2009 / Best Director / Best Picture

Film #468: Avatar (2009)

One of the reasons that the Best Picture nominees increased from five to ten in 2010 was so that the films that most people went to see would be included in the list. There had been outcry in the latter half of the noughties when some of the more well-regarded blockbusters had been disregarded for fare such as The Reader and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Indeed, the big-budget blockbuster had rarely featured in the Best Picture category since the likes of Jaws, Star Wars and E.T. In fact the only blockbusters that featured in the last twenty years either were period epics such as Titanic or literary adaptations like the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That all changed though when a sci-fi blockbuster not only broke through into the Best Picture category but also brought back a new craze for 3-D films.

Although the reintroduction of 3-D started in 2009 it was only when James Cameron brought Avatar to the screen that it became a requisite format for all massive blockbusters to be screened in. We last met James Cameron back in the 1990s when he directed the massive Best Picture winner Titanic and also picked up Best Director along the way. Avatar was set on a similarly epic scale albeit one that had no basis in history primarily as it was set in the future. Writing the plot down for Avatar feels a little silly as it involves a planet called Pandora and the mining of a precious energy source known as unobtanium. The only problem is that Pandora is ruled by huge Smurf-like creatures called the Na’vi who don’t want the humans encroaching on their lands due to their magic trees or some such nonsense. Our hero of sorts is paraplegic marine Jake Sully who is portrayed as an idiot from the get-go and has been recruited based on the fact that he has the same genetic make-up as his deceased scientist brother. Jake, along with several other scientists, are transported into the bodies of Avatars which look exactly like the Na’vi. Throughout the course of the film the Na’vi take Jake to their bossum although I’m not quite sure why as he seems like a complete dullard. Eventually falling for one of the Na’vi women, Jake changes sides and ends up fighting alongside the blue folk against his former allies. The final battle scenes, which seem to go on forever see Jake go up against the pantomime villain of the piece Colonel Quartich with the result seeing him become a Na’vi for good. Whilst I’m sure Cameron knew what the film was about to me it was Dances with Wolves in space with big blue creatures taking the place of the Native Americans.

I went to see Avatar twice at the cinema, once to satisfy my own curiosity and again when my friend wanted to see the 3-D version. Suffice to say there was very little difference for me and I don’t think the 3-D really enhanced my viewing experience, a comment I can replicate for every 3D film I’ve seen. On the plus side there’s no denying that Cameron has an epic vision, creating his own world in the form on Pandora and populating it with his own unique creations. The film’s wins in the Art Direction, Cinematography and Visual Effects categories were all more than justified as these were definitely the film’s greatest qualities. On the downside, I feel that Cameron’s storytelling ability is possibly at its worse here with Avatar feeling even more bloated than Titanic. Even though he should be applauded for his unique vision I don’t think it quite translates into the storytelling and at times I was fairly bored. Indeed there were whole sequences where Jake and the other Na’vi were chasing creatures round Pandora which looked like they were just there to justify the 3-D enhancements. As the plot itself is quite convoluted, Cameron has had to insert a bunch of exposition with Jake having to explain the story through way of his video logs. The performances weren’t too much better with the wooden Sam Worthington being the wrong choice to lead an epic film such as Avatar. Worthington showed me nothing of worth and as a result never made his character feel particularly endearing. Similarly Stephen Lang as the ludicrous Quartich, yelled all of his lines and Giovanni Ribisi was phoning it in as the evil businessman. Only Sigourney Weaver, as experienced scientist Grace, gave a memorable turn and she at least made you sympathise when her character passed away from her gunshot wounds. Ultimately, Avatar is a feast for the eyes but a let-down for all the other senses and I’m so glad that The Hurt Locker triumphed over this Box Office behemoth which I feel is one of the most overrated films of the last decade.


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