (in the version of the film that plays in my memories, Billy Zane is nowhere to be found) but for the most part, it was an incredibly skillful example of the art of screenwriting and that has been the reason why his films have generally been more than extended FX orgies destined to be forgotten the moment that the next big technological breakthrough comes along.

The central problem with “Avatar” is that Cameron has clearly spent so much time concentrating on the technological aspects of the project--he was originally supposed to do the film back in the mid-1990’s and wound up shelving it when he determined that the then-current state-of-the-art visual effects weren’t enough to properly bring his visions to life--that the other elements of the screenplay have been left wanting. The story has been broken down into a clean three-act structure much like that of “Titanic”--the first hour introduces us into its unfamiliar world while gradually setting up its basic story, the second focuses on the blossoming relationship between Jake and Neyteri and the third is dominated by the extended battle sequences between the humans and the Na’vi. The trouble is that Cameron dedicates so much of his effort to showing us the world of Pandora that he neglects to properly set up the storyline--aside from a couple of throwaway bits of dialogue, there is no proper explanation of such seemingly fundamental plot point as why the avatars need to be used in the first place, why a know-nothing military grunt like Jake is suddenly placed in the program without any of the required training or know-how or even what it is that the much-vaunted unobtanium actually does that makes the humans desire it so much that they are willing to decimate an entire population in order to acquire it. More disastrously, the romance between Jake and Neyteri that is meant to be the heart of the story turns out to be a non-starter since neither Worthington and Saldana are particularly exciting or interesting--a particular disappointment in the case of the latter when you consider all the strong female characters Cameron has created over the years--and their on-screen chemistry is non-existent. (The romance is so weak and contrived that it almost deserves to be commemorated by the grisly Leona Lewis song that graces the end credits in a desperate effort to mimic the success of “My Heart Will Go One.”) This not only botches up the necessary emotional component of the middle portion but it fatally weakens the action-heavy climax because the lack of any compelling personalities makes it all but impossible to develop any genuine rooting interest for our putative heroes or their plight beyond the kind one might develop while watching someone else play a videogame.

My guess is that Cameron assumed that viewers would be so blown away by the ambitious technical aspects of “Avatar”--the lavishly detailed world of Pandora, the immaculately rendered Na’vi and the elaborate 3-D cinematography--that they would more forgiving of the lack of effort in the other areas. The trouble with that way of thinking is that once the initial sense of dazzle and wonder regarding the technology wears off, something else has to come in and take its place or the film as a while runs the risk of becoming incredibly tedious--Cameron was justly praised for his use of the then-cutting-edge visual process of morphing in “Terminator 2” but knew that if he simply relied on that gimmick for 137 minutes, audiences would get bored very quickly. The initial views of Pandora and its inhabitants are striking and the immersive utilization of the 3-D process inspires a number of stunning compositions but once their magic begins to wear off, Cameron has nothing else up his sleeve. The Na’vi are particularly disappointing because while they do have the weight and gravity to look convincing on the screen from a visual perspective, they lack all those qualities as characters. Frankly, they are a bunch of bores--nothing more than the kind of tree-hugging, Mother Pandora-loving twerps who are so at home with nature that they offer blessings and thanks to the local wildlife while killing the beasts, even in cases of self-defense. (If there were Neil Young albums available on Pandora, the Na’vi’s favorite would be “Harvest Moon” in a walk.) You keep waiting and hoping for one of them to demonstrate some kind of interesting quirk but it is to no avail--these creatures are so dully sanctimonious that the “South Park” guys totally hit the nail on the head when they titled their episode spoofing the hype “Dances With Smurfs.” As for Pandora itself, it too has been rendered in impressive detail but it is also a bit on the blah side unless you have always wanted to see a film set entirely in what appears to be the most elaborate Yes album cover ever designed. The 3-D is technically excellent--Cameron and his crew have even compensated for the way that the polarized lenses of the glasses cut down on the brightness of the projected image--but I think that watching a film through those silly glasses for three straight hours is just too much of a not-so-great thing after a while, especially if you already wear glasses.

“Avatar” does have its occasional moments of glory--some of the opening visual compositions are legitimately stunning (especially an astonishing shot of an immense zero-gravity sickbay and the initial swooping vistas of Pandora), the supporting performances from Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Rodriguez lend a much-needed hint of humanity to the proceedings (even though the latter’s character arc is almost insultingly familiar and predictable) and the final chaotic battle scene is put together so beautifully that hacks like Michael Bay and McG should be forced to watch it over and over to learn how to properly put together a large-scale action sequence without it devolving into an over-edited mess of incoherent footage. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is a bland and boring botch and it is hard to figure what is the most depressing thing about it--the fact that it fails so completely at living up to all the advanced hype (the kind that might seem a bit too much if it were to herald the second coming of the other J.C.) or the fact that Cameron and his legion of supporters have deluded themselves into believing that it does. Look, James Cameron is a legitimate filmmaking genius and I will always eagerly look forward to what he comes up with next (especially now that he has gotten this particular project out of his system) but that doesn’t take away from the fact that “Avatar,” for all the time and money and energy that went into its making, just doesn’t cut it at all.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=18294&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/18/09 03:10:18
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User Comments

1/18/13 austin love it 5 stars
12/11/12 Jamie Green screen movie 2 stars
9/19/12 austin love it 5 stars
7/23/12 cr i love james cameron and weaver, but this movie has good effects, but overated. 3 stars
2/09/12 stanley welles a terrible, unoriginal movie. do not watch! 1 stars
1/17/12 The Velcro Warlock Overly simplistic "green" "values" keep it from being superb anthropological fiction. 3 stars
11/16/11 the truth an anti-corporate movie produced & distributed by companies. cameron lost it after T2 1 stars
8/16/11 Machine Gun Tom A piece of shit for lefty greeny tree huggers to jerk over! 1 stars
5/15/11 stephen nettles AMAZING 5 stars
1/22/11 Shawn E Weird characters, but loved the animation. Fascinating 4 stars
1/17/11 chaotik tom THE most over-rated movie EVER 2 stars
12/10/10 PookyP Once I left the theatre it was forgotten 2 stars
12/09/10 car i like cameron and i love sigouney , but the overall movie was pretty good at best. 3 stars
10/30/10 Harry Definition of "retarded": people who hate this movie 5 stars
10/29/10 Rolly Hyatt Absolutely breathtaking. Takes bits and pieces from every movie ever made, but who cares? 5 stars
10/29/10 Jerry If you hate this movie, you are an idiot and I feel sorry for you. Skxawng! 5 stars
10/15/10 Jack NOT overrated AT ALL! The pure greatness FAR outweighs the unoriginaliy! 5 stars
9/06/10 millersxing both story and spectacle shine. new worlds put on display that elevate the archetypes. 5 stars
8/07/10 Bob Truly wonderful movie; exciting, heartwarming, and not at all overrated! 5 stars
7/25/10 Joe smaltz 3D lackluster if it wasn't 3D it would have been a "B" movie! 2 stars
7/19/10 The Stick that Slaps I was rooting for the Colonel all the way... 2 stars
7/08/10 Ionicera worth watching for great visuals and action sequences - not for a cliche-ridden script 4 stars
7/03/10 ad i guess the story does not matter..? 2 stars
6/27/10 R.W. Welch The ultimate visual spectacular; less gripping dramatically. B- 4 stars
6/14/10 LINDA DOWDY Loved the story line and the graphics! 5 stars
6/13/10 Chris F most dull and boring film i have ever watched complete crap 1 stars
6/08/10 Flathead King A rare combination of style and substance but characterization could have been better. 4 stars
5/31/10 alex boring script, mediocre acting, would be 1 star if 2d 2 stars
5/20/10 Bill Technical virtuosity can't replace skillful characterization. 2 stars
5/07/10 Steve Hock What? No advanced Predator Drones? Cameron? Drones? 5 stars
5/01/10 Brian Moreau Brilliant work of art,the 'political' undercurrent says so much about the monster the u.s. 5 stars
4/28/10 Charles Tatum I loved it!...when it was called "Dances With Wolves" 1 stars
4/27/10 long river way overated. very disappointed 2 stars
4/13/10 Jeff Wilder A+ for the special effects, D+ for characters, story and dialogue 3 stars
4/01/10 the dork knight Good acting despite cliche script. Too many braveheart speeches 4 stars
3/30/10 Andrew Gonzales I LOVE THIS MOVIE 5 stars
3/30/10 Andrew Gonzales MY FAVORITE MOVIE EVER!!!! 5 stars
3/19/10 Pienaar A few good action scenes/special effects, but overall very forgettable 2 stars
3/16/10 Tyler Sciortino I wouldn't want to watch it without IMAX 3D, but I did have fun. 4 stars
3/15/10 K. Sear If you know James Cameron, you know what to expect. A simple story with exciting action. 4 stars
3/09/10 Al It gave me diarrhea. But that understandable, considering what I was taking in 1 stars
3/06/10 Ron Newbold Didn't think I'd like it but...What a movie - GO!! 5 stars
3/02/10 Brian Wilshire See Avatar at least 3 times, then wait for John Carter of Mars in 2 years' time. Awesome! 5 stars
3/02/10 chuck smith an electronic coloring book with hackneyed performances on top of a sophomoric script. 2 stars
2/28/10 Milly total crap 1 stars
2/24/10 Rain Unbelievable 5 stars
2/21/10 eclavu boring 1 stars
2/12/10 Dr.Lao I've seen a lot of cheesy, cliched movies in my day, and now I've seen one more 1 stars
2/09/10 Ralph Woods Ground-breaking visuals, poor story-telling, worth seeing, leave your high-horse behind 4 stars
2/08/10 king kong you people are missing the point. Mindless sheep blinded by great fx but terrible story 1 stars
2/07/10 Smitty A run of the mill plot but an absolutely beautiful movie - a must see in 3D Imax 5 stars
2/06/10 Jessica Absolutely spectacular!! 5 stars
2/01/10 KingNeutron SW's still Hot-Dont listen to critics-see 3D IMAX version and DECIDE FOR YOURSELF -- I did 4 stars
1/27/10 Dina Held my interest but definitely way over-hyped 3 stars
1/27/10 Martin what a stupid empty movie. a little better tham sw01 phantom menace 1 stars
1/26/10 Bluespapa Ah, wondersful 3D adventure. How could this not win best picture? 5 stars
1/25/10 polar opposite god you people don't know anything about film this is just a special fx masturbation 1 stars
1/24/10 Champion This movie is a must-see. I didnt see it in 3d but it was still unreal none the less 5 stars
1/24/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess Almost three hours long, but moves at such a break-neck pace that you won't notice 4 stars
1/22/10 Mike K Where did they find all those big blue actors ? - That's how real they look. Great SF. 5 stars
1/22/10 Abhishek Chakraborty Story's pretty much ferngully ripoff...but still it looks too awesome to reject 5 stars
1/20/10 nic cage just a special effects driven film at the end of it, bad cliched story and terrible acting 1 stars
1/20/10 Stanley Thai Run, don't walk, to your nearest theater. This is a movie you should see before you die. 5 stars
1/18/10 jethro BO is letting his expectations get the better of him here. This is 2.5 or 3 stars, easily. 3 stars
1/17/10 odowd The movie effects are incredible. The story was not equal to the effects. 5 stars
1/13/10 Quirinius Snobb If you like shiny objects, you'll love avatar. Unless you also want plot, characters, etc 1 stars
1/12/10 powermore just blah 1 stars
1/11/10 Koitus Wow! Yeah, kind of a Sci-Fi "Dances With Wolves," but a must-see in a theater! 4 stars
1/11/10 DLA It suggests the military and corporate business are bad guys--left-wing communist garbage!! 1 stars
1/09/10 powerball very mediocre film 1 stars
1/06/10 Croweater888 James Cameron's big environmental statement on human greed - that cost 300+ million to make 1 stars
1/05/10 mr.mike Dances with Wolves Redux. 4 stars
1/05/10 Glen Gummess A fabulous visual feast, and a formulaic plot that works. 5 stars
1/04/10 mwildema unreal 5 stars
1/04/10 Ry Horrible story and plot. Blatant and typical incorrect representation of capitalism. 1 stars
1/03/10 Luke The most spectacular movie-going experience I've had since... well, Titanic. A MUST SEE! 5 stars
1/02/10 Linda Fabulous imagery,incredibly lush visuals. Will see again. 5 stars
12/31/09 damalc story? seen it before. effects? never seen that before. 4 stars
12/30/09 topman really wanted to like it, great sfx but poor cliche storyline 1 stars
12/29/09 Obi Wan Beautifully done. Amazing visuals, very good overall! 5 stars
12/29/09 Kaisersushi Cowboys vs. Indians deja vu. Doesn't Neyteri look like Joan Allen? 4 stars
12/29/09 FrankNFurter An orgasimacally breathtaking technical achievement. Easily the best film in years! 5 stars
12/28/09 Hmm Not bad, some great scenes but let down by limited script and characters 3 stars
12/28/09 Jeff S. Well...Mr. Sobcynski, there goes any credibility you hoped to ever have as a critic. 5 stars
12/27/09 Jon D It is the best special effects movie i have EVER seen. Must be see in 3d to get full effect 5 stars
12/27/09 randy todger helen bradley stick to cooking you lesbian bastard 5 stars
12/27/09 John An empty vessel. 2 stars
12/26/09 M Amazing 5 stars
12/24/09 Wendy and Lisa Stunning visuals (5 stars), laughable script (2-3 stars). See the IMAX 3D version. 4 stars
12/24/09 Hayden It was great story wise, visual wise, and action wise. Everyone SHOULD see this movie! 5 stars
12/24/09 Louise Not my thing. And it did not need to be in gimmicky 3D. 3 stars
12/23/09 Pile Movie magic at its purest. Go see and allow youself to dream. 5 stars
12/23/09 Paul Amazing technical breakthrough, could have spent more money on the script, worth seeing 4 stars
12/22/09 Neytiri awesome 5 stars
12/22/09 ag_krish 3D is not up to the expected level. The sequel (If any!!) of this may be good. 4 stars
12/22/09 pavel there is nothing to watch 1 stars
12/22/09 ES fan-fuking-tastic! 5 stars
12/21/09 Mishyana @ SupeG: As opposed to the myth of the noble modern man? 4 stars
12/21/09 Helen Bradley Too long, too boring, lousy plot, too much violence 1 stars
12/21/09 DHaneyArt Stunning and thoroughly entertaining 3D experience. Sobczynski mussa been sittin on carrot 5 stars
12/21/09 Chopper3 I read the script(ment) 12 years ago and couldn't have imagined how well it turned out 5 stars
12/20/09 Kelly Fraser Great film, but the 3D dragged me into the film like no other 5 stars
12/20/09 Quigley Visually mind-blowing; totally pulls you into its world; script could have been better 5 stars
12/20/09 SupeG Visually stunning but too politically correct. Embraces the myth of the nobel savage. 3 stars
12/20/09 Adrian Awesome! Never seen anything like it. I like how the 3-D is used for subtley for immersion. 5 stars
12/20/09 chief wiggum sobczynski is a cunt.amazing film critics are wankers 5 stars
12/20/09 action movie fan great imagery decent story a bit too long andit has all been seen before-still worth a look 3 stars
12/19/09 PAUL SHORTT A TECHNICAL WONDER THAT REPRESENTS A FAILURE OF NERVE 2 stars
12/19/09 Jesper Magical 3D experience, but cliched to hell otherwise, still worth a look 4 stars
12/19/09 Gog Top notch eye candy, but everything else is a complete snooze. 3 stars
12/19/09 Todd One of the best science fiction movies I've ever seen. Best movie of the year. 5 stars
12/19/09 Bob Dog I bet Sobczynski had this review written 5 years ago... 5 stars
12/19/09 mick I agree T2 was a technical marvel in its time, same thing this time but shit story. 2 stars
12/19/09 Darkstar I don't know what movie the reviewer watched. I saw one of the most amazing movies ever! 5 stars
12/18/09 kaz AMAZING best animation EVER 5 stars
12/18/09 Flounder I'm torn. The film is utterly breathtaking to watch but is a narrative mess of banalities 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  18-Dec-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 16-Nov-2010

UK
  N/A

Australia
  18-Dec-2009
  DVD: 20-Apr-2010




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