Avatar movie review!

userinfosolarbird, userinfospazzkat, and I all went to go see Avatar last night, finally–the second time for userinfospazzkat, but the first time for userinfosolarbird and me.

Picoreview: Okay sure, the plot’s totally predictable, although I didn’t find it nearly as weakly so as many comments had led me to believe. And holy crap, so very, very pretty, and entirely worth seeing in 3-D.

More comments behind the cut!

So right then, let’s get the plot comments out of the way first.

I’ve seen this type of plot best described “Pocahontas in Space”, or even more pithily on userinfojames_nicoll‘s journal, “What These People Need is a Honky.” I.e., it’s a big ol’ Colonialism/Noble Savages tropefest. All of which is true. That said, it’s well-executed for what it is. And I’ve seen two things pointed out in the comments on John Scalzi’s review post about the movie that mitigate the whole Noble Savage thing for me:

  1. In this particular case, it’s not just a matter of “these people have a better religion than we do”, it’s a matter of “their religion is based on their actual, biological collection to their planetary ecosystem”, and
  2. The Honky in this particular plot, i.e., Jake, didn’t actually save the day. He was leading the Na’vi clans on one last gigantic suicide mission against the Sky People, and they were getting their asses kicked, until the planet woke up and said “uh, NO, fuck YOU, stern stampede to follow”. ;)

And okay, yeah, the whole thing with Ey’wa/Pandora’s consciousness rousing every animal on the planet against the humans was all deus-ex-machina-y, but for me at least, it actually worked for this particular story. It wasn’t just out of the blue (aheh, as it were). Again, yeah, predictable.

But really, honestly? I didn’t care. After years of playing on MUSHes and a steady diet of similarly-plotted fantasy and mystery novels, I’ve grown less concerned these days with whether a plot is truly “original” than with whether it’s decently executed, not outright stupid, and reasonably entertaining. All of which I felt were applicable to this movie.

userinfospazzkat made another excellent point that fits in well with another thing I saw on Scalzi’s post: i.e., that you didn’t really want too complex a plot in this movie anyway, because the real star of the show is the world that James Cameron has created. And that’s absolutely true. Pandora is unbelievably gorgeous, and the Na’vi are a stunning achievement; userinfosolarbird described them as climbing right back out the other side of the uncanny valley. Certainly it’s building on things that Peter Jackson already accomplished with Gollum in Lord of the Rings, but that’s not a bad thing. There were occasional moments during LoTR that I still felt as if Gollum was slightly insubstantial. I never got that with any of the Na’vi.

They however weren’t the only thing that made me go “oooo SHINY”, though. I adored the fact that Pandora was a moon orbiting a gas giant, and that the planet was a huge shining mass visible in the sky. I adored the bioluminescence all over the place, down to and including the little white dots all over the Na’vi. I adored that the grass lit up when you stepped on it. I adored, geek that I am, that the Na’vi’s ponytails were essentially living USB ports. ;) (We were wondering last night after the movie what operating system Pandora runs. Har.)

Other random things I loved about the movie, in no particular order:

  • Jake’s first waking up in his avatar form, which a) has functional legs, b) is several feet taller than he’s used to, and c) has a tail! All sorts of ways to screw with his sense of balance, and none of it mattered, because ZOMG HE HAD FEET! Watching his evident joy about that was one of the very first ways we got to see that a Na’vi form could come across as real.
  • Sigourney Weaver’s character! Grace was deliciously hardassed at the beginning, with the smoking and snark and all, only to reach a sniffle-inducing end. That look of peace as she died was beautiful.
  • Michelle Rodriguez’s character! Trudy! Oh god, she was awesome. I loved that she bailed on the mission to take down Hometree, I loved that she broke Jake and the others out, I loved that she AND her craft were all done up with Na’vi warpaint during the final battle, and dammit, I was bummed when she died. Waah.
  • Neytiri. Because WHOA. I knew intellectually that Zoe Saldana plays her, but just watching her move… wow. Also, all sorts of moments of awesome for her all throughout this film. Bitching at Jake at the beginning since he’s “like a baby”. Bitching that she has to be the one to teach him Na’vi ways. Warming up to him eventually, to the point that she’s ready to crouch in snarling defense over his body when the link is broken. Even though she must clue in that Jake’s actual soul isn’t home when he goes down. Being the one to take out the Colonel with her gigantic arrows. And the bit at the end, where the Colonel blows into the mobile camp and breaks Jake’s link tank open, and Neytiri has to go in and get him and put his breather on him… that one moment there just got me. When she’s holding him and has a tender sort of “aww, you’re tiny and pink, but you’re my Jake and it’s okay” expression on her face.
  • I gotta give props to the Colonel, who was a thoroughly 2-d asshole, to be sure, but he was also a very effective badass. This is a man who’s badassed enough to charge outside into an atmosphere that will take him down in four minutes, without a gas mask, and hold his breath while firing round after round at the fleeing craft in front of him. And not stop until it’s clear that they’re out of range, and only then does he deign to actually turn and take a mask from the anxious subordinate who’s come out after him. That? That is a badassed villain I can respect. ;)
  • I liked that the Na’vi already had some concept of what the humans-in-avatar-forms were, to the point of having their own word for them: dreamwalkers. And that some of them such as Tsu’tey were convinced that they were “demons in false bodies”. Which ties in nicely with one detail I didn’t catch and only know about because Paul pointed it out to me after the movie: i.e., that the avatars had five fingers and toes, and that the actual Na’vi had four. I’ll have to watch for that when I see it again. Because I will.
  • Okay yeah sure the visuals are the star of this movie, but I was listening for the music too, and I liked it well enough that I’ve bought the soundtrack.
  • I like that Cameron put enough effort into creating the Na’vi that they actually went and tried to build a language for them. That’s some worldbuilding dedication, that is. I’m just really hoping that they’ll have enough worldbuilding to spare to explain why the Na’vi are four-limbed where the rest of the fauna on Pandora are hexapodal. ;) (Although I must add as a side note that I’m very tempted to get the in-universe field guide to Pandora I’ve seen advertised on Amazon, now!)
  • Holy crap the Na’vi arrows are HUGE. You don’t really realize this until you see them piercing cockpits and impaling pilots. I mean, you get a glimpse of it at the beginning with the huge arrows sticking out of tires of incoming vehicles, but you don’t really have a proper scale of it until you’re in the heat of battle at the end, and Na’vi and humans are interacting on screen together.

So yeah. To sum up, fluffy narrative but not awful, and ZOMG pretty. Definitely worth seeing in a proper 3D theater. And I’ll be going back for more.

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Angela Korra'ti

As Angela Highland, Angela is the writer of the Rebels of Adalonia epic fantasy series with Carina Press. As Angela Korra'ti, she writes the Free Court of Seattle urban fantasy series. She's also an amateur musician and devoted fan of Newfoundland and Quebecois traditional music.

3 thoughts on “Avatar movie review!”

  1. Spot on! I loved it to for just the same reasons, the world building was wonderful! That there was unity to the world indeed made it the star of the film. Would love to see it a third time, but the budget doesn’t really extend that far and I’m not sure that it will be at all as wow on the TV when teh DVD version comes out.

    I just have to squee here about the 3D – also an excellent part of the experience. We saw the Imax and the regular 3D versions and they were wonderfully done. I was so engrossed in the film that when the ash was falling from the sky after Hometree had fallen I put my hand out to catch it as I thought it was going to land in my lap. A CG world done that well with 3D to boot – fantastic technical execution as well.

  2. I also noticed that the Na’vi’s feet appear to have an opposable big toe? At the very least the gap between the large phalnge and the other three was noticeable, and looked a little chimpanzee-esq.

    I personally liked the name “unobtainium” for the mineral that they were mining, it made me giggle, it was also nice and shiny, and we likes the shiny things.

    The only detail that didn’t work well for me where the flaked stone “arrowheads” and other flaked stone tools, they looked a little too much like they’d been made from rubber molds.

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