Avatar Film Review
Director: James Cameron.
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, and Giovanni Ribisi.
Here is Yellow Magpie’s Avatar film review.
The film Avatar has, over the past few months, lodged itself firmly into public consciousness. You would be hard-pressed to find a single individual that has not heard of the film. The hype that surrounded the release of Avatar makes some of the most extraordinary claims appear to be dull, ordinary tales. So what about the film? Is it what it aspires towards being?
The film centres around wheelchair-bound, Jake Sully, who is dispatched to a moon called Pandora. His mission is to persuade a giant, ten-foot tall indigenous race called the Na’vi to relocate, as their home rests atop an enormous deposit of highly sought-after ‘unobtainium’.
Sent on a mission to persuade the Na’vi to leave their home peacefully, Jake, through the use of an Avatar body, and after gaining the tribe’s trust, finds things are more complicated than he first realised.
On the side of the Na’vi is Dr. Grace Augustine, played with welcome understatement by Sigourney Weaver, a highly empathetic and competent scientist who understands Pandora and the needs of the Na’vi people. Facing her is Colonel Quaritch and Chief Administrator, Parker Selfridge. It is in the exotic and hostile world of Pandora that two opposing forces gather.
‘He refuses to simplify Quaritch when it would have been quite easy to do so.’
Colonel Quaritch, played by Stephen Lang, is an impressive character. An extreme fundamentalist, who sticks with own personal convictions, he is also highly intelligent and possesses a razor-sharp ironic wit.
Lang’s performance is on the money. He refuses to simplify Quaritch when it would have been quite easy to do so. Instead the viewer gets an extremely bright and articulate characterisation. Quaritch exudes both a latent and potent machismo as well as an unnerving keen intelligence, creating tension in every scene. In doing so, Lang succeeds in creating an immortal character and gives Jake Sully a worthy adversary to battle wits against.
On the contrary, Parker Selfridge, aptly portrayed by Giovanni Ribisi, is a simplified character. Selfridge has long abandoned walking the moral tightrope that we all thread trying to be good. He is quite simply the worst kind of egotist. He cares not about anyone or anything so long as he can obtain his benefits. This is best exemplified by his first scene in the film in which he is carelessly playing golf while those around him are busy at work.
‘A dangerous mix of diffident attitude mixed with self-righteous authoritarian zeal.’
In short, Selfridge represents the worst of humanity, not terribly evil or nasty but merely indifferent towards those are weaker and vulnerable while being in a position of power and responsibility. It is a characteristic that can be found in every country, in every town, and in nearly every village. A dangerous mix of diffident attitude mixed with self-righteous authoritarian zeal.
The character of Selfridge has been criticised as being in want of realism. Yes, the character is simple. With him things are very black-and-white. However, one would be mistaken if they maintained that people of his ilk do not exist. It is not a case of Selfridge being rather dull or unintelligent, but more the fact that he exercises his choice to ruthlessly go after ‘unobtainium’ at all costs.
The more one pays attention, the more one realises that it is us who are simplifying our own expectations when we choose to refuse to believe in the authenticity or the apparent cardboard cut-out nature of the these types of characters in cinema. The scary reality is that they are very much drawn from our reality.
‘A battered soldier who is full of angst, Jake Sully is an extraordinary person for one simple reason.’
So what about the main protagonist? Jake Sully, wonderfully acted by rising Australian actor Sam Worthington, is ideal for the film’s purposes. A battered soldier who is full of angst, Jake Sully is an extraordinary person for one simple reason. He suppresses his fears and goes for it. So many people are bombarded by self-doubt and the possibility of failure. Jake transcends all of this and rises above the challenges. As a result of his efforts, Jake gains the Na’vi’s acceptance.
Zoe Saldana’s performance as Neytiri must get special mention. She imbibes an aspect of nature that many people have lost touch with. Mainly an awareness of what their bodies are capable of doing. Full of eloquent poise and gracious movements, Neytiri manages to convey a symbiotic relationship between the Na’vi and the environment of Pandora. It is quite obvious that Saldana has had some form of training in dance. Through her physical expression, the Na’vi’s otherness is effortlessly and silently highlighted especially when a comparison is drawn between the clumsy initial efforts of Jake.
‘Avatar is a film which lets us vicariously experience being something other than ourselves.‘
The secret of Avatar’s success, apart from its wonderful 3D, is something that is universal. Human inadequacy. As people, as humans, we all can relate to feelings of inadequacy and fervent desires to be better than we already are. Avatar is a film which lets us vicariously experience being something other than ourselves.
Avatar essentially places the viewer in an alien world. A world which is full of mystery to experience for the first time. Jake Sully offers us a glimpse into our own humanity. He is our on screen representation of our own insecurities. Jake, forced to spend his days in a wheelchair, is given the ultimate freedom. Not only is he able to move under foot once more, he gets to experience what not of us can do. To see through an other’s eyes. To escape the corporal shackles of our selves in favour of a giant, ten-foot body is perhaps the ultimate expression of a vicarious reality.
‘Avatar masters the cinematic experience in all its glories.’
Through the body of the Na’vi, Jake experiences what really boils down to superpowers. He is stronger, faster, larger than life. He flies through the skies like no other person has experienced. It is this that is the secret to Avatar’s true success, cinema’s ability to portray an alternate reality. It’s power to fuel our imagination and outline an alternative to our being. Avatar masters the cinematic experience in all its glories.
‘Ennio Morricone would have provided a marvellous score.’
Possibly the greatest criticism that can levelled at Avatar is the score. James Horner’s music is weak and one can distinctly hear leitmotifs from the Titanic in parts of the film. The soundtrack is by no means poor in comparison to many other films. It is just not memorable. A wonderful score in a film that has so many brilliantly visceral sequences would have elevated Avatar even further. Ennio Morricone would have provided a marvellous score.
Another gripe, although minor in comparison to the score, is that at times the dialogue is rather clunky. Cameron and Avatar could have benefited from a little refinement.
Having said that, these are minor criticisms in an otherwise impeccable film.
James Cameron, through Avatar, has succeeded in bringing people back to the cinema. It is hard to argue with his reasoning. On the smaller screen the romanticism and emotion of the film is lost. On the large screen it is there in all its glory ready to awe the viewer.
For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can access Avatar here.
For those who live in Canada, you can obtain Avatar from here.
For Germany: Avatar.
For France: Avatar.