Saturday, December 19, 2009


Yes, I just saw the new James Cameron opus "Avatar".

Some quick thoughts on:

The visual experience:
in 3D, its visually stunning! Its magnificent! The boundaries of imagination of what an alien planet blessed with rich flora and fauna will look like have been challenged, no, have been assailed resulting in a world that has been painstakingly crafted in all its exquisite detail. I was impressed by the diversity of fictional biological life. Creatures, though very dinosaur and prehistoric Earth like, have wonderful design detail and flawless rendering. There is no doubt that Avatar is a visual tour de force!

The cast: (in order of my preference)
Zoe Saldana
Stephen Lang
Sam Worthington
Sigourney Weaver

Zoe Saldana or her character Neytiri, a princess of the Na'vi tribe, is my favorite character of the movie. She is feminine, beautiful (character wise), elegant, tender and at the same time is aggressive, loyal and trustworthy. Her emotions ring true and the manner of display, honest.

Stephen Lang, as always is the case, is a battled hardened commander whose dedication to the mission is so personal that there are no distinctions between failure and death, between success and life. His absolute apathy to the plight of the Na'vi serves as the face of unrelenting oppression. His character is designed to be so hard and unlikeable that the viewer's sensitivities swing the other way to associate and sympathize with the Na'vi.

Sam Worthington's character Jake Sully is the typical Hollywood character who dusts off bullets, plays a game of chicken with death and wins, one who walks on water and can eat fire. He, in the face of great adversity, overcomes tremendous internal conflict and saves the world just to uphold and save what is worth saving - truth, love, and loyalty. His character development is the most interesting though as we learn about him only through his avatar.

Sigourney Weaver is back as an all out, ballsy, 'I take no shit from nobody' researcher except this time her character is rather matronly. She oversees Jake's induction and continued interaction with the Na'vi. She is the resident expert on all things biological on Pandora and on the social mores of the Na'vi. Her conscience is a razor sharp knife - things fall on one side pretty quickly - her side or on Stephen Lang's.

Honorable mentions must be made of Michele Rodriguez as a marine pilot and Dileep as a lackey on Sigourney Weaver's team (except that his name is spelled wrong :))

Some viewer reactions:
Most people who watched Avatar focused on its pace - it is a rather long movie. The character development and the exploration of the visuals (mainly of the forest and of the creatures that inhabit Pandora) contributed to the pace and totally escaped many viewers. Its akin to Peter Jackson's "Return of the King" taking all the credit over "The Fellowship of the Ring" because it leverages all the elements of an excellent action fantasy movie but is based of an entire movie's worth of character development.

Even though it masquerades as an intelligent character driven movie, it suffers from annoying cliches. The dialogues, at most times, are frustrating. They are predictable, mundane and appear to have been written in a hurry while in the bathroom.

Overall this movie has many moments where cliches and banalities threaten to engulf and drown the experience but there is always something developing, be it characters, visuals or action sequences to redeem this movie.

My reactions:

Action and visualization - incredible stereo camera angles takes you into the skies to fly with the Na'vi warriors. The incredible detail in the jungle and the lush landscapes is worthy of the master Peter Jackson. The creatures on the other hand were a little simplistic and too earth like. They were not fundamentally different in any way from creatures we are familiar with. The attempt at being ever so different falls short by a mile and then some! All they could do was strap on two more legs to a horse? and give it a snout?

Symbolism - Jake Sully's avatar swatting away the seeds of the tree of life - he doesn't understand it so he fears it and thinks of destroying them. Once he is saved, his playfulness with the forest betrays an inquisitiveness, he is now very keen to open his eyes, ears and heart and let the sights, sounds and spirit of the forest get in.

Love - their love was simple and honest. I am thankful it wasn't more involved. Cameron sets up the stage with a few subtle clues in scenes leading up to the one in the tree of souls.

The larger human condition - Man is afraid of the dark, of things he doesn't understand and once this fear sets in - there is a high resistance to learn and understand and is replaced by a yearning to destroy this unknown, poorly understood horror.

Character development - Though an attempt is made to be patient and textured, the development of various characters was too simplistic and episodic with some characters reduced to mere statements. This is frustrating as I feel certain aspects of various characters could have been explored in a little more detail. Maybe the real issue I have here is the line between stating characters as fact and developing them consistently fell on the wrong side.

Dialogues - This department single-handedly ruined the experience with gems like "I see you", "You have a good heart". It really does seem that Cameron downloaded a Hollywood phrase generator, clicked on it a thousand times and paid someone minimum wage to stitch these together to form dialogues.


Nandini said...

Great review! Maybe you should start freelancing in movie reviews :)

EmperorFrost said...

You flatter me Nan!