Best Picture Profile: Avatar

Directed by: James Cameron

Company: 20th Century Fox

Runtime: 162 minutes

.

The film is about Jake Sully, a war paraplegic, who substituted his twin brother in his mission to go to Pandora, a beautiful planet under observations by scientists, after his brother died. The head scientist Grace Augustine finds him as an unnecessary personnel in the research center. Even then, he was provided his own avatar, a body that he uses to freely go inside the world of Pandora without the need of any gas mask. After he was transferred mentally to his avatar, they went to the forest to go on biological research. There, he was chased by a wild animal, causing his separation from the group.

As he makes his way in exploring the jungle and, possibly, in getting out of it, he was almost killed by wild animals. Fortunately, he was saved by a female Na’Vi named Neytiri. Na’Vi’s are the natives of Pandora. She almost rejects him, but as the appearance of portents from Eywa, and as those portents approached him, she knew he is someone who she should not disregard. For this, she takes him to their clan. The clan is initially violent to his presence, especially the clan chief Eytukan, but as she announces that Eywa wants to say something about him, her mother tasks her to teach him their way of living.

Colonel Quaritch, the head of the Sec-Ops, the military force in Pandora, tasks Jake to gather information about the Na’Vis, in exchange of the hope that they will return Jake’s legs to normal. Grace is alarmed about that, and she moves her team into a farther place. In the meanwhile, Jake finds herself falling in love with Neytiri. As he was initiated to the tribe, he suddenly changes loyalties when he defended the Na’Vis by destroying the camera that was attached to the bulldozer used to destroy the forest, especially the Hometree, where underneath it, the biggest deposit of unobtanium is found, a mineral that they have been searching, in the first place.

Grace tries to defend the Hometree, as it serves as a habitat for the Na’Vis. Now, they have been given an hour to convince the Na’Vis to evacuate. When he admits to the tribe that he is on  a mission, Neytiri is devastated and the tribe holds Jake and Grace as captives. Suddenly, Quaritch started to destroy the Hometree. Grace and Jake are then freed by the tribesmen, but they were unexpectedly unplugged from their avatars. Trudy, a pilot who immensely hates Quaritch’s approach to the subject, helps them to go to an avatar link post so they could continue living their avatars. In their way to go out of the headquarters, Grace was shot and experiences intense bleeding.

Jake goes back to the tribe and pleads that Grace be healed by their rituals. They tried to heal her, but she died afterwards. He leads the clan in joining other clans to fight back to the humans, but even if they were still fighting, lives, Na’Vis or humans, were sacrificed in the fight, including the new clan chief and Trudy. Suddenly, Pandoran wildlife joins the fight and they eventually conquered the humans. Even then, Quaritch does his final job: to kill Jake the human being in order to also kill Jake the avatar.

The film is a massive work, and I can see that, and after all those years, what we have here is a very worthy product of high-class filmmaking.

The direction is a success, to say the least. James Cameron, known for directing action-packed epics, including my all-time favorite Titanic, is no alien in this territory. Although I prefer Titanic that this, I would not make any comparison game here. Cameron simply captures the scope of the story. The film is undeniably set on an epic scale, and he simply doesn’t disappoint. Here is a world very different from us, and for him to create this world unseen before in his whole imagination is just a marvel to watch. As Jake is the central character of the film, we see it in his eyes. And as he is amazed by the spectacle of the planet, so we are. We see all this amazement, and yet, Cameron never forgets that he is telling a personal story.

Also, what I really like about this film is that it doesn’t just go for the visual treat, but he uses all of these CGI to create an atmosphere of freedom since Jake himself can already walk here. Cameron takes us just there in that place with his storytelling mastery and skillful craftsmanship that you just hold your breath anytime there is something new introduced from the planet. And as he wanders in the forest, with or without the presence of Neytiri, the pacing that the direction uses in order for us to understand the flow of the story is perfectly pitched with such understatement about communication. Not just his communication with Grace or Neytiri or anybody else. It is his connection with Pandora that fascinates us the most. That’s why I would like to think of the theme song “I See You” as Jake’s love song not actually to Neytiri, but to Pandora.

The composition used in the action scenes in terms of the vastness used by the direction simply puts us on-the-edge and wanting for the next scene to come. Although the story has been heard for quite some time, it’s the execution that makes Avatar an extraordinary motion picture.

With all the praises that I have said about it, it’s also the direction that caused me to feel indifferent to the first scenes. Those dramatic scenes supposedly provide the foundation in Jake’s story, but I don’t know where did the dullness came from. But I feel that the direction here is somewhat sloppy and, well, boring. Even if I liked the direction as a whole, the tasteless introduction affects my over-all view about it. Still, good and worthy.

The screenplay is average. What would you expect from this? Although this is not a bad screenplay, as others may have claimed, but I also think that there is not much effort exerted to it. It has some catchy lines, especially from Grace, but it doesn’t sum up to something definitely strong. Avatar sadly goes for the visuals and sometimes neglects the intellect that it should have, screenplay-wise. Also, even if there are character developments, they are sadly too obvious for viewers to really use their intellect in watching. It goes for the easy and safe, and I just wanted to see more from it.

The cinematography is excellent. It was able to grasp the world. The screenplay was indeed vital in placing us in the world. There are several sweeping shots that are definitely creating this massive reality where the movie is going to take place. My favorite shot is when the dragons started to fly. That single scene was shot, or rather taken, with such intelligence that it is just stunning to experience. I haven’t seen the film in 3-D, but seeing this at home still makes me feel that I’m there. The cinematography catches the senses in order to make it real and majestic and soaring.

The editing is also full of brilliance. In the 2 1/2 hour length that it uses, I could definitely say that some movie just waste that, and more so, epic movies with that length mostly uses that very long time  for us to see a travelogue. Not here, as the editing here always create an action-packed environment that suits fine with its genre. The challenge that the editing raises is to make all these details and shots and scenes cohesive for us to really get a story that we would definitely care for. The editing gets the best of the action scenes, which, definitely, are the film’s biggest assets. Of course, the romantic scenes are not to be ignored, as they were delivered with gentleness and harmony that clings to us. The editing makes this whole adventure a cohesive story and tight enough for it not to be considered lousy.

The sound is an accomplishment. We don’t know this world, we don’t have any idea about this world. And when we hear things in it, it simply gives us a question – where did that came from? Every sound in the wilderness expresses creativity and originality. The sound of the closing leaves, the sound of the dragons, it’s all constructed and put together to go into our sense of hearing for us to be brought to the world, because one of the success of this film is on how intelligently did it put us to that place with the use of the senses of sight and hearing. Wonderful job, really.

The music is epic. It not only makes the whole planet seem big or the whole romance seem romantic or the whole action seem exciting, but it provides Jake’s feeling of amazement in the planet. Although not fully original on my perspective, as I can hear traces of Titanic here, but anyway, it serves as a vessel of emotions efficiently, as musical scores should. It’s not just a show-off of the big orchestral music James Horner can compose, it evokes pathos not only to the main character, but to the whole population of the Na’Vis. All of them are victims, and they can fight back, and they will. But we also get the feeling of hopelessness. And hope. The  theme song was quite good, and even if I do not really care much about it, it is actually good. And for that, even if I don’t think the music is anywhere my favorite, I believe it helps a lot in the movie’s effectiveness as an epic movie.

The visual effects . . . . . what else could I say? Even if you love the film or not, you cannot deny how great the visual effects were. It just pops into your eyes and never lets go of that for the rest of it, making this experience also an intelligent exercise of the craftsmanship that filmmakers can do. It is also very imaginative and vibrant. There are a lot of inspirations from our world, of course. But when you look at it, it is just so fresh and so unseen that it’s not really questionable why did it get so many awards for that. The visual effects here is a milestone in filmmaking history, just as Titanic was.

The art direction was conceptualized with high knowledge and deep understanding of science. What I am going to comment about is the headquarters because the rest are CGI. Some sci-fi films do laboratories or control rooms to pretend that the place was already in high technology. It’s really laughable to see actors pretend to use high-tech gadgets when you know that it’s just false backdrops and false screens. But, hey, not Avatar. You really feel that you’re in a real scientific headquarters, you just do not see fake rooms filled with buttons or controls or floating screens, you believe it is real, that maybe, it is real. It brought us to the reality that we should face in the movie that, basically, here is where we are. As human beings, we should not immediately immerse ourselves with the beauty of the planet. The headquarters serve as a foundation for the story, as here is where it all started. Here is where Jake’s discovery of Neytiri and Pandora starts. It feels authentic, and although the art direction only consumes a small amount of time in the film, it is still one hell of a work.

The acting ranges from bland to really good.

Sigourney Weaver proves that she is a great actress. With her rough of a tough scientist, she basically gets the character. She doesn’t try to make any false impressions because she plays a very direct character. I love the sass in her character that is very vital in the creation of this woman. She is almost in a man’s world, but she won’t let them get her. She’s as sturdy as a rock, and she would only do the right thing. She has got the determination in her, but she’s no heartless bitch. She cares for the Na’Vis, and she tries to make it clear to the guys in her team. They may laugh at her character, but her stand on the issue won’t be shaken. She knows what is right, and she would never let other people to force her to do something wrong. Although far from a very dramatic performance, Weaver makes profound acting choices that makes her an asset of this film.

Stephen Lang is effective as Colonel Quaritch. I hate him, and it’s all because of Lang’s believable villainous acts. He’s almost one-dimensional, and that’s the screenplay’s fault, but who cares? His acts are explainable as they are acts of selfishness. His only job is to serve as the villain of the story because the film would really lead to nowhere. And actually, he does it. He wasn’t able to do anything other than to be aggressive, but it’s fine. Too bad he wasn’t give the chance to have anything in him, but rest assured, he makes a perfectly delicious villain.

Zoe Saldana is endearing as Neytiri. Amidst all of the tension around her and the fact that she is tough because she needs to be, her eyes sheds a glimpse of gentleness in her. Her performance is filled with soul and gives a beguiling portrait of a strong woman who doesn’t anything but love. She’s a very humble character, actually, and yet, she doesn’t feel like a loser. She’s someone we can depend for. She provides the film’s emotional core, as she is, in fact, the film’s biggest victim. She fights back, but the forces are stronger than her, and she almost loses her strength, but she believes in herself that she could save herself, Jake, the Na’Vis, and the planet Pandora. It’s really a magnificent turn from her.

Sam Worthington is bland. And boring. And dull. I’m sorry, but he almost fails the movie for me. He doesn’t seem to be enthusiastic in acting his character. While Saldana’s character represent the heart of the film, it’s Worthington’s Jake that carries the film all throughout. We see things with his eyes. And while he is somewhat good when he is in his avatar since he can do things naturally, his paraplegic Jake raises the bigger challenge as an actor and, unfortunately, he was dull. His approach to Jake is so boring that you just want to skip the paraplegic Jake scenes for us to see the avatar Jake. He almost killed the movie for me. I mean, at least, show some effort, man! He reads his lines, but none of them is really inspired line reading. Come on. He somewhat damages the movie for me. At least, he wasn’t the only thing in this film.

The film was a magical experience. It takes you to somewhere we do not know, but it always places us in the middle of it. It is a testament of what movies can really do. It pushes the envelope of filmmaking into a higher level. Unfortunately, an average script and bland lead actor lessens the movie, for me.

For this, the movie gets:

What are your thoughts, dear reader?

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3 thoughts on “Best Picture Profile: Avatar

  1. Story first for me, and this film simply had a cliched and boring one to me. It never became at all interesting, at its message presentation was no better than an episode of Captain Planet. Although it is a technical accomplishment I felt the actual artistic design unimpressive.

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