Making the Grades
Beating his own box office record for Titanic might be Director James Cameron’s biggest challenge with his latest film. His 1997 blockbuster made a tidal wave of money and still stands as the top-grossing movie to date. Yet, with Avatar’s budget rumored to be between $250 and $300 million, Cameron certainly hasn’t spared any expense in trying to maintain his title as the self-proclaimed King of the World.
To further ensure the success of this endeavor, the director has been hands-on in creating the exquisite details of the futuristic planet Pandora where the gentle Na’vi people live. The spectacular, spellbinding visuals and 3D effects solidify Cameron’s role as a master of the art of eye candy. He also sets an unprecedented standard for the film industry.
Yet all this focus on impressive images comes at a cost—namely the storyline.
The script is as common as last week’s leftovers and riddled with over-the-top, stereotypical depictions of military personnel that can’t do much more than grunt and fire. Among this force is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a war vet who lost the use of his legs during battle. After the death of his brother however, he is called into service at a scientific laboratory on Pandora. Hoping to connect with the local inhabitants, the research group, headed up by the cigarette smoking Dr. Grace Agustine (Sigourney Weaver), is growing their own avatars: living creatures created from human and Na’vi DNA, which are controlled by means of brain waves.
Experiencing the use of his legs again during his first mind link proves to be a heady event for the paraplegic. But Jake isn’t the only one interested in his newfound mobility. Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) heads up the security forces for capitalist Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), the leader of a mining operation on the planet. More concerned about a bad quarterly report than the survival of the indigenous population, Parker is eager to move the Na’vi tribe from their spot atop the planet’s richest deposit of a highly sought after mineral. The Colonel is more than willing to oblige with the relocation efforts and is happy to do it by force. Nevertheless, after some pointed persuasion, he agrees to give Jake and his avatar three months to negotiate a more civilized move.
During his attempt to integrate with the Na’vis, Jake meets Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), a blue-skinned princess that sports traditional tribal clothing (meaning a loin cloth with a g-string and a carefully placed necklace that usually covers her female body parts). To say Jake is not immediately embraced the alien community is an understatement. (Some intimate embracing does occur later during a mating ceremony though.) It appears these forest people are a little leery of the sky people and rightly so. Yet given the depth and complexity of the plot, it doesn’t take much to predict that Jake will change his attitude about spying on the Na’vi before the Colonel’s time limit is over—necessitating of course, a huge battle scene with lots of opportunity for more visual effects.
While Cameron should be applauded for his advancement of the audience’s visual experiences, it is too bad he failed to give the same attention to his characters and story development.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Avatar.
How might Cameron’s talent for visually engaging filmmaking contribute to his lack of script development?
Why do people often use the term "savages" to dehumanize another race or group of individuals? Is there any humane way to conduct war?
Cameron’s film appears to attack the ills of capitalism, military invasions and the destruction of the environment. However, what impact does moviemaking itself have on these issues? Does the director’s supposed desire to make money support an anti-capitalist theme? What kind of environmental damage is created during a film’s production? What about the huge amounts of garbage produced in theaters? Does this film glorify violence while appearing to call it down?