Avatar (2009)

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Avatar (2009)

Post  BoG on Mon Mar 15, 2010 9:52 pm


This was James Cameron's follow-up to his super-hit, non-sci-fi Titanic (97) - but it was a long dozen years in coming. Cameron got sidetracked after his sinking ship film, first caught up in its monumental success, then reevaluating his life by immersing himself in more scientific pursuits in the deep oceans, resulting in 2 or 3 documentaries. He also dabbled in TV sci-fi: the result there was the short-lived series, Dark Angel (2000-2002). The other component of all these delays (expectations of many was that Cameron was going to direct his next film within 5 years after Titanic) was technology - the development of a 3D Fusion Camera and more advanced performance capture techniques. The budget for Avatar was immense (like many of Cameron's films), at about $300 million. As with Titanic, it looked as if Cameron's latest film needed to really work at recouping its cost, but history repeated itself and Avatar became the highest-grossing film of all (not adjusted for inflation), winning each successive weekend for almost 2 months as attendance reduced very minimally week-to-week (the writing was on the wall when its 2nd weekend nearly matched its 1st).

The story is fairly simple and not unusual - in some future, about 150 years from now, mankind had expanded its pursuits to outer space and resources on Earth have been depleted. But, there is a crucial mining operation on the moon of Pandora, in the Alpha Centauri system (only about 4 light years from Earth), where exists the rare mineral Unobtanium (see also The Core-2003, which also brings up this material). Eventually, things become very volatile, as the security force assigned to this locale sets out to conquer or eliminate the native population, 10-foot-tall blue-skinned humanoids which are the aboriginal stand-ins for the usual Indians or Africans in westerns or historical adventure films. The objective of the humans is to destroy what's known as the giant "Hometree," which happens to sit on the largest deposit of Unobtanium. Thrown into this mix is main character Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a former marine and paraplegic sent there to replace his dead twin brother; it seems mankind has also developed the technology to transfer human consciousness into replicant bodies mimicking Pandora's natives; Jake is able to walk again in this new alien body and infiltrates the natives. However, he soon falls in love with a native (Zoe Saldana) and has second thoughts about his assignment.

 
Avatar was Cameron's homage to and version of all those old pulp sci-fi tales which he read as a kid, from the Golden Age of science fiction, which usually featured rockets, spacemen and trippy alien terrain. This last feature is where Cameron really outdoes himself - the creation of an alien jungle world that truly was an immersing experience on the big screen, what with the new 3D technology. Using this tech, Cameron was able to accurately imitate the wild scenarios on other planets which we read about in old sci-fi stories. But, like the simple tales of yesteryear, the themes and unsubtle political messages presented here are simplicity itself - humans and their tech stuff, especially the weapons, are bad; the primitive natives, at one with the natural world, are good. As has been pointed out by many, this is a sci-fi remake of Dances With Wolves (1990), the story of one culture - the more advanced, more arrogant one - encroaching on another one, the more pure, more clean one. There aren't any grey areas. I was still a bit confused about the message - it seems to be the stale one about greed and corporations, represented by the main company man (Giovanni Ribisi), but then again, aren't Earth people behaving out of desperation to save their planet? Their methods are shortsighted, crude and brutal, yes (another trope), but it doesn't seem to be about just greed. Cameron's films have always been about the basics in their stories, but they rang true; here, he just piles on the cliches.
That said, there are a couple of standouts among the actors - Stephen Lang is excellent as the ruthless commander of the quasi-military force; scarred, muscled-up, he strikes an imposing figure. Likewise, Michelle Rodriguez is very good as another soldier, one who shifts alliances late in the game. Sigourney Weaver reunites with Cameron (after their gig on Aliens-1986) as the local head scientist. As for all the actors portraying the alien natives - here's the other sad part of all this: despite the revolutionary FX, which present these alien forms as realistically as possible, none of the alien characters are given anything interesting to do. They're all cliches, the noble proud natives. Even the various fauna on this planet, though wide in its variety, never really sticks in the mind - it's all surprisingly forgettable. The flora, however, the painterly vistas, are very attractive to behold, I admit.  BoG's Score: 7 out of 10
Avatar Trivia: the film grossed about $750 million domestically - the first & only film to break $700 million at the box office - and about $2 billion in the rest of the world, handily beating Titanic's record of $1.2 billion overseas. It rapidly put to rest the fears of the movie studio, which figured that the film needed to gross $600 million to break even. What's also impressive about this is that the other biggest-grossing films of the past decade never quite get to one billion overseas, let alone 2 billion. Domestically, the closest that other big films got to Avatar's gross in 2009-2010 were Transformers:Revenge of the Fallen at $402 million and Toy Story 3 at $415 million.
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What if Avatar in the Sixties?

Post  BoG on Mon Apr 13, 2015 8:15 pm

Retro Poster imagines Avatar around the time that Shatner began as Capt. Kirk in Star Trek,
so probably in the late sixties:

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