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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was to write something inspired by a dream’s imagery. Since I don’t remember most of my dreams, I incorporated a more general theme of dreaming that tied in with today’s movie.)

My eyelids are a diving board,
And when they close, I leap
To worlds no other human’s seen
In waking or in sleep,
Ephemeral new universes
Born of counted sheep.

I fly on wings of opal skin
And climb inverted mountaintops.
I live a life that’s not my own
And wait until my bubble pops.
I test the limits of a dream
And hope to God it never stops.

MPAA rating: PG-13

Considering Avatar was the biggest movie ever for a time, this review is probably long overdue. I suppose the reason it took so long was simply because I considered it vastly overrated. I remember making a point of watching it before I started my Top 365 list back in 2014, just to check whether it deserved placement. It didn’t make the cut. That’s not to say James Cameron’s monster hit is bad; it’s an impressive sci-fi epic with a brilliantly rendered world held back by a painfully unoriginal plot.

In 2154, mankind has reached out into space and formed a colony on the distant moon of Pandora, where their mining endeavors run into conflict with the big, blue native Na’vi. In an effort to connect with the aliens and convince them to move, scientists have created Na’vi-human hybrids called Avatars, which a human consciousness can control while their real body sleeps. Jake Sully is one such candidate, a paraplegic Marine who is only brought to Pandora because he shares DNA with his dead brother and can control his brother’s Avatar. There, he forms a bond with the fierce Neytiri and the other Na’vi and must choose between the nature-centric natives and the unsympathetic military.

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Not to be confused with the beloved Nickelodeon cartoon, the film Avatar can be summed up in various ways, but my favorites are Pocahontas with blue aliens or Dances with Wolves in space. My VC noted FernGully as another clear inspiration. The whole nature vs. industry/natives vs. military conflict has clearly been done before, and there’s nothing about the overlong plotline or the romance that makes it any better than those other two films. James Cameron’s New Age, environmental sentiments are worn on the film’s sleeve, and it’s anything but subtle. And honestly, Sam Waterston is rather bland as the main character, though I enjoyed Sigourney Weaver’s scientist and Stephen Lang’s macho villain (Lost alert for Michelle Rodriguez as well).

What Avatar does have going for it are its groundbreaking motion capture and 3D special effects, which leave no doubt why it won Oscars for Art Direction, Visual Effects, and Cinematography. The flora and fauna of Pandora are full of colorful, eye-popping wonders, and the scenes of flight after Jake tames a dragon-like creature are exhilarating as he swoops between gravity-defying midair mountains. And the epic battle scene at the end is one of the biggest, most awesome action sequences ever made. Plus, James Horner’s score adds a perfect majesty to the visuals. If only the story had the same imaginative effort as the rest….

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Avatar is a well-made sci-fi adventure that isn’t the transcendent blockbuster it tries to be, even if its box office haul says otherwise. I was glad when Avengers: Endgame passed it as the highest-grossing film of all time (not adjusted for inflation), simply because that record and Avatar’s Best Picture nomination indicates that it’s better than it is, which irks me a little. Perhaps it just doesn’t feel as innovative now as it was in 2009. Even so, I’m interested to see what the repeatedly delayed sequels will do to continue the story and how certain characters will return for another three films. Perhaps they’ll avoid clichés better than Cameron’s first film… whenever they finally come out.

Best line: (Jake, narrating) “I was a warrior who dreamed he could bring peace. Sooner or later, though, you always wake up.”


Rank: List Runner-Up


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