With the recent theatrical re-release of the 2009 blockbuster Avatar I felt it appropriate to revisit the film in time for its upcoming sequel. Thirteen years have passed since the film first wowed audiences, becoming the highest grossing film of all time. But do all those ground breaking special effects and atmosphere still hold up? Or were we all just so blown away that we never fully analyzed the film?
First things first, yes, this film does take inspiration from different sources. Many reference Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, The Last Samurai, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and even FernGully as sources of inspiration. But the thing is that the story that Avatar and even those other films isn’t new. It’s how you tell that story that matters.
So does the story stand out? Kind of. We see out main hero Jake (Played by: Sam Worthington) is a former soldier hired to become an ‘Avatar’ to learn about the native people of Pandora, the Na’vi. The ‘company’ wants to mine a special element that is only available on Pandora. Jake meets the princess Neytiri (Played by: Zoe Saldana) and learns about the world from her perspective. He later falls in love with Neytiri and decides to switch sides. Jake fights back the invading humans and becomes the new leader of the Na’vi.
Some people like to categorize this as a “white savior” story similar to Dances with Wolves and The Last Samurai. But instead of just saving the native people Jake saves the planet as the ecosystem is all connected via an electrical system similar to the human brain. Think ‘The Force’ mixed with the crystal from Atlantis. It adds an additional layer of environmentalism you don’t really see in those other films.
The film’s biggest draw is of course its world. Pandora is a visually stunning environment that has an entire fleshed out ecosystem. It feels so alive that Disney made it a section of their Animal Kingdom theme park. The plants, animals and peoples really stand out when compared to other science fiction franchises.
However the film does have its issues. The nearly 3 hour runtime does work against it. Some of the characters feel flat and one dimensional and Jake’s narrations and exposition does take away from the experience. You feel like you’re watching a documentary sometimes.
But does that make Avatar a bad film? No. In all honesty I feel that Avatar is an above average science fiction film. Is it a masterpiece? Not really. But it is one of those films you should watch at least once in your life. It provides a unique world and experience that has yet to be duplicated. Disney tried to duplicate it with 2012’s John Carter, and look at what happened there.
If you have the chance, go see the re-release on the big screen in 3D to get the full experience. That way of you do see the upcoming sequel you’ll have it fresh in your minds.
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