Saturday, July 5, 2014

20. Avatar (2009)

Code-name: Na’vi

(but of course…)


Writer/Director: James Cameron

Composer: James Horner



Jake Sully- Sam Worthington

Grace- Sigourney Weaver

Norm Spellman- Joel David Moore

Dr. Max Patel- Dileep Rao

Trudy Chacon-Michelle Rodriguez 

Colonel Miles Quatrich-Stefan Lang

Selfridge- Giovanni Ribsi

Neytiri- Zoe Saldana

Moat- CCH Pounder

Tsu’tey- Laz Alonso

Eytukan- Wes Studi


Notable Awards and Nominations:

OSCAR- Best Cinematography

OSCAR- Best Visual Effects

OSCAR- Best Art Direction

Nomination- OSCAR- Best Picture

Nomination- OSCAR- Best Director- James Cameron

Nomination- OSCAR- Best Sound Editing

Nomination- OSCAR- Best Sound Mixing

Nomination- OSCAR- Best Film Editing

Nomination- OSCAR- Best Original Score- James Horner

Golden Globe- Best Director- James Cameron

Golden Globe- Best Picture- Drama

Nomination- Golden Globe- Best Score- James Horner

Nomination- Golden Globe- Best Original Song- “I See You”




Getting politics out of the way first…


…a) because I hate politics in general and b) politics, no matter which side you’re on, stirs up a lot of negativity and I don’t want that bringing the vibe of this entry down


I suppose you could say “Avatar” is one of those “love ‘em or hate ‘em” sort of movies. There are strong opinions on both sides. I strongly support and adore the hell out of this movie. But I’d hate for people to take the opposite view for political reasons.


Going into this movie, despite how it might look on the surface, I didn’t want to see it for politics. I didn’t come away making it into this big political racket. On those grounds, I did see similarities between it and “Pocahontas” where the white man came to America for gold (much as they did to Pandora in this movie for this mineral ‘unobtainium’). Other people were saying it was akin to us invading Iraq.


That part, I really didn’t get. Still don’t. The mere insinuation of that just pisses me off. I mean, James Cameron had this idea in mind of years, long before we even invaded the Middle East, so they were just using the movie to suit their views.


But where I will get into the politics of it… how the hell did “Avatar,” arguably the most talked about picture in 2009 NOT win Best Picture? And it lost to a movie few ever heard of before awards season? A lot of us were still figuring out how “Brokeback Mountain” lost to a complete unknown film.

Seriously, if Hollywood is so liberal, why do certain pictures, considered to be very liberal, not get top honors?


I don’t remember much of what I saw in theaters in 2009. I didn’t start seriously keeping track until the following year. But “Avatar” blew my freaking mind… and the four of us saw it in 2D. My dad even came to the theater with us and he hadn’t been with us to a movie since 2002.


Then I saw it again with my mom and two of my aunts in 3D. Absolutely worth it. Just like it was worth it to get on blu-ray. Like the paper insert says, it’s “the movie blu-ray was made for.”


Escapism at its finest


In general, I am a huge sucker for escapism. “Avatar” took it to a whole new level. To this day, it’s probably the only valid argument for 3D movies in existence. Mainly because James Cameron knew to shoot it in 2D and 3D, opposed to converting it to 3D in post-production. That’s where you get the sloppiest of efforts. Ironically, one big example of what NOT to do regarding 3D film-making occurred in Sam Worthington’s other major film credit, “Clash of the Titans” and its ill-advised sequel.


The majority of “Avatar” was filmed in Hawaii, but you really did feel like you were in another world entirely. Everything was so beautiful. The creatures were so imaginative and gorgeous. My favorites were the banshees, those flying dragon-like creatures… so beautiful. The Na’vi are also really fascinating creatures. They’re so at peace with their environment, believing everything has its place and the balance of everything must be kept. Between the CGI and the motion-capture, this was special effects at its absolute best. Nothing quite like this has ever been done before and who better to handle it than the director of freaking “Titanic.”

I still maintain that movie was a waste of 3 hours and Leonardo DiCaprio dying at the end is reason enough to never sit through it again. So depressing and not worth the ugly sobbing. Still impossible to this day to hear “My Heart Will Go On” without tearing up… it’s frustrating that he’s such a handsome guy but most of his movies aren’t my type and those that are, he dies at the end… oh well, moving on.


Because of its sheer length (almost three hours), it’s not the type of movie I like to watch very often. Usually, I see it once a year or every couple years. But whenever I do, going back to Pandora is just one big jaw-drop.


Cast of Characters


As always, spoilers ahead


On this surface, this is another one of those movies where it really is more about the characters and visuals more than the actors. Most of which were relative unknowns going into this.

The only exceptions to this, I think, were Zoe Saldana, Giovanni Ribsi and CCH Pounder. I don’t remember any of their other credits, but they were faces and names that I knew were already out there. And Sigourney Weaver, of course, is the biggest name on the ticket.


Sam Worthington was an Aussie apparently living out of his car when he auditioned for the role of a lifetime.

Unfortunately, his other credits are few and none really held water. Movie fans and mythological buffs know what a waste of time the “Clash of the Titans” movies were. They bared little resemblance to the original version and the mythology wasn’t even accurate. Other than that, I knew Sam had done the thriller bomb “Man on a ledge” and had gotten himself into trouble with DUIs and such in reality.


It’s too bad because he played a damn good soldier. And like Jeremy Renner in “The Hurt Locker,” experience taught him how to color outside the lines of the reality he’d come to distrust… the only difference is that Jake Sully wound up fighting for a much greater cause: the survival of a planet’s ecosystem and its dominant race.


Zoe Saldana, of course, is a bad-ass as Neytiri. All the guys can go as crazy as they want, raving how she’s this “9 foot tall naked blue chick,” but she’s probably one of the most lethal creatures you’ll find on Pandora. And that’s just her attitude ;)

Then again, there are times where Neytiri is hard to listen to because when she flips out on you, she freaking loses it… part of it being her vocal chords with the screaming.


There’s a lot of girl power in this movie, which is a rarity, and you get it in all forms.

Just as Neytiri is strong in her skills and her body, Grace (Sigourney Weaver) is strong in her heart and her mind. In layman’s terms, she knows her shit… especially when it comes to Pandora and the Na’vi. Then again, she, Dr. Patel and Norm has been studying them for 3 years, so they’re practically experts. And considering Jake is going into this with no real time to train because he’s a genetic match for his late brother’s avatar, anyone else in the AVTR program seems like an expert compared to him.


Grace spends a lot of this movie butting heads with the men in the military department, no matter how much they refuse to listen, she fights for her ideals to the death. And anyone who’d seen the “Alien” franchise knows just how much of a bad-ass butt-kicking actress Sigourney Weaver is (something I really didn’t appreciate or take note of until after this movie).


Michelle Rodriguez, who I believe had also been around for a while before “Avatar”, has a lot of sass that’s so admirable. Especially in the third act where she helps the AVTR people get where they need to go to help the Na’vi in their direst hour. She has no problem standing up to authority and just as willing to sacrifice herself for her beliefs.


As much girl power is in this movie, it does really suck that it gets most of them killed or almost killed.


With a bit of cautionary tale thrown in there, this really makes me hate us, the human race, in general because we’re capable of so much destruction. And for what? Is it really worth destroying a whole ecosystem just to save ours? What’s to stop that destructive cycle from continuing?


Sure, “Avatar” has a little bit of “Pocahontas” in it as it does have a little “FernGully”… supposedly there was so much discussion of plagiarism that “Avatar” was deemed ineligible for “best original screenplay” awards…



But while on the subject of plagiarism, when “Avatar” was first announced, I took issue with the name as a fan of the animé series.

I thought it was going to be based on “Avatar: the last airbender” and when that wasn’t the case, I contested that they couldn’t use the word.

It’s even sadder that the live action version that was released by M. Night Shamylan was a complete bust… they pronounced the names wrong and the way the characters were written, it’s as if they didn’t see the series at all..

…I shudder to think that “The Giver” adaptation will top that degree of mediocrity and non-adaptation, but based on the trailers, it’s leaning that way already.

Coming Soon

"Avatar" is the beginning of the end of my countdown.

With the exception of three of them, the rest of my top 20 favorite movies fall under one or some of the following categories:

1) I deem them the best in their given genre/director/actor
2) they started on a given genre of movies I became fond of
3) they were life-changing for me personally

The three exceptions have the following things in common:
1) They gained their accolades years after their release
2) I saw them all for the first time within the last 3 years because I couldn't ignore the accolades from movie fans and critics
3) like "Avatar," they had valid arguments for the "Best Picture Oscar
-ironically, two of them came out the same year so obviously they couldn't BOTH win

*I should also note with two of them, I only saw them once... which was the case with "Butch and Sundance" (I was lucky enough to catch "Rebel without a cause" and "little miss sunshine" a second time before writing my entries on them)... a little idiotic, but considering how high Richard Roeper and movie fans who follow the Reelz Channel rate them, my rankings will make sense once they're revealed

As for #19 next week, it got me officially started in the superhero genre. Also made me a fan of a particular actor...
Coincidentally (seriously I did not have that in mind when I put this list together), it was the movie my dad saw with us in 2002, which would be the last time until "Avatar" 7 years later.

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