Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.



Review by Patrick Hodges

Let me say this right up front:  Avatar is the single most beautiful, the single most visually stunning movie I have ever seen.  Watching the breathtaking landscapes of an alien world unfold before me – in 3-D, no less – in all of its primal and savage glory was truly mesmerizing.  From the exotic alien plants to the no less exotic menagerie of otherworldly creatures that we were introduced to, the fruits of the last ten years of James Cameron’s labors are now there for the world to stand agape to.  Leaving the theater, I had that same sense of awe that I did back in 1977 when, as a mere lad of seven, I experienced the technological (and pre-CGI) masterwork that was the original Star Wars.

And if I were still that seven-year-old lad, I’m sure I would consider Avatar to be the greatest movie ever made.  But sadly, I’m not, and it takes more than visual wizardry to totally captivate me now.  In order to do that, it has to be a totally engaging story, with terrific characters and a satisfying beginning, middle and end.

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) plays a former marine in the far-off future, who is now confined to a wheelchair after sustaining an injury during combat.  He is recruited to take the place of his dead brother for a very important mission on the world of Pandora, a mission that involves temporarily transferring his consciousness to a half-human, half-alien hybrid body called (natch) an “avatar”.  Of course, doing this also restores his ability to walk, so he jumps at the chance.

The aliens in question, a race of ten-foot-fall, blue-skinned hunter-gatherers called the Na’vi, are currently living on top of a huge deposit of a very valuable mineral, a mineral vital to sustain the human population.  But the natives are not giving up their land easily, and you can pretty much guess the entire plot after the first thirty minutes.  Namely, Jake visits, and is eventually initiated into, the Na’vi, and he learns their ways and their language, eventually falling for a woman named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), and then begins to realize that the cost of human “progress” is way too high.

Leading the big, bad, human military machine is warmonger Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who is exactly as nasty as you might expect.  He wants the natives removed or eliminated, period.  And it all leads up to the epic battle sequence that you just know is coming.

Never mind that the story parallels almost exactly that of the Academy Award-winning 1990 film Dances With Wolves; the fact of the matter is, James Cameron, in creating this visual masterpiece, and with it an entire mythos of an alien culture – no mean feat, that – has created a core story that is almost completely unoriginal.  And that is what keeps Avatar from being the truly outstanding film that it should be.

Don’t get me wrong, this movie should and probably will win every single technical award there is.  But it is not the best film of all time.  It’s not even among the best movies of the year.  For me, it was like going to a five-star restaurant and spending two-and-a-half hours eating from nothing but the dessert cart.  It was delicious, of course, and it filled me up, but I still left with the feeling that I had somehow missed out on a truly amazing meal.

4 / 5 stars


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