I would like to add a disclaimer at the start of this post with 2 primary points:
1 – Spoilers are coming. If you haven’t seen Avatar and care about the story, then stop reading now!
2 – I am very picky and admittedly over-critical of cinema.

With those 2 points out of the way, I submit my review of the movie “Avatar” directed by James Cameron.

I do not like this movie. I don’t hate it… But I REALLY did not like it.

The effects, look, and composition of this film are certainly noteworthy. Is it going to change the way films are done for the near and foreseeable future? I don’t think so. For me, given the visual stimulus and photo-realism of the CGI are nowhere near enough to save this film from its plot and lack of several important aspects.

My first and most significant gripe with this film is the lack of a backstory. What was Jake Sully doing before the Avatar program? Why did he blindly agree to it? Why is he paralyzed? What is he FIGHTING for? With Jake’s character I have no idea what motivates him through any of his actions without saying “oh, he’s just a good person”. This is simply not enough for me in a story such as this.

It’s also frustrating because it would seem so simple to bridge this gap… With a few small lines of dialogue it could be determined that Jake is disgusted and angry with his physical disability and the Military’s lack of support or empathy for his situation. Maybe that scenario makes him jaded. Maybe once he sees now the Na’Vi don’t do that he attaches on a deeper level to their culture and way of life. Or, maybe he just falls in love with the queen to be in a typical teeny-bopper fashion; leaving him with a weakly formed bond to their culture (in my opinion).

Another example of the lack of backstory/plotbuilding is the rushed nature in which we learn there is a precious resource on Pandora. I dont remember the name of it – I’m not even sure if they said it. I don’t know why it’s precious; I don’t know why it sells for so much money “per kilo”. Is it a drug? Is it a fossil fuel that can further satisfy the greedy industrial appetite of the evil human race? WHO KNOWS. Giovanni Ribisi does I guess. It’s even further annoying to me that I feel a lack of story to any degree on a movie that is pushing 3 hours. Sigh.

Aside from the lack of these important pieces (again, in my opinion), the next most disappointing thing about Avatar is it’s “Typical-ness”. Vanlandw has commented on this very same thing to me, and it is with good reason. The TYPICAL love story pulling the TYPICAL protagonist through the TYPICAL war-monger’s evil intentions with TYPICAL results.

The movie was overall just too predictable… “Oh, look Jake Sulley – there is this crazy huge dragon that nobody has ridden in 1 hundred trillion millenniums!!!” Gee – I wonder if Jake Sully is going to ride it!? Of course he is. From the humans villainous intentions, the love story, the “final battle”, and the end of the film; nothing seemed original to me. Sure, the setting of Pandora and the Na’Vi are original ideas and are note-worthy. But the storyline is exactly the opposite.

To summarize my experience, I really didnt even like the 3D effects. The movie had a sort of grainy and fuzzy feel to it in 3D. It seemed to lack some saturation in certain parts so I can only hope that minus 3D the film will actually look better.

Am I being overly critical due to this movie’s insane level of hype? Probably. Should I / Will I watch this movie again? Sure I will. Is Cameron leaving out an intentional level of detail and plot so he can give us a couple sequels? Probably. But, even so, I didn’t like this film. I gave it 2 stars out of 5 on the Netflix scale.

16 thoughts on “Avatar

  1. Jeffrey

    One of the reasons this film’s story feels so pathetic is that it is basically Pocahontas in space.

    Let me try to fill you in on some of the back story based on what I remember from the movie. Jack was crippled while serving a tour of during in Venezuela. He could not afford a spinal cord replacement, so his career options were limited. His twin brother was killed during a routine mugging somewhere on Earth. Since Jack was an exact match for his brother he was able to take his place. Jack viewed the transition as starting a new life, since his injury effectively ended his previous life.

    The mineral was called Unobtainium, which is actually a science fiction in joke. unobtainable + ium. It’s been used to classify elements/minerals in series that are physically impossible, such as dilithium in Star Trek.

  2. Vanberge

    I do recall the piece about the military not being able to provide enough money for him to get this back/legs fixed – but he seemed surprisingly indifferent to the entire thing. Was he mad? Sad? Angry at who, what and why? The whole “setup” if you will just felt extremely rushed.

    I forgot the name of the element. Good call.

    I still maintain that I

  3. vanlandw

    I’m positive your brother will put together a perfectly crafted rebuttal but anything I would write about this movie will require another viewing, as my 3D theater experience was anything less then stellar. Still when it comes out on Blu-Ray I will more or less purchase this day one even if many of my thoughts mirror yours.

    Personally as a big action movie fan this movie honestly does show the viewer something new. With the advances if CGI (compare the entirely faked Matrix fight sequences and even Blade 2 to a point to Avatar trumps them all) absolutely perfectly crafted action sequences can be almost entirely faked. Using the “Navi” allows the movie to trick the viewer. Next Cameron needs to get “humans” doing the things he did with then navi where the suspense of belief is gone watching an entirely life like CGI human doing crazy ass shit. Personally I’m more of an “action traditionalist” I would take a good fight sequence or shootout over much of what Avatar shows. What avatar does well is the intensity of the action. The part where Jake gets his dragon is great. The thrill rides were the memorable parts of the movie.

    Honestly the Navi where what I thought would initially turn me off the the movie but the human characters ended up taking me out of the plot. The “humans” were sadly very typical as noted in the post. For the most part they cover it up by saying they are mercenaries that troll around with scientists? Regardless Avatar reminds me of a good videogame storyline. It’s there reason for things to be happening to not get in the way of the jumping the shooting and the fun stuff like explosions. In a few months when I get to watch it at home with a grilled cheese and some kettle chips I’ll post back here.

    At this point it sits at 4 out of 5 stars on netlfix that has a high possibility of getting moved down to 3 after I watch it again. Mostly the emotion/intensity of the final act and clearly mech fighting (see District 9 and my teenage addiction to the Mechwarrior games) will always move me. Ok I’m going to stop this here clearly I could write for ages on this but this should be enough for me to feel like I participated.


  4. Vanbergs

    Even though defending things like this seems far too fanboyish, unlike Metal Gear or other pieces of media of which I am a devoted fan, I shall, however, respond anyway, because it genuinely seems to me that you went in knowing you’d hate the film, or at least expecting you would. You even stated you read the entire plot synopsis on imdb days before seeing it. And many of your criticisms suggest you held that particular mindset even while viewing it, and it comes across as though you almost didn’t even pay very close attention. That, most definitely, prevented you from liking this film.

    “My first and most significant gripe with this film is the lack of a backstory. What was Jake Sully doing before the Avatar program? Why did he blindly agree to it? Why is he paralyzed? What is he FIGHTING for?”

    As fulljeff stated, he was a marine who became paraplegic. When given the opportunity to once again become useful through a new and exciting program, he took it. Why wouldn’t he? He was an outcast…even marines on the Pandora marine base made fun of him (meals on wheels comment) the second he wheeled down the ramp from the cargo plane. If you devote your life to becoming a marine, and have your mind set to serving your country, especially being extremely physically proficient (one assumes) before losing your legs, I’d say his decision to take part in the Avatar program was fairly well established, without needing a ‘back story’ of marine training or spelling it out ad nauseum. And wouldn’t it be plainly obvious that he is angry/upset about his handicap? The fact that we’re seeing him go through the program should serve to “show, not tell” us he’s ready to get off his useless crippled ass. What lines of dialog could possibly be written to make that any clearer without dumbing down to the lowest common denominator? “My name is Jake Sully, and my legs don’t work any more, and since I am a marine, I am mad. Now that I have an opportunity to make them work again, I will use that opportunity to do so, and I will tell you about how it goes for me throughout the film.” Personally, I’d rather be visually absorbed into his back story through the use of the setting and development of his character throughout the movie.

    What do you mean ‘what is he fighting for?’ He wanted to serve his country, and what he was, was a tool of the government to get inside the native population, gain their trust, and make the human transition into their area less of a hassle. He didn’t know anything about the culture or have any training on language (plainly stated in the dialogue), so his motivations belonged entirely to his bosses/higher-ups, the orders by whom he followed.

    But MONTHS of becoming assimilated into their culture, he clearly grew to have romantic feelings toward one of them, and more than appreciate their way of life. We see his inner conflicts materialize on screen, so, why would he not fight? I’m pretty sure if I knew my job was to force these natives from their land, after spending a very long time immersed in their culture and even accepted as one of their own, then I might consider tendering my resignation as well. I do not understand how you can call that a “weakly formed bond” at all.

    “Another example of the lack of backstory/plotbuilding is the rushed nature in which we learn there is a precious resource on Pandora. I dont remember the name of it – I’m not even sure if they said it. I don’t know why it’s precious; I don’t know why it sells for so much money “per kilo”.”

    It was called unobtainium, and Ribisi flat out states that it would likely solve every energy issue on planet earth. I don’t quite understand how you missed that. Given our current demand for oil and raging gas prices, especially if that resource is dried up, it’s not that far-fetched that a replacement could be invaluable. We know it’s valuable, we know it’s used for energy…honestly, what other back story do you want?

    As for the suggested banality of the overall storyline, I’m not even going to argue that it is original. Cameron obviously used a well-known archetype upon which for his plot to be based. The WAY it is told, however, is a remarkable piece of film-making. Honestly, breaking the story down and calling it a story of Pocahontas in Space really isn’t that unfair, but that’s sacrificing and all-out ignoring the creativity in the visuals, the character development, attachment with the surrounding environment…it’s all so extremely rich and well-told, that only seeing it as a Pocahontas in Space is selling yourself and the movie short.

    And don’t get me started on character originality. Many are saying the ‘gruff marine head honcho’ is too much of a stereotype. Really? He’s a fucking battle hardened soldier, a former marine, fighting previously uncategorized alien species in a completely unknown environment. He’s not supposed to be strong, scarred up, and of the mindset that he needs to follow orders to get the job done as he sees fit? Is this corporation going to hire a fucking poindexter in glasses as their head of SECURITY in a hostile alien situation? Are people serious?

    If you’re open to it, and still didn’t enjoy it, then that’s cool, the film isn’t for you. But your complaints really feel as though they are made by a person who not only expected to hate the movie, but didn’t even leave room for an option to feel otherwise, even after the lights first dimmed in the theater.

  5. Vanberge

    Your comment is too long.

    You tell me that the setup of this film didn’t feel rushed?

    It felt incredibly rushed.

    The story IS unoriginal. The Characters ARE typical. The CGI/Effects are the ONLY redeeming quality.

    Unless James Cameron authored the software environment in which to render said CGI, that is not enough.

    If I ‘knew I was going to hate it” I would not have spent 30 dollars seeing it in 3D, I’m pretty sure… So that’s a ridiculous claim.

    As Vanlandw says – they have marine mercenaries to back up scientists??

    Jake Sulley’s narratives/monologues giving his point of view and status are nearly completely devoid of any feeling. A marine getting injured could very easily maintain an attitude of “I am happy to have served my country; this comes with the territory” – so it’s not fair to just assume that he’s angry/jaded.

    At this point we are over-analyzing a “shock and awe” film created with a mediocre storyline and mediocre plot; Just told via prettier pictures.




  6. Vanberge

    A couple clarifications:
    I don’t hate this movie…
    The two star rating in Netflix signifies a “dont like”.

    Also; my wife fell asleep for 30 minutes of the movie. lol?

    The amount of advertising and buzz for this film has built a level of hype that this film is just not deserving of in my opinion.

    Note that I maintain I will be re-watching this film when all the attention/buzz has blown over. I’m maybe with Vanlandw that a 2nd viewing is needed to confirm my feelings on the picture.

    I don’t know if that will change my thoughts or not – my suspicions are that it will not

  7. vanlandw

    I do have to agree with vanbergs you, vanberge, did go into the film already believing you wouldn’t like it. The thing is that is utterly understandable. I am reading a book now knowing full well I’m not going to like it. I’ve played games (famously Final Fantasy X to completion) again I knowing I’m not going to like. Actually before I saw Avatar I was actually really happy vanbergs liked it because our tastes are normally pretty similar and seeing that Ebert fave it four stars again was a huge win as again I do normally agree with him on movies.

    Going into the movie with higher hopes and actually hardly knowing anything about it as I didn’t watch the trailers and having high word of mouth I think helped my experience.

    Sadly as known my theater experience dimmed my enjoyment but still watching the movie there were points where the thrill ride did get to me and in a perfect world I would have been able to just watch it at home and my enjoyment would have been even higher.

    If JJA posts again I bet you he will say something where he doesn’t mind spoilers and that wouldn’t have changed your mind but I agree with vanbergs. Imagine if you knew in advanced that Nina was going to get murdered by Jack? One of the best moments of my entire life wouldn’t have been the same knowing a week in advanced it was going to happen.

    But again I do agree with vanberge on almost story points oddly enough. I’m just completely torn on Avatar but I would say I “liked” it without question but this is coming from somebody who still likes season 6 of 24 even though there are CLEARLY problems with it and that season is universally panned and loathed.


  8. vanlandw

    After finishing sweeping a few moments after my previous comment a flood of thoughts came upon me. This entire comment trail is just a complete testament to the power of media. Looking at the thoughts and feelings brought forth by movies like Avatar and games like Call of Duty 4 it’s a powerful thing to have such strong opinions on a narative or experience.

    Thinking about the history of P4P/ericvb.com I don’t think another movie has driven you to write a proper opinionated review. Even on my site I hardly ever feel the need to put something down on “wax” about video games but two games I ultimately didn’t enjoy much drove me to delve deep into myself and proclaim to the world how I felt about them.

    Vanberge, Avatar has truly driven you to insanity and it’s fantastic isn’t it?

    brb 😛

  9. Vanberge

    Vans sometimes disagree on things… It’s just the way of life.

    I’d love some more insights from Jja as well here; he seemed to indicate that he bumped it higher due to it’s Sci-fi base…

    I think we can all agree that the films visuals, effects, and composition are top notch. So let’s focus on the positives. 😀

  10. Vanbergs

    I really don’t understand your “rushed setup” claim. Was there not enough back story at the beginning? Did it drop you too far into the story too early? I can’t see how that could be an issue, because that would be like saying The Matrix had a rushed setup, because it shows Trinity running on a wall and defying physics. If it’s setup that you want, should Neo have had his discussion with Morpheus about the Matrix at the beginning?

    Was The Terminator too rushed in setup because a nude Arnold materializes in an orb amid an electronic storm of lightning in the opening scenes?

    Was The Lion King rushed in setup because it started with Simba being displayed to the entire African animal population, rather than showing Mufasa and Sarabi fucking to create him?!


    brb hot pockets.

  11. Vanberge Post author

    The matrix CLEARLY gives the backstory/setup mid-way through the film when Neo meets Morpheus.

    The terminator’s backstory/setup is told throughout the film via Kyle Reese’s flashbacks, his mentoring and “soldierization” of Sarah Conner, and finally through Sarah Conner’s narratives.

    I’m not even going to respond to the Lion King/Gleaming the cube references.

    Interestingly enough you have chosen some movies with very strong, dedicated scenes that VISUALLY show the viewer the backstory and plot setup… which Avatar undeniably does the exact opposite of.

  12. Vanbergs

    lol i did that post out of humor vanberge, vans do disagree, it’s the nature of vanhood.

    the hot pockets were delicious 🙂

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