Wow, what a gorgeous movie! Seriously, I’ve seen a lot of movies in my day (More than eight, definitely), and I have never seen a film in which the scenery was this sumptuous. Oh, sure, I’ve seen movies with considerably more lush set design, costuming, what have you - the 1984 version of “Dune” springs to mind - but, the exteriors just completely blew me away in a fashion that I haven’t felt since “The Fifth Element” (1997) or back in ‘77 when I was ten and saw Star Wars for the first time. Seriously, the visuals are totally worth the hype, and I suddenly get why director James Cameron felt he needed a completely new generation of CGI technology to pull this one off: This *could* have been done using previous technology, but it would have taken two or three times as long, and it wouldn’t have had the depth, the heft, the scope of the film we see here; every time we cut to the jungle and the aliens it would have looked like we were visiting Toontown. It is a gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous film.
It’s a pity the story isn’t quite up to the visuals.
We’ve all heard the film referred to as “Dances With Smurfs” and a dozen other disparaging names - our own erstwhile leader, Republibot 1.0 alluded to it being essentially an extended dance remix of “Ferngully: The Last Rainforest” (1992) - and while these are not inapt comparisons, they do miss some of the spirit of the thing, the raison d’etre if you will. Which isn’t to say that this is a fantastic movie by any means, but if we’re honest, “Star Wars” and “Fifth Element” weren’t exactly fantastic films either, now were they? Beautiful to look at, full of the Gee-Gosh-Wow, lots of excitement, lots of exotic locals and things, but, at root, Star Wars is basically just a dumbed-down remake of Akira Kurosawa’s “Hidden Fortress” (1958), “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is basically just yet another remake of “The Enemy Below” (1957) and Fifth Element is basically just a hyper-goofy Heavy Metal magazine story come to life. It’s not so much what they rip off, it’s what they bring to the ripoff that counts.
So, yeah, “Avatar” does rip off “Dances With Wolves,” (1990) “The Emerald Forest,“ (1985) and a dozen other movies, as well as the “Joseph in Egypt” story from the Bible, the probably-mostly-mythical Pocahontas story, there’s a bit of “Gorillas in the Mist” (1988) in there, some “Apocalypse Now,” (1979) you name it - the movie is a grab bag of a zillion better films stuck together like a jigsaw puzzle that doesn’t entirely fit, and then forced to hold together by the glue of some admittedly amazing animation in the hopes that the audience won’t notice the seams. And mostly they won’t. My friend chip once referred to “Independence Day” (1996) as what he calls a ’notecard’ movie - a film where the writers and producers sat through all the most famous alien invasion movies and wrote down all the best scenes on note cards, then wrote a script to tie all the note cards together. This movie is like that.
The film starts off with Sam Worthington, a paraplegic ex-marine coming out of cryonic suspension on a starship in orbit around Pandora - a planet-sized habitable moon of a superjovian planet in an unnamed solar system that takes five years to get to from earth. He’s shuttled down to the surface, and suddenly we’re in the Vietnam war - a huge forward base with lots of choppers, lots of aircraft coming and going, lots of people in Marpat BDUs, all with facemasks, though, because the Pandoran atmosphere is lethal to humans. We are told in short order that an unnamed Earth corporation is mining “Unobtanium” from Pandora, which goes for a kerjillion dollars a pound. They may as well call it “MacGuffinium” for all it’s worth, aside from being a motivating force that drives corporate greed, it plays no real part in the plot. We never even find out what Unobtainium is used for. The local aliens - nine foot tall blue humanoids with felineoid faces and tails - don’t like Earthers stomping through their jungles, ripping ‘em up, so they fight back, but being as they’ve basically got a stone-age culture, they don’t stand much of a chance.
“The Company,” meanwhile, has hired a large private army of ex-military folk (Mostly Marines and US Army, we’re told) to