• PG-13, 2h 42m

Movie Review: Avatar (2009) rerelease

by Jason F. Koenigsberg

It has been thirteen years since the world witnessed the 3D motion capture record breaking spectacle that became an international phenomenon which was James Cameron’s Avatar. At the time it replaced James Cameron’s own film Titanic (1997) as the highest grossing movie of all time. Crazy to imagine that for a while James Cameron directed the two highest grossing movies ever made. Well all these years later a sequel is coming out this December and the original has been released back in theaters this weekend. I recall Avatar being one of the seminal movie experiences of my lifetime back when it first premiered and obviously a lot of other people agreed at the time considering its dominance at the box office and the numerous Academy Awards and nominations it received. But even back then it had its detractors and the trailers seemed to indicate what many of its haters would go on to state, that Avatar was nothing more than Fergully on steroids. Or Dances with Wolves on steroids, or Pocahontas on steroids. Take your pick but Avatar is basically any of those movies involving a strong military power taking over and decimating an indigenous population that does not have their weapons or technology but has a strong belief in nature and protecting their natural resources. This story against the evils of colonialism and imperialism have been told before but obviously never with the state of the art cutting edge special effects that were displayed in Avatar.

But does that make this film worth revisiting? In my humble opinion the only way to properly see Avatar is in 3D I-Max, or at the very least on the biggest screen possible. Regardless of how amazing your HD TV and your surround sound system may be (trust me, I have a pretty good one myself) they cannot do justice to Avatar. I remember watching this about a year after it was in cinemas on HBO and being incredibly disappointed. The experience factor was gone and I was left with an overlong bloated version of Ferngully, or any of those movies mentioned above. Sure, you can catch up on Avatar for the sequel by streaming it on Disney Plus as we speak but that will not do this film justice. After re-watching it again on the big screen, it was once again a cinematic experience. Not the unforgettable one I had when it first premiered but after thirteen years the special effects still hold up and are more memorable than a lot of the ones in recent blockbusters. This raised the bar set by Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and honestly no other movie has come close to the grand scale of Avatar. So yes, this is worth paying top dollar to see in the theater.

There are other elements to Avatar that may or may not hold up. The story is still the same and the themes are universal. It has a liberal bias since it supports the scientists that are hoping to discover and use new resources to benefit all living creatures and preserve nature going up against big corporations out to steal resources for profit and merciless military machines with no other intention but to destroy all life. Gung ho jingoism is bad, saving nature is good and the message of climate change is more relevant today than it was in 2009. The cinematography is glorious and Avatar remains basically the only movie since it re-started the 3D craze that was basically worth the up-charge for the cheap glasses to come with a feature presentation. The groundbreaking special effects that were invented for Avatar hold up and remain the standard even though they have been used in many big budget extravaganzas since to varying degrees of success. The real conundrum with Avatar is with the actors. James Cameron’s other biggest movie of all time Titanic boosted the careers of its stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet to not only the top of the A-list, but two of the best actors of their generation and two of the most successful and profitable thespians of all time who now, after years of being nominated, can place ‘Academy Award Winner’ before their name on every poster and trailer they are featured in. The actors since Avatar sadly cannot say the same thing since 2009. Sam Worthington has starred in a few bombs and despite being in one of the biggest movie of all time he is not a household name. Reason why is probably because his character is boring, the main development scenes were cut and he is in blue motion capture for over half of the movie. Zoe Saldana is probably the biggest name to come out of Avatar and has since made truckloads of money starring in Guardians of the Galaxy for the MCU and as Uhura in the new Star Trek movies. Even though Zoe Saldana has starred in some massively successful movies, and is gorgeous I am willing to bet she benefits from more anonymity than other beautiful actresses since she is blue for all of her scenes in Avatar and has green skin for all of her Marvel movies. I guess good for her, but if she wanted a similar path of fame and success as Kate Winslet had after Titanic, well she did not garner the same credibility but her bank account is probably just fine. Sigourney Weaver was an established name prior and Avatar did not hurt or help her career. Maybe the only actor to receive a career boost after starring in Avatar was Stephen Lang as the ruthless general who seemed to get a few more high profile roles especially as a the blind victim of a home invasion in the outstanding horror film Don’t Breathe (2016). In my humble opinion the performances of Saldana, Weaver, and Lang are extraordinary especially Saldana considering how much emotion she was able to convey under a then new technology.

Hard to believe that after thirteen years the legacy of Avatar is still to be determined. There was a short moment in time where it felt like a big deal and for a few years it was the highest grossing movie of all time. Then for a while it was sort of forgotten and seemed to be disregarded as a film that worked solely because of its groundbreaking special effects. Now we have a sequel finally coming out this December and that may impact its place in history more than its actual initial performance did. Plus there are four other sequels in the works that are due the following few years. Avatar came out at a time when it was one of the last years when the highest grossing film could be based on an original idea and not a well known valuable property. In the decade plus since Avatar all the highest grossing movies of the year have basically been remakes, reboots, or sequels, or at least based on something that everybody knows and the studio can easily market to the masses. Heck, even James Cameron’s Titanic was technically a remake since it was not the first movie based on the ships doomed voyage. So that is commendable he was able to get a studio to give him hundreds of millions of dollars for new technology and years of pre and post production to create his unique vision. Now his vision has been established and Avatar is a billion dollar property that is easy to sell. It created a phenomenon and it is highly unlikely that an original idea could capture the cultural zeitgeist and be as profitable as Avatar in the near future.

Bottom line if you have never seen Avatar you should see it on the big screen in 3D. If you have only seen it at home, you should still pay the money and see it in theaters for an experience that will transport you in a way few other movies can. If you love Avatar I understand why after walking out of the cinemas, there are few movies that can enchant an audience the way that film does. But if you hate Avatar and think it is overrated I completely understand because when you take away all the special effects and strip it down, you basically have a 3 hour version of Ferngully and nobody should have to sit through anything that bloated.

Here is the trailer for the sequel coming out in December.


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