Writer/director/producer James Cameron must take all the blame for this.


An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            Wow – what an ordeal. Let’s start at the beginning – good news first. For roughly a third of the endless length of “Avatar,” we are bewitched by the world brought to us through 3-D glasses. Leaves sail nearly into our hands, arrows fly toward us, characters float in the space over the audience. The screen is alive with brilliant jungle colors and delicate combinations of birds, bats, and dinosaurs. All this earns the movie an Oscar nomination for special effects and audience pleasure; but before this turns into a blockbuster bandwagon, consider the downside.

            We are in the faraway land of Pandora. Our own planet has achieved the technological capacity to conquer foreign worlds. We can now take what we want when we want it. And so we send to Pandora a force of combat trained marines to secure access to an essential energy ore with the appropriate name of unobtainium. The stage is set for a clash of cultures.

            We have heroes: Jake (Sam Worthington) and Grace (Sigourney Weaver); and we have villains: marine Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang). The colonel quickly becomes the ugly avatar of colonialism. As Jake immerses himself in the culture, the colonel tries to extinguish it.

            From this point forward, the movie is soaked in cliché and caricature, and the man who must take all the blame for this is writer/director/producer James Cameron.

            Mr. Cameron immediately gives Jake an indigenous lover, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). He also writes lines like: "We'll fix you up, Come to Papa, You're mine, and Brother, do you read me?" Every one of these slangy lines punctures the mood of the fantasy. Sam Worthington's Jake speaks with all the enthusiasm of a teenager spitting out a gum ball. Once again we watch a culture thriving in peaceful beauty as it becomes a violent inferno, crushed by American weaponry. In response, Jake leads the population in an insurgency against the invading American aliens.

            The final love scene between Jake and Neytiri could only have sprung from the imagination of the same man who put Leonard diCaprio and Kate Winslet on the bowsprit of the Titanic. Tied together with tears rolling gently down their cheeks, they represent Cameron's addiction to the obvious. His flying dinobirds and delicately elongated avatars succeed wonderfully, but not one character is developed into a person we can care about. Unfortunately, neither the wonder of the forest nor the magic of 3D is enough to balance the emptiness of the people and the script. But, as Jake says with wooden precision, "It was worth a try."

            Among the potentially interesting bits is a communication system that exists among the roots of sacred trees. Inhabitants of this world have long tails that sport USB plugs at their tips. With a swish of the USB tail, they can plug into the sacred communication channels that connect them with their ancestors. My final, indelible thought was “Boy, am I glad I don't have one of those."


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