The trailer for this film didn’t excite – which is odd because those advance advertisements usually feature the best moments of the movie being promoted setting moviegoers up for a big letdown. It’s the complete opposite here – Avatar lives up to its advance billing of being a spectacular motion picture in a way that the trailer couldn’t possibly exhibit – meaning, word of mouth will sell this picture and the reported 100 million dollar marketing campaign is built to set that word of mouth in motion. Though Science Fiction still does not garner the respect Hollywood devotes to films like Titanic or The Godfather, Science Fiction is quite often big box office.
The presence of Sigourney Weaver is akin to putting former crew members of Star Trek into Independence Day or Babylon5, Sci Fi fans love to “phone home” and like the familiar. Weaver’s stints in the Alien franchise and the underrated Galaxy Quest put her talents on full display which is why it is so surprising to find her acting stiff and controlled at the beginning of this film.
It opens like one of those 1950s horror flicks with a plot that needs to get up to speed but, thankfully, Cameron is smart enough to avoid “Roland Emmerich syndrome” where there is no plot. Just onslaught and good ideas that tend to go sideways through the necessity of belief suspension. Cameron’s story has some meat, though somewhat derivative, and when Joe Pantoliano tells Keanu Reeves “It means buckle your seatbelt, Dorothy. Cause Kansas is going bye-bye” in the first Matrix movie, it was that film’s nod to The Wizard of Oz being the high mark, something to aspire to.
Here the Oz reference pops up again with the line “You’re not in Kansas anymore”, and Sam Worthington, who was so much fun in Terminator: Salvation as Marcus Wright, gets to play a clueless Keanu Reeves type, wheelchair bound and ready to fit into The Matrix. The obvious references to humans leaving the “real world” to go into the Matrix is the metamorphosis at play here as Worthington, Sigourney and company get into their avatar …in almost the same way that Reeves and Laurence Fishburne plug into the Matrix.
The robot suits the army personnel get into reflect – almost exactly – the suits used in Matrix: Revolutions. Heck, why did they even bother building new ones when those originals could’ve effectively been recycled? Beyond taking as liberally from The Matrix as The Matrix did with every other movie – most especially the Terminator flicks (machines destroy humans for supremacy), is Cameron’s luxury of being able to work with the George Lucas-founded !Skywalker Sound as well as Industrial Light and Magic.
So if! Lou Reed’s big hit, “Transformer” was, as critics said, Lou Reed playing David Bowie playing Lou Reed, then Avatar is truly Cameron playing Wachowski brothers playing James Cameron….with some George Lucas thrown in to boot. Did anyone else notice that the film is opening on Steven Spielberg’s 63rd birthday? E.T. doesn’t phone home here…the earthlings fly to E.T…or more accurately, the earthlings ARE the extraterrestrial life.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2000 film, The Sixth Day, featured clones swimming in similar water pods where the DNA and other essentials of human replication could all merge together, and that aspect from a “lost” Arnold movie is part of this mix, and one could go on and on with the borrowing…where the Matrix: Revolutions gave a nod to Galaxy Quest (Fishburne bursting out of Will Smith’s wife’s ship), here they just take one of the stars of Galaxy Quest, Signourney Weaver.
Now on to the movie. It is exquisite. Cameron is a superb filmmaker who keeps his flaws to a minimum (unlike the aforementioned Roland Emmerich, see 2012 for the reasons why)…so when he indulges in holograms for the army’s strategy sessions he improves upon what we saw glimpses of in Matrix: Revolutions, and adds more. The world of Pandora is absolutely wondrous, a land of Oz indeed, Alice in Wonderland, take your pick.
Floating mountains are creative, as are the impressive Banshees. It isn’t that these creatures are dissimilar to creatures from planet Earth, indeed, they are – if not mutations – distant cousins of dogs, reptiles and underwater life. Also improving on his work in The Abyss, Cameron takes the journey to the nth degree…the 3D was annoying when I first put the glasses on, when my eyes adjusted to the technology I didn’t want the film to end. Cascading waterfalls, Harry Potter fly-through-the-air wizardry, vibrations from Lord of the Rings
Stephen Lang is annoying as Colonel Miles Quaritch, a character actor from Law & Order episodes as well as a latter day TV version of The Fugitive, he may as well be Sam Elliot and William Hurt as Gen. ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross in their respective Hulk movies…or in Hurt’s cameo in the first Iron Man. Because here they get in their Iron Man suits as well
Just as “Avatar” was the working title of the 1997 James Bond flick, Tomorrow Never Dies, the flashes of inspiration and originality here are decorated with the familiar. Michelle Rodriguez who appeared in 2003’s S.W.A.T. with Hollywood’s earlier rendition of Sam Worthington, Colin Farrell, goes from playing Chris Sanchez from that film to Trudy Chacon here.
Not a “name” cast, outside of Weaver, but one that has actors from “Lost” and “Law & Order”, familiar faces getting their day in the sun.
The thousands of names affiliated with this movie scroll a la Star Wars intro at the end, Leona Lewis doing a perfect Celine Dion imitation for the love theme to the flick, “I See You”, and chances are the male audience that will be attracted to this movie will come back for more bringing their girlfriends…Cameron a master of getting repeated viewings out of his audience. Yes, he splashes ideas from King Kong throughout the journey, and it all works. Where you have to suspend belief for Roland Emmerich, Cameron makes his magical world very believable and, despite its hostility, a vacation spot that’s worth the risk.