James Cameron is the guy with the ambitious talent, and yet he more often than not has a missing link in his widening imagination. It never surprised me that “Titanic” was nominated for a slew of Oscars and still the one thing that was not recognized was Cameron’s overly melodramatic screenplay. That shortcoming carries over to “Avatar” from 2009.
As a naysayer of 3D viewing who is giving you this review, I was initially so impressed with this picture featuring tall blue people with tails and big ears that I saw film twice. Still, I couldn’t get past the simplicity of the story. “Avatar” is “Pocohontas.” “Avatar” is “Dances With Wolves.” “Avatar” is “Ferngully.” (That last one I only heard from Miguel and his girlfriend Penni. I’d never seen “Ferngully.”)
Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a Marine now confined to a wheelchair and recruited to replace his deceased soldier brother on a mission to meld his mind with an “avatar” body of a native of the neon jungle planet known as Pandora. The actual Greek meaning of the name Pandora is never considered for any kind of thought provoking significance. Jake is assigned to learn about the natives known as the Na’Vi and expose a tactical weakness in their fighting skills and weaponry. Jake works alongside the scientist known as Grace (Sigourney Weaver) to connect with the people. The evil military corporation led by a mean grunt named Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) is in need of collecting a valuable mineral known as “unobtainium.” Grace’s priority is not the mineral. She’s more concerned with connecting and peacefully studying the people. On Jake’s first tour into the wild, he ends up stranded overnight. Gradually, his mission for the means of the military and corporation dwindle as he bonds with a Na’Vi named Self (Zoe Saldana). Soon, he identifies only with aiding the Na’Vi declaring his will to defend their planet against the greedy humans.
Much of Cameron’s near 3 hour film is a travelogue of the fictional Pandora and the customs and behaviors of the Na’Vi along with the creatures they share the planet with like oversized dog looking animals and winged dragon variations that the natives can ride on their backs. Neon plant life is shown in excess. Rivers and streams as well. Wide open skies too. It’s amazing to look at for sure, but eventually the novelty wears off. More or less, a lot of these trees are just glowing palm trees.
Because the film’s central storyline is so simplistic and familiar it’s not very gripping. When a Na’Vi dies or a precious worship tree tumbles at the behest of the military’s destruction, the Na’Vi wail in their own way. It just didn’t hold me so much because I didn’t feel a connection to the sci fi the film presents. James Cameron can paint a picture like no other. Somehow though, his prints are devoid of much emotion. The dialogue is clunky or cheesy in its nature. Regrettably, this has always been his problem going back to films like “The Abyss” or even the original “Terminator.” All BIG IDEAS, but weak development.
“Avatar” enchanted audiences back in 2009 thanks to its 3D. It was positively immersive and you felt surrounded by the nature of it all. At home, that effect is sorely missing and so you are left dazzled during the film’s exposition, but worn out on its long winded and simple storytelling.
Apparently, James Cameron is filming the next three sequels back to back to back. Three more movies of this? Really? Look, the guy has a great track record and has mostly defied the pessimists over the years when his budgets go through the roof, but I can’t see another nine hours of this material to hold me interested or thirsting for more of either Pandora or what the blue people still have yet to offer.