Droid defines the Decades best films – #8 Avatar (2009)

avatar poster

It’s been almost three months since ‘Avatar’ finally came out and the dust has settled a bit. It’s broken all sorts of Box Office records, has been nominated for nine Academy Awards, and re-crowned James Cameron as King of the WorldTM. So, once we put aside all the marketing hoopla, fanboy bullshit and anti-Cameron backlash, is it a good film? In my humble opinion, yes. It’s very good. Eighth best of the decade in fact.

In the year 2154, Earth has exhausted all it’s resources, except for, it seems, ammunition and military hardware. We have discovered a small planet named Pandora, inhabited by ten foot blue natives known as Na’vi. One particular tribe of Na’vi live on a rich deposit of unobtainium, which is a macguffin that “sells for twenty million a kilo” and is desperately sought after by humans. In order to get their hands on the unobtainium, the humans need the Na’vi to vacate the premises. As humans are unable to breath in Pandora’s atmosphere, scientists on the planet have designed a technology where they can grow artificial Na’vi combined with a specific humans DNA which can be used as avatars. They are able to control the Na’vi suit remotely.

Avatar 6 When his twin brother is killed, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) a former marine who was paralysed in combat, is asked to take his place in the Avatar program. When Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) learns that a marine will be controlling one of the avatars, he promises a very expensive operation that will return Jake the use of his legs, in return for information that could be used to physically remove the Na’vi from their home. In the Na’vi body, Jake is invited into their tribe and taught their ways by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). He grows to understand the Na’vi, learns their customs and beliefs, gradually becoming one of them.

Cameron has made an easily accessible film. Lord knows for $400 million or whatever it cost, he’d want to. The story is uncomplicated, the characters clearly defined (but admittedly, without a great deal of depth), and the themes are presented in a simple and straightforward manner. This is by no means a thinking mans film. It’s painted with broad strokes. One of the many pleasures of the film is experiencing the world that Cameron has created. He has built an entire ecological system, simultaneously familiar and alien, from the ground up. He hasn’t glossed over the details like the majority of other similar films do, but he has embraced them. He has created a unique, dangerous and beautiful world of fluorescent fauna, wild beasts, giant trees and floating rocks.

Avatar 14 I’m not a huge fan of 3D. The colours are dulled, it’s dark, it strains your eyes and it can be distracting to the point of taking you out of the experience of watching the movie. Cameron specifically designed a new type of 3D camera to use for ‘Avatar’, and it shows. But the 3D is successful because Cameron understands that it’s not about poking you in the eye with a stick, but it’s about layering the shot, giving it depth. I saw this in IMAX 3D and was curious to see if it would hold up on second viewing without the visual gimmicks. I watched it at home the other day and was pleasantly surprised to find that I was once again greatly entertained. As expected there is a bit of a drop off in WOW factor from seeing it the first time and on the big screen, but it wasn’t as much as I feared. It’s still superbly entertaining.

The acting is effective across the board, without being anything special. The characters are mostly quickly established in general terms. Worthingtons Jake Sully is stubborn, strong willed and has nothing to lose. Sigourney Weaver’s Grace Augustine drinks, smokes and generally defies authority. Langs Colonel Quaritch is the clichéd military badass, who would rather shoot first and go drinking later. It’s no surprise in a James Cameron film that the most fully realized character is a woman. Saldana’s Neytiri is the typical Cameron heroine. Independent, passionate, intelligent and able to kick a lot of ass when necessary. A couple of the supporting cast aren’t fleshed out as well as I would have liked, particularly Michelle Rodriguez’s Trudy. But there is just enough characterisation to get us involved. So it’s more than a very expensive sound and lights show.

Avatar 5 There are themes presented in the film that some people seem to have taken offense to. Namely, an environmental theme which promotes responsibility and respect for nature. It is developed as part of the story, and helps bring depth and meaning, as well as helping the audience sympathise with 10 foot blue aliens. I found nothing remotely offensive about this, as it’s not particularly heavy handed, nor is it that preachy. I also don’t agree with peoples assumptions that the Na’vi are representative of any specific race of people, and are depicted in a racist fashion. But each to their own. If that is your belief, it might satisfy you to know that Avatar 2 deals with a tribe of displaced Na’vi, living on a small patch of land assigned to them by the humans. The Na’vi’s main source of revenue comes from a legalised casino. One snowy evening, a ragtag group of humans dressed in Santa outfits try to rob it. Ben Affleck has already been cast.

There are wonderful sequences in the film, particularly Jake “choosing” and learning to fly his banshee, and his first flight. But the real star of the show, the one we waited for (and some sat through most of the film for), is the battle that makes up for most of the final act. It’s epic in scale, with countless Na’vi warriors on banshees battling attack helicopters and huge bombers in the skies, while on the ground the Na’vi take on infantry and soldiers in robotech machines. I can confirm for all those concerned about his well-being, that our beloved Joel David Moore does indeed survive the battle, and is featured at the end. Interestingly the final showdown between Sully and Quaritch, neither are fighting mano-a-mano, but instead are both controlling very different forms of Avatars.

Avatar 13

One thing I will briefly point out is how great it is to have back a director that knows how to stage an action scene without cutting three times a second, or resorting to nausea inducing shaky cam. It’s  a welcome change.

I’m not going to sit here pretending that ‘Avatar’ is a perfect film. Far from it. But despite its flaws, it is damn entertaining. Certainly one of the most entertaining experiences I had at the cinema last decade. And it’s a big reminder of exactly what’s missing from the modern blockbuster. Fun. Goofy, unabashed, joyous fun.

 

You can find my original, day of release review here.

 

The list so far…

#9  – Requiem for a Dream (2001)

#10 – The Descent (2005)

#11 – Unbreakable (2000)

#12 – Best in Show (2000)

#13 – Open Range (2003)

#14 – The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

#15 – Bad Santa (2003)

#16 – The Hurt Locker (2009)

#17 – Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

#18 – Kingdom of Heaven (2005) Directors Cut

#19 – High Fidelity (2000)

#20 – Friday Night Lights (2004)

#21 – Frequency (2000)

Droid

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About Judge Droid

In between refining my procrastination skills I talk a lot of shit about movies and such.

65 responses to “Droid defines the Decades best films – #8 Avatar (2009)”

  1. Continentalop says :

    Still haven’t seen it.

  2. Droid says :

    Yeah, we’ve definitely talked this one to death lately.

  3. Tom_Bando says :

    Ditto. I liked it but don’t need to re-watch it any time soon. I will point out I own Big Robots II on DVD, so that certainly invalidates much of my current post(s). Oh well.

  4. Droid says :

    Your mom is a virgin, and I put my P in her V slot!

    That doesn’t make any sense! Which makes it even more accurate. You just needed to include a line saying…

    “I wub woo, wobodaddy!”

  5. koutchboom says :

    Damnit. I wanna see this again so badly but I can’t convince my wife to go again. It’s TOOOO long she says.

  6. Hawaiian Organ Donor says :

    There’s a perfectly good DVD quality screener up on the internets, Koutch.

    Good review Droid. I’ve seen this a few times now since watching it in the theater and it’s still a solid movie. Everyone was concerned it wouldn’t look good without 3D on the small screen, but I can safely say it looks just fine on a big screen TV.

    • Droid says :

      Yeah thats what I watched. Pretty decent quality.

    • just pillow talk says :

      Well that’s reassuring to hear.

      Until I see it within the comforts of my home, I can’t say where it’ll exactly place in say a “best of decade”.

      I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed the hell out of it at the theater.

  7. Toadkillerdog says :

    Very good review Droid. I agree completely with it.
    I found myself very pleasantly surprised with Avatar. I expected to be bored. I was not. Not for one second. I was not ‘immersed’ but then again, I don’t dress up in with a blue tail and speak na’vi at a bus stop either. But that did not stop me from enjoying it, and I really did not see any type of preaching. Yes, it was a very simple flick. Story has been done to death. But it was the visual and the pacing that made it work, not the dialogue or plot. I have to think hard about including it as a decade ten best, but it would definitely be in my decade top 20.

    I still do not like 3D, although it was not used so much in this flick, but it is a gimmick, and I hope it does soon – but a lot of people are gonna spend a lot of money on it before it does.

    BTW how do i get a screener on the internets?

  8. xiphos0311 says :

    I have removed the offending post droid so you don’t have to see it. I am sorry that I didn’t realize it was so offensive.

    • Droid says :

      I wasn’t offended. Just annoyed that you chose not to offer anything other than a dickish smart ass remark.

    • Hawaiian Organ Donor says :

      Removing remarks? Say it ain’t so. There’s a lot of movies that you and I don’t agree on sir (SPR, THL, this one) but that doesn’t mean that I still don’t value your opinion.

      I hope you’re doing OK. It sounds like you were recently injured. Godspeed on the recovery my friend.

    • just pillow talk says :

      Say wha? You got injured Xi?

      Fuck, hope you are doing well my friend…

  9. Toadkillerdog says :

    Droid, crack a brewski buddy, you know Xi was only kidding. We all have our pet hates with flicks that others on here enjoy. I was bored silly with CoM. Truly fell asleep watching it. But there are those who think it is great *shakes head walks away*

    • Droid says :

      I’m cool Toad. Although a brewski sounds delightful. I have no issue with Xi. I like Xi. Just that comment annoyed me.

    • Hawaiian Organ Donor says :

      Yup, I’m one of them. Love that movie. But hey, you and I agree on a lot of other stuff.

    • just pillow talk says :

      I love it too. I have some Flying dog amber ale at home Toad. C’mon over and we’ll watch it. 🙂

      • Toadkillerdog says :

        Dang Pillow, flying dog? I am there! I think if if have enough of the of good stuff, even CoM might be worthwhile – or i will just ass out, but i will be happy and ol rufus wont piss on me

  10. koutchboom says :

    I wanna know how Xi feels about the protrayal of in the future Maries will be used by corporations. Also their leader will give orders and speaches dressed as this guy:

  11. koutchboom says :

    Damnit, your review only makes me want to see it again. Damn, I’m feeling all depressed again for not being in Pandora.

  12. koutchboom says :

    Did anyone else notice that the Human avatar’s had more fingers and toes then actual Avatars?

    Also Sigorney is coming back for the sequel?

  13. Jarv says :

    I think you’re nuts. While I really enjoyed this, I wouldn’t have it top 10 of the decade.

    Well, it’s not my pick

  14. Jarv says :

    There are themes presented in the film that some people seem to have taken offense to. Namely, an environmental theme which promotes responsibility and respect for nature. It is developed as part of the story, and helps bring depth and meaning, as well as helping the audience sympathise with 10 foot blue aliens

    That would be fine if that’s what Cameron was doing. It isn’t. He’s promoting Gaia Theory claptrap- one of the worst psuedo-scientific pieces of bollocks ever.

    There’s one thing to believe that you are part of an environment and should therefore respect the environment, but entirely another thing to be “the planet is a lifeform in itself, and we’re like, fleas on it” which is what Avatar does.

    Nevertheless, I STILL Don’t care as it is pisstakingly entertaining and this is just one of the many ill thought out things in what I’m certain is the most expensive piece of schlock ever.

    • Droid says :

      But why do you give a shit if thats what he’s “promoting”?

      This is what I don’t get. People are getting themselves worked up over this kind of shit. “Cameron is rich and shouldn’t be telling me what to do. Waaah.” Who cares? It’s a fucking silly action scifi flick. I honestly don’t believe Cameron ever intended it to be taken as anything more.

      If I was Cameron, what I would do just to piss people off, is appear as the all knowing Eywa in the sequel.

      • Jarv says :

        I don’t personally give a shit about it- but I’m saying that Gaia theory as in this film is a lot more than “respect the environment”.

        I suspect that a lot of people don’t like being preached at, and Gaia theory is both preachy and also bullshit.

        As I said, it’s something that makes me laugh, so I don’t care- but Mrs. Jarv reacted violently to this aspect of Avatar.

      • Droid says :

        Mrs Jarv needs to chill out then. Reacting violently to Avatar is a substantial overreaction. Sure, roll your eyes at the Gaia theory if you dislike it, but it doesn’t exactly push it down your throat.

        As I said, I don’t get it.

        Anyhoo, I loved it obviously. It’s silly fun.

      • Jarv says :

        Oh, I don’t know about that- I would say it does push it hard- there’s all the shit about how humans “killed their mother” and suchlike.

        It’s just one of 5 things that set her off about Avatar:

        1) Latent Racism
        2) She hated the dialogue- especially the “I see you”
        3) Hippy Claptrap- this is as a result of being raised by hippies in SF
        4) Recycling from films she does like
        5) Cack handed Iraq analogies

        Normally she’s very chilled about films, but she’s stridently anti-Avatar and is making noises (that I’m going to completely ignore) about not having it in the flat.

        Me, I like this film, but I do get her point.

        Anyway, she likes Almodovar, so is in no position to talk about heavy handed preaching.

      • Droid says :

        See, after watching it the first time, I would’ve agreed on the recycling stuff, but after the second viewing, I’m less inclined to agree. I think it’s more that it’s just familiar designs, because honestly, unless you design a helicopter in the shape of a slinky, or one of those robotech machines in the shape of a tennis racquet, then you are ALWAYS going to find something comparable.

        Did Mrs Jarv see District 9? Did she have any issue with the latent racism of comparing hideously ugly, clicking aliens with africans? Or the “familiar” robotech machine? Or the “familiar” spaceships?

        Essentially, I think what you bring to Avatar directly results in what you take away. Number 3 being a case in point.

      • Jarv says :

        SHe hasn’t seen District 9.

        I suspect though, that it will bother her less.

        That’s totally true that what you take from a film is what you take in- how many times have you seen something in a foul mood and proclaimed it to be bollocks, before seeing it elsewhere and thinking it was good?

      • Jarv says :

        PS- I would love to see a film with Slinkycopter in it.

      • Droid says :

        That “killed their mother” bit is him explaining the humans intention in language she will understand because that is her belief.

        I’m not sure that she’d understand if he said that humans destroyed their planet by abusing the environment, overpopulation, exhausting all its resources and emissions that destroyed it’s ozone layer… blah blah blah…

      • Jarv says :

        I know the narrative reason for the line, but it’s a touch unsubtle- surely- especially if you’ve established gaia as one of your themes (which he had by then).

        Aaaaargh.

        Why am I arguing against Avatar? I usually dismiss this stuff as “irrelevant”.

      • Droid says :

        That’s why I tend to give some flicks a second chance. Not exactly the same, but I saw Goldeneye at a cinema that had just opened. And they had the sound up so loud that I came out with a stonking headache. So I hated the film. Then I watched it a year or two later on VHS and really loved it. So it was definitely circumstances that effected my opinion.

        I’m sure there are other flicks like that. Just thats the one that popped in to my head.

      • Droid says :

        There’s not much that IS subtle in Avatar.

        But lets just end this discussion, as we are both in overall agreeance.

  15. Jarv says :

    Agreed.

    I stand by my original comment. Avatar is lazy, dumb as a sack of rocks, patronising, rips things off all over the place, racist etc

    and I don’t care. It’s ridiculously entertaining, but I reserve final judgement until I see it on a small screen.

  16. Droid says :

    The review of #7 is currently sitting there staring at me. In it’s current form it’s a rambling mess without anything resembling structure.

    I’m considering just posting these ramblings as is anyway.

    • Jarv says :

      Fuck it, why not?

      At the very least it’ll be good for a laugh and if it stops bed blocking then you may be able to get going again.

      Or alternatively, limit yourself to 1000 words, throw it out, and write it again from scratch- I’ve had to do that before and it does work.

      • Droid says :

        Well I can’t be fucked rewriting it. I think I’ll just work on it a bit tonight and post what I’ve got in the morning.

  17. koutchboom says :

    That’s why I tend to give some flicks a second chance.

    Thats why i tend to give some films just one chance. Like Gamer I sat down watched it and enjoyed it for what it is, though thinking about it I realized how dumb it was but I still enjoyed it. I don’t think I would enjoy it a second time, so once is good enough I’d rather it be in my memory as enjoying the film then not.

    Also I worry about that alot from watching a movie in theaters to watching it at home. Like I’ll leave the theater all jazzed then rent it 4 months later and question what the fuck I saw in the movie the first time.

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