AVATAR (2009) *** movie review by COOP

Posted on December 23rd, 2009
Posted on December 23rd, 2009

The most highly anticipated film of the year, “Avatar” marks director James Cameron’s first feature film since 1997’s “Titanic.”  The notoriously meticulous filmmaker has painstakingly prepared this film, utilizing the largest motion picture budget to date.  An estimated $300 million went into the making of this science fiction epic which boasts revolutionary 3-D imagery and supposedly “photo-real” special effects.  Given Cameron’s exceptional track record for delivering some of the most successful mega-budget blockbusters of all time, “Avatar” has a lot to live up to.  Unfortunately, it’s my least favorite fictional film Cameron’s ever directed (not including his first film, “Piranha II: The Spawning”).  Fortunately for Cameron, it’s still an impressive spectacle. 

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic marine, receives an exceptional opportunity to take the place of his fallen scientist brother on an otherworld mission. When he arrives on the hostile planet Pandora, he is trained to “drive” a genetically engineered alien body in order to study and improve relations with the local sentient natives.  These giant, blue, cat-like humanoids – known as the Na’vi – use primitive weaponry and constantly interfere with the Earth corporation’s efforts to mine a valuable mineral dubbed “unobtainium” found only on Pandora.  Jake quickly takes to his alien “avatar,” not only because this artificial body has working legs, but because he becomes enchanted with the Na’vi, particularly the chieftain’s strong-willed daughter, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana).  When the corporation becomes impatient with the Na’vi’s stubborn defiance, they resort to more violent solutions, forcing Jake to choose sides. 

Just as “Waterworld” was “The Road Warrior” on water, “Avatar” is “Dances with Wolves” in outer space.  I wasn’t excited about the idea of reimagining this recent classic with a bunch of blue cat-people in space.  I cringed at the potential political and race issues that would most certainly apply to such a story.  My fears were well-founded because “Avatar” handles those issues clumsily.  I’ve grown tired of seeing films where a strapping outsider comes to the rescue of proud-yet-desperate minorities from the injustices of his own people.  It rarely rings true and usually ends up insulting the culture in a poor attempt at political correctness.  It’s like saying these minorities can’t fend for themselves without the help of a savior from the majority, which I think is a really lousy message.  Add to that the obvious and tired Native American motifs and glaring Hollywood clichés and you’ve got a poorly constructed concept.

Where “Avatar” succeeds is in its technical achievements.  Cameron’s claims of “photo-real” CGI effects were mostly exaggerated, but several key shots certainly qualified and completely took my breath away.  The rest felt like next generation video game graphics and obvious – yet superbly constructed – green screen backgrounds.  This film did trail blaze some spectacular achievements in 3-D special effects and production design.  The world of Pandora, the flora/fauna designs and the details paid to the design of the planet’s ecology/aesthetics were no less than visionary.  Genius illustrator and conceptual designer Wayne Barlowe, along with Neville Page, created the life forms of Pandora and topped himself once again with his fantastic artistry. 

The human tech felt ripped off from the “Halo” videogames, which in turn ripped off their designs from James Cameron’s “Aliens,” so no foul there.  My largest complaints came from the Na’vi design.  They appeared too heavily inspired by Japanese Anime characters and evoked a silly “Dungeons and Dragons” elf vibe rather than a more edgy sci-fi alien.  Dubbed the “ThunderSmurfs” by critical fans, this design might have flown in past decades, but by today’s standards seem juvenile and dated.  If this aspect bothers you as much as it did me, fear not…  You learn to accept it and you’ll finally get over it about halfway through the film. 

I didn’t respect the performances that much because frankly, they weren’t all that important.  The characters were one-dimensional archetypes and the actors merely had to go through the motions.  One exception was Sigourney Weaver’s character of Dr. Augustine who played out like a more tech-savvy version of her portrayal of Dian Fossey in “Gorillas in the Mist,” even though her Na’vi avatar looked distractingly bizarre when superimposed with Weaver’s face.  Zoe Saldana gets the next-best performance as Neytiri because she shows the most range, but it’s still a clichéd role.  Finally, Sam Worthington should never receive another leading actor role in a major Hollywood film.  His generic acting talents and inability to mask his Australian accent make him a bafflingly poor choice.  Hollywood, please stop casting him. 

The crowd-pleasing action works.  This final epic battle rivals the “Lord of the Rings” films in fantasy combat visuals and it will hold your interest once the bullets and arrows begin to fly. 

I have no qualms with the film as a mainstream Hollywood spectacle, I simply wish it had catered less towards the teenage anime and video game crowd with its remedial concept and attempted a more original, challenging one to compliment its rich alien-world design and technical achievements.  Although I won’t see it again in the theater, I won’t mind watching it months from now on a great home theater system to marvel at the bright colors and shiny things.  After all, these aspects are what “Avatar” will surely win multiple Oscars for.

Ultimately, “Avatar” makes me wish that Cameron had burned all this effort on a direct sequel to his 1986 masterpiece “Aliens,” which I consider the finest sci-fi/action movie of all time. 

Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Trailer here…


More great articles and reviews…

  • I’ve been saying it all along… Romantic Comedies are screwing up our love lives! by COOP
  • A Movie/Film Review Lesson Plan for Teachers! by COOP
  • BLEEDIN’ WICKED GOOGLY… Films about 35 of those “Other” Sports (Parts 1 – 7) by JAY
  • “Bard None: A Cinematic Guide to Really Bad Shakespeare” by JAY
  • Not a Xenu’s chance in hell… Travolta + Cruise does NOT = BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID!!! by JAY
  • Dex Romweber and the TWO HEADED COW… definitely the most bizarre documentary screening/concert I’ve ever seen! by COOP
  • Top 10 Scariest Horror Scenes by COOP
  • Top 10 Greatest Halloween Villains by COOP
  • DARK SIDE announces the BEST MOVIE VILLAIN of 2008… Who will claim 2009? **UPDATED**
  • DARK SIDE announces the BEST MOVIE VILLAIN of 2007… Who will claim 2009?
  • THE DARK SIDE CRITIC stars in his own horror short!!!
  • Porky’s Revenge: Swine Flu and the Virus in Film… by JAY
  • Top 10 Greatest Movie Titles Ever!
  • Top 11 Baddest Killer Robots!
  • Ten Movies Designed to Offend Your Religion (Part 1)
  • Ten Movies Designed to Offend Your Religion (Part 2)
  • Why Manly-Men Love Action Flick Chicks
  • Action Flick Chick’s Zombie Survival Guide for a Small Town
  • Bookmark and Share


    1. Sebastian

      Sorry bud but I gotta disagree with you on this one. About 99% of the shots in this looked absolutely photo-real. I love the way Cameron used the archetypal story to emmerse the audience in the world of Pandora. I thought this was on a par with T2 and The Abyss, even Star Wars. It definitely beat the hell outta Titanic.
      And what’s the Worthington hate? I think he’s got real talent to show here.

    2. Allen

      I also have to disagree. I thought the movie was amazing, and the CG was very realistic to my eyes. It’s doesn’t really earn a spot on my “best movies ever” list, but for what it was trying to do, I doubt it could have been done any better. When it was over, I didn’t want it to end, because I was totally immersed in the world.

      Most of all, though, this movie makes me excited for future sci-fi / fantasy films. If this is any indication, we are going to see some incredible stuff in the near future.

    3. Allen

      Merry Christmas, brother!

    4. Sebastian

      Ok… I’ve seen this film 3 times and I’m still of the same opinion, but one thing occurs to me: Quarich (sp?) is such a cool character that gets demonized for the sake of having a bad guy (not to mention the whole human race). If I have any gripe with this movie, its that such an interesting character was basically sacrificed to further the plot. I do think they kept the character consistent, I just wish we could see a story about that guy before he goes total evil. See what I’m sayin’?
      Also… If there is to be a sequel I definitely want more backstory about earth and some more sympathetic human characters. It would be cool if the story was say 10 years into the future and we’re in the middle of an intergalatic war! Go all Dune with this sucker! What say you?

    5. tracy trainum

      What do you think? I loved the movie, but to go so far as to say Sam Worthington should never recieve another lead actor role is taking it a bit too far. I’ll admit, i heard his accent and he definately needs to work on it, but this man has lead actor written all over him. In my opinion…this actor doesn’t over act; he’s subtle, but still takes risks. I think he’s gonna be the next “Steve McQueen”!

    Leave a Comment...

    Search Form
    Trailer for the award-winning short PRISMA…

    A corporate promotional VHS tape from 1984 conceals a brain-altering signal which is said to grant increased health, longevity and psychic powers to those who watch it. View at your own risk...

    WINNER: SPECIAL JURY PRIZE, 2017 Oxford Film Festival

    WINNER: BEST EXPERIMENTAL FILM, 2017 FantaSci Short Film Festival

    SEMI-FINALIST: 2017 NanoCon International Science-Fiction Film Festival

    NOMINEE: BEST ANIMATION, 2017 End of Days Film Festival

    NOMINEE: BEST GRAPHICS, 2017 FantaSci Short Film Festival

    2017 Crossroads Film Festival
    2017 Clarksdale Film Festival
    2017 Twisted Dreams Film Festival
    2017 Tupelo Film Festival
    2017 NanoCon International Sci-Fi Film Festival
    2017 FantaSci Short Film Festival
    2017 End of Days Film Festival

    Trailer for the lost short GOD MAKER…

    Northern Mississippi 1932:
    In a cabin in the woods, a blind blues guitarist will discover his destiny from a lovesick goddess who seeks to corrupt his soul.

    GOD MAKER remains unfinished and in limbo for now, but the trailer expresses the mood and imagery intended for the project...

    Coop’s award-winning 48 hour short film trailer for REGRESS…

    Told in reverse, this experimental made-in-48-hours film begins with a shocking murder then backtracks (like a viewer rewinding a VHS tape) to reveal the chilling origins of this tragedy.

    WINNER: BEST SHORT FILM at the 2013 Clarksdale Film Festival...
    NOMINATED: BEST DIRECTING by the 2012 48hr. Guerrilla Film Challenge (international contest)...
    OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Crossroads Film Festival

    Watch Coop’s award-winning short film THE BEST DAY…

    WINNER: 2012 MAGNOLIA FILM FESTIVAL "Best Homegrown Film"

    2012 OTHERFEST

    Morgan Freeman asks Coop a question at THE BEST DAY premiere! Video below…

    My short film THE BEST DAY premiered in October 2011 at the Delta Cinema in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

    Little did I know I had a special guest in the audience who was about to ask me a question during the Q&A. Yep, I got a little flustered when I saw who it was.

    The Small Town Critic’s SCREENWRITING SERVICES
    Follow Coop on Twitter...
      follow me on twitter
      Follow smalltowncritic on Twitter
      Subscribe via Email!

      Enter your email address:

      Delivered by FeedBurner

      Subscribe via RSS feed!