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Fred Reviews Avatar

Published December 15, 2009 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of 20th Century Fox
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Avatar is good. Here’s what I finally understand about the claims to reinventing cinema. Avatar shows that you can make real worlds and real characters out of computer technology. Not green screen fantasy, not that Polar Express bullsh*t. Real worlds that just happen to not exist. The storytelling is still the same.

Review: Avatar

It looks like the whole movie was shot on locations and sets. You’d think they built a giant military base, because that’s what one would look like. Only they couldn’t have, and frankly didn’t have to. Some filmmakers have chosen to portray heightened images with technology, but some are just settling for it. James Cameron has stepped in to show them how it’s really done.

It’s nice to see a whole movie in IMAX sharpness, as opposed to just portions of it switching to the full frame. You get to see the real height disparities between human and Na’Vi characters, and even between the characters and the giant machinery. Although, imperfect theater screens show wear and tear under the image.

He’s still an effective storyteller too, from early foreshadowing to the steady build and payoff of elements. He explains the technology in layman’s terms. The story is built so that Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a novice in the program, so everything has to be explained to him, and us too. There are common personality types using familiar symbols like cigarettes and golf to express character. The important things are the archetype, mental versus physical, science versus corporate/military.

It’s a tribal story, a fish out of water, with the trappings of new technology. There are really cool creatures and plants to see along the way though. You get to feel the joy of discovery with Jake as he hooks into his avatar for the first time, running through the fields. It’s told with humor too, down to the basic pratfall.

It culminates in an awesome tactical battle. Everything that’s been built up pays off and they explore all the action possibilities in the nature and technology. More importantly, you really believe the romance.

I find the story profound, but it’s posed in the simplest terms. How do you help when you used the enemy’s tools to get there in the first place? It’s an impossible dilemma and I think there’s an elegance to conveying all of this with simplicity, and not in your face preaching. It’s just hey, here’s what this is about, we’re doing it but it’s still a story first and foremost.

You might scoff at the one dimensionality of the military types who just want to take what they want, but I believe they exist. To me, General Hummel in The Rock is a wonderful character, but he’s a movie character. He’s better than real people. This story isn’t about characters who are better than us.

The mineral the humans want is called unobtanium. Get it? Un-obtain… To me, that’s biting commentary. Bury your message however thinly in a story of the military invading some alien planet, but when it comes right down to it just say flat out it’s unobtainable. At a certain point, James Cameron doesn’t take any sh*t.

I still don’t see how non-sci-fi fans or non James Cameron fans would get into this. It’s great but you still have to have the Star Trek mentality that’s interested in new world and technology and cultures. I support it.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of 20th Century Fox

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