DVD Review: Avatar
Release Date: April 22, 2010
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
· James Cameron
· Sam Worthington
· Zoe Saldana
· Sigourney Weaver
· Stephen Lang
· Michelle Rodriguez
· IMDb: Avatar
by R.J. Carter
Published: April 26, 2010
There's a whole lot to like in James Cameron's "Avatar." That much should be patently obvious just from the gorgeous trailers and the mega-millions reported by the box office take. However, if you're not too dazzled by the brilliant CGI animation, there's a lot to be irked at here as well, for what's pretty much a $300 million production of "Fern Gully."
Yes, "Avatar" (or "Avatarzan" as I eventually came to call it after so many tree-to-tree leaping scenes set to rhythmic drumming) decidedly has a green agenda in mind. And I don't really have a problem with that, if the plot is done well. But in this instance we have a military industrial complex that's a badly envisioned parody in pursuit of a rare mineral the writers literally named "unobtainium." Really? Really? Unobtainium was the best you could come up with?
Now, I get the concept of ecosystems. I took your basic biology classes. And while I roll my eyes at the whole macrosystem notion of Gaia, much as the greedy industrialists do on Pandora, at least within the logic of "Avatar" the planetwide intelligence is scientifically proven. (Ah, Pandora, where every living creature comes with its own built-in USB 2.0 port.) So it's not a half-baked quasi-religious notion to prevent the strip-mining of places sacred to the 7-foot tall blue-skinned natives who live in harmony with all creatures on their planet (even the ones they hunt and kill). Can you say "unsubtle Native American parallel?" I know you can.
Putting all that aside -- and once noticed, that's quite a bit of side baggage -- "Avatar" is a senses-staggering motion picture of color and action, populated by alien flora and fauna. It is into this world that Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) finds himself thrown when he serves as the replacement for his deceased twin brother, who was slated to drive one of the avatars on Pandora. An avatar is a genetically grown body that will accept the mental commands of a human, but is in all other ways the same as that of a Pandoran native. They provide the means to approach the natives on their own terms and set up diplomatic and humanitarian missions -- but when Jake, a Marine, takes on the duty, it opens the door for the military to get a man inside who can report to them on the lay of the land. And for paraplegic Jake, the avatar program gives him an opportunity to walk again -- both in the avatar body, but also with the promise that, upon successful completion of his mission, the military will pay for the operation to restore the use of his limbs.
Naturally, the closer Jake gets to the natives -- particularly the comely Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldana -- he begins to come around to a new way of thinking. He not only leads the charge against the human intruders, but is actually selected by the planet (not the population, the planet itself) as a messianic figure.
Sigourney Weaver stars as Grace, the head botanist in charge of the peaceful mission to work with the natives, and Stephen Lang does his best to make the unbelievably unlikable Colonel Quaritch believable (if still unlikable). The best performance goes to Michelle Rodriguez as a pilot who chooses to think for herself after observing both sides of the issue.
This DVD release, while prettily packaged, is as bare-bones as they come. Not only are there no special features -- no "making-of" segments, no film commentary, not an electronic sausage -- there aren't even any preview trailers. Consider yourself lucky that you can set up subtitles in French and Spanish.
"Avatar." Pretty to look at. Hard to hold on to.