Cinematic Flashback: Avatar (2009) Review
The Sky People have sent us a message…. that they can take whatever they want. That no one can stop them. Well, we will send them a message. You ride out as fast as the wind can carry you. You tell the other clans to come. Them Toruk Macto calls to them! You fly now, with me! My brothers! Sisters! And we will show the Sky People…. that they cannot take whatever they want! And that this…. this is our land!” as Jason’s Movie Blog takes a trip back to the world of Pandora for the latest “cinematic flashback” of the sci-fi adventure blockbuster of 2009 Avatar.
“Enter the World”
Director: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, and Sigourney Weaver
Run Time: 162 Minutes
Release Date: December 18th, 2009
In the distant future, when his brother is killed in a robbery, paraplegic Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) decides to take his place in a mission on the distant world of Pandora. There he learns of greedy corporate figurehead Parker Selfridge’s (Giovanni Ribisi) intentions of driving off the native humanoid “Na’vi” in order to mine for the precious material scattered throughout their rich woodland. In exchange for the spinal surgery that will fix his legs, Jake gathers knowledge, of the indigenous Na’vi race and their culture, for the cooperating military unit spearheaded by gung-ho Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), while simultaneously attempting to infiltrate the Na’vi people with the use of an “avatar” identity, with the help of hopeful scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver). While Jake begins to bond with the native tribe and quickly falls in love with the beautiful alien Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) , the restless Colonel moves forward with his ruthless extermination tactics, forcing the soldier to take a stand – and fight back in an epic battle for the fate of Pandora.
It’s been a while since I did a “cinematic flashback” review for my blog and, with the upcoming release of 2022’s Avatar: The Way of Water that is soon to be released, I decided to revisit the mega blockbuster feature from 2009 and give my personal “flashback” thoughts on what the film. Of course, I remember when this movie was released back then and how everyone was talking about it. It was being heavily promoted everywhere, with the film’s marketing being presented in all media outlets for several months. Thus, the movie was clearly being toted as a big blockbuster film to close out the 2009 year, which got a lot of attention for it as well as the hyped up the movie altogether. Thus, with such build up to it, maybe began to doubt the sci-fi project, including myself. Still, I was very much eager to see it and did see it a day or two after it was released in theaters on December 18th, 2009. Well, I can definitely say that I loved it when I first saw it and saw it multiple times during its theatrical run through. It was definitely mind blowing in its visual and its endearing legacy throughout the year has indeed been noteworthy. So, let’s dive into what I thought about Avatar.
Director James Cameron helmed this particular ambitious project and had the idea for the feature for quite some time…. dating all the way back almost a decade prior to Avatar being released in 2009. Such a “passion project” for the director and allowing cinematic technology to play “catch up” with his vision for the film. The result is something that really does work, with Cameron immersing viewers into a very vivid and well-thought-out endeavor that is filled with blazing action, dazzling, imagery, and a feature film that use simply get lost into. Interestingly, the movie is not completely vamped as a blockbuster, with a barrage of action and spectacle, yet both are clearly represented heavily in this movie. There’s a lot to unpack in this movie (there’s no doubt about that), but Cameron does some terrific world building and make the alien world of Pandora feel authentic and the native race of the Na’vi. There’s also strong thematic representation of powerful messages, including colonialism and nature, which are clearly drawn out in the feature’s plot. This also includes in the film’s action, with humans “sky people” fighting against the Na’vi and the nature of Pandora, which makes for several rousing climatic points throughout the feature. The action is also pretty good with very large-scale moments of fighting and intense sequences of pitting good guys vs. bad guys. It all definitely works, with Cameron detailing and staging such events in a coordinated move that makes Avatar come together as a whole.
For its visual representation, Avatar is mind-blowing! Even if one holds it by today’s standards of blockbuster cinematics, the movie still holds up against the line-up of today’s releases, which is kind of really good thing. While the story may be lacking in a few areas, the visual definitely elevate those moments, with Cameron envisioned such a vibrant world within the Pandora. The movie captures an alien world that feels alive with all the alien-like flora and fauna as well as the various creatures that dwell therein. It’s dazzling feast for the eyes to see and helps captures the overall cinematic experience with such incredible detail of CGI wizardry. Even smaller, quieter moments are beautifully rendered with such color and vibrancy that it really makes the background layout in the movie speaks for itself as a character itself. Thus, I can’t stress enough how mind-blowing amazing the visual were back then for the feature and, while visual effect technology as expanded more in-depth since 2009, there is no doubting that Avatar definitely played a role in the industry’s standards for VFX flourishes in many high-quality blockbuster endeavors. Even the cinematography work for the, which was done by Mauro Fiore, looks amazing to look and helps build upon this visual cinematics with dramatic flair. Lastly, the film’s score by James Horner is top-notch and creates terrific and harmonic soundtrack composition for Avatar, with some beautiful and sweeping orchestral pieces that truly done define the picture.
Of course, the movie isn’t without its flaws and, while there a lot of positives that make the feature quite the enjoyable spectacle, there are some minor points of criticisms that I had with the film. First off, the movie is way too long. I do like a good long movie, especially one has plenty of blockbuster visual action and imagery, yet Avatar runs quite longer than it should be, clocking in at around 162 minutes (two hours and forty-two minutes) in length. I personally that the movie could’ve easily shaved off ten or maybe even fifteen minutes (several scenes here and there could’ve been cut) and still come away with the same type of impactful storytelling and visual presentation left intact. This also plays a part in the overall narrative structure of the movie, with the commonplace ideas of both Ferngully: The Last Rainforest and Dance with Wolves being heavily echoed a bit too much as well as the typical “White Savior” archetype. Of course, those are present in the movie and could’ve been handled in a better way, with more attention to detail to the feature’s narrative, which ends up being the some of the weaker elements in Avatar. In conjunction with that notion, the movie does have a few moments where the dialogue is rather wooden and / or clunky. It’s not a dealbreaker for me, but there are noticeable throughout the movie.
The cast in Avatar was solid across the board and, while the dialogue moments can be quite broad as well as the character themselves, the acting talent involved on this sci-fi project truly did shine and make their respective roles memorable from start to finish. Leading the charge in the movie are the movie’s two main protagonists’ characters in Jake Sully and Neytiri, who are played by actor Sam Worthington and actress Zoe Saldana. While both talents have had experience acting, both Worthington and Saldana made their mark on the blockbuster screening earlier in 2009, with the former appearing in the lead role in Terminator: Salvation and the latter appearing in alternative reboot Star Trek franchise. So, when appearing in Avatar, audiences were somewhat familiar with these two acting talents, who were willing and capable of handling the lead roles in a blockbuster movie. Each one sells their respective characters in the feature, with Worthington perfectly capturing the likeable (yet sometime jaded) military “jarhead” man, who is conflicted about doing what is easy and what is right, while Saldana beautifully showcases the various facades that Neytiri has, who cares about her people, a fierce warrior, and doesn’t completely trust Jake, yet let’s her guard down as the story progresses.
Other importance characters roles in such as Miles Quaritch and Dr. Grace Augustine, who are played by actor Stephen Lang and actress Sigourney Weaver, give great nuances into their roles in the feature. Of course, both are little bit conventional for the sci-fi genre, with one being the hothead “gung-ho” military leader and the other being the seasoned (yet a tad cynical) scientist, but Lang and Weaver understand that and make their “large-than-life” characters fun, interesting, and memorable on the picture. The rest of the cast, including Michelle Rodriguez, Dileep Rao, Giovanni Ribisi, Wed Studi, and CCH Pounder, give solid performance in their respective roles as supporting characters (both human and Na’vi) in the movie.
The legacy of Avatar has endured over the years, with the large emphasis being placed on visual effects and demonstrating what modern filmmaking endeavors could achieve, which paved the way for more the so-called “golden age” of superhero movies throughout the entire 2010s era as well as other large-scale tentpoles motion pictures. Avatar itself has become a cultural phenomenon, with references being made to it from a wide variety of pop-culture outlets as well as becoming a sort of “cult classic” for some, with many praising the feature for cinematic influences. Of course, the box office results for the film speak for themselves, with the movie $2, 923 billion globally, becoming the highest grossing feature film of all date; a record that is held to this date. In addition, Avatar ushered the revitalization of the usage of 3D in movies as well as the manufacturing of 3D TVs, which now has become mostly obsolete.
Since the success of Avatar, a sequel (or rather sequels) has always been a planned notion from Cameron, but, much like the time he took to get the 2009 movie up and running, those future installments were delayed for more than a decade, with many even wondering if the possible next Avatar features will ever be made, especially since the cast (and crew) have gone to work on other endeavors. Luckily, the idea of the sequels has endured these past years, with the potential next entries being mapped out by Cameron and his team, with 2022 finally seeing the release of Avatar: The Way of Water, the follow-up adventure to 2009’s Avatar.
In the end, Avatar stands tall and proud for its achievements in cinematic storytelling. The plot may be a little bit recycled, but the rest of the feature makes up for its in spades. From its incredible visual effects, highly detailed world building world of vivid depictions of Pandora (and of the Na’vi culture), the popcorn entertainment action, and the solid acting across the board, James Cameron’s sci-fi epic is a testament to the power of moviemaking. To this day, the movie holds his its own and reclaims a fine example of a blockbuster viewing experience.
Cinematic Flashback Score: 4.5 Out of 5
FUN FACT: The Na’vi language was created entirely from scratch by linguist Dr. Paul R. Frommer. James Cameron hired him to construct a language that would be easy for actors to pronounce but would not resemble any human language. Frommer created roughly 1,000 words of the Na’vi language for the film.