08 January 2010

Avatar: A Review (and a return to old blogging traditions?)

It's Friday night, and, surprisingly, I'm not out livin' it up and being obnoxious. I just got home from the movies and thought I'd try to brush up the old reviewing skills...though I'm fairly certain I've lost my touch...

I've been intentionally avoiding reviews of Avatar; all I knew of the film was that it was a) in 3D, b) really long, c) almost completely computer generated, and d) really expensive and lucrative. Normally this combination is not something that lures me into a theater seat, especially on a Friday night(minus the 3D thing, I did LOVE Jaws 3 and Captain EO). But I decided to give it a go...

...And I really cannot complain. Here's the lowdown:

Premise: Humans set up shop on another planet with the goal of mining some really priceless ore which happens to be situated beneath the territory of a group of big, blue hippies with tails. Through some unexplainable future technology, they create genetically hybridized avatars for some botanists (*cough**anthropologists**cough*)to store their psyches in to communicate with the locals and scout out their crazy plant life. Of course, as in all contact situations, this clashing of interests and perspectives isn't working out so well for the military-backed human mining corporation. That is, of course, until a dumb marine becomes a new avatar and starts actually studying the innerworkings of the Na'vi (alien/other) culture. War ensues...there's a budding romance...and war ensues...trust is gained and lost...and war continues...and you get the idea (it's a wicked long movie - even for me and I grew up on Cecil B. DeMille epics).

Plot: A little long and drawn out (to say the least). A little simple and obvious, but also comfortably thoughtful. Nothing outrageously unpredictable happens, but the script is put together nicely enough that you don't really mind.

Setting: Okay, clearly, this movie is beautiful to watch. The more subtle 3D effects were my favorite, and the color and texture of the images were amazing...The 3D did give me a slight headache and made me worry whether I was giving myself wrinkles, but I don't appear to have any permanent side effects (much less motion sickness than I anticipated - perhaps Cloverfield made me paranoid).

Performances: I always have a hard time gauging performances which are primarily voice-overs. All the characters seemed well created and portrayed. My personal favorite was Sigourney Weaver's portrayal of Dr. Grace Augustine....okay, who are we kidding here - Sigourney was basically reprising her role as Diane Fossey in Gorillas in the Mist....however, it was appropriate! It was appropriate given both the literal role she was playing and the symbolic one. *I will note that, for the record, I think making Sigourney a ginge for this role was a bad call. I'm just sayin.*

Overall Impressions: This movie is politically and socially very timely. The clear analogy of alien beings to indigenous peoples in cultural contact situations may seem simple and common(see District 9 for another good recent example), but is a message which, sadly, bears revisiting now more than ever. My biggest complaint was the stereotypical villainization of the humans (particularly the marines) in the film. I would have liked to see all the characters equally portrayed as valuable living beings. The caricatures of white, ethnocentric, gun-happy, misogynist soldiers gave this movie a little too much of a Ferngully feel. It made the Na'vi a little sad and puppyish, pushing them back into the realm of "noble savage" when the whole point was to battle ethnocentrism in this time of war, fear, apathy, and globalization.

I recommend this film to: people who can hold it for a really long time, fans of 3D or special effect spectacles, Intro anthropology teachers, and parents seeking to subtly introduce their children to ideas about culture, ethnicity, and differentness.

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