Posted December 22, 2009 by William Dunmyer in Uncategorized

Avatar: Imaginative Concept, Spectacular Visuals, Thin Story

“Avatar” is a futuristic feast for the eyes that envisions a magical faraway world. But the film, from “Titanic” director James Cameron, has a documentary tone too often, feeling like an episode of PBS’s “Nova” series. The story is also so simple and formulaic that it’s hard to get excited when the drama finally heats up. Excessive length (2 hours and 40 mins) doesn’t help either.

But there’s still an enchanting quality to “Avatar,” making it impossible not to recommend it. And the heartfelt warning about the need to protect Earth’s last rainforests is stirring and urgent, if a bit overly obvious.

Sam Worthington, a relatively unknown Australian actor, plays a macho Marine caught up in a special mission to a distant planet called Pandora (great name), where humanoid creatures called Na’vi have begun interacting with Earthlings, some even learning English. A fascinating technology, the details of which I won’t reveal, allows Worthington and a few other Earthlings to become Na’vi and explore Pandora from their perspective. Sigourney Weaver (from Cameron’s “Aliens” film) is refreshingly cantankerous as the lead scientist on the mission. Worthington’s love interest, a Na’vi princess, is played wonderfully by Zoe Saldana.

The central drama concerns a businessman (Giovanni Ribisi) struggling to extract minerals from Pandora and paying a platoon of Marines to assist him. Worthington gets caught between the scientists who love Pandora and the businessman who sees the planet as a resource to be plundered and its inhabitants worthless savages. You can already see the simplistic good-guys-versus-bad-guys structure to the story. The interesting question is which side Worthington’s character is going to take.

I wish Cameron had dug deeper into Worthington’s dilemma. The film would have been immeasurably deepened by getting into his head more. Cameron is so busy exploring the flora and fauna of Pandora that he forgets that movies are about people. But it shouldn’t be too surprising, as Cameron has never been a first-rate filmmaker. I’d call him a very good second-rate filmmaker, and “Avatar” is a very good second-rate film.

William Dunmyer

William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.