Thursday, February 28, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Avatar (2009) ****

PG-13, 162 min.
Director/Writer: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi, Laz Alonso, Dileep Rao, Matt Gerald

It always seems that a few years after a movie like this hits it big general opinion on it seems to take a turn for the worse. It really wasn’t long after this one hit it big that people started piping up and criticizing it for just rehashing the stories of Pocahontas and “Dances with Wolves”. What really irks me about such backlash is that those are two great stories. How is it a problem that this movie tells a version of the same stories? If it does it well, who cares?

The fact is “Avatar” tells its story very well. Unlike those other two films, many of the concepts put forth in this film aren’t just alien, but they’re entirely made up science. I do wish James Cameron had come up with a better name for the mineral they were mining on this alien world. Unobtainium isn’t just a stupid unscientific name, it was also used before in the much lesser sci-fi film “The Core”.

The other aspects of the planet Pandora (much more cleverly named than Unobtainium) are brilliant in the imagination that went into them. Creating not just a spiritual connection with the planet, but a physical one drives Cameron’s point home further. The audacity of man on display here is only reflective of what we’ve done to our own planet so far. We stand with cold hard scientific fact in front of our faces about so many things that our “beliefs” have us stand in front of and say, “But I don’t see the proof.” Someone said, “the great thing about science is that it’s true whether you believe it or not.” The terrible thing about man is that we think we can choose what to believe.

More than anything else, however, is the undeniable beauty of this movie. Watching it for the first time since it was released on a home video format in 2010, I was struck by how good this movie looks. It still looks better than 99 percent of the movies being released today. It isn’t just the production design and CGI rendering of the alien world either. Even set pieces in this film look great. Just watching a conversation between two of the human characters inspires a slight amount of awe. Cameron and his cinematographer Mauro Fiore accomplish photographic and lighting beauty rarely achieved in cinema. Fiore won the Oscar for his cinematography, at the time I didn’t realize how deserved it was.

Read my original review here. 

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