“SKYLINE” (2010) Review

“SKYLINE” (2010) Review

In the wake of James Cameron’s blockbuster, ”AVATAR”, Hollywood has begun its own spurt of alien invasion movies and television series. One of the first movies to reach the theaters is a story directed and produced by the Brothers Strause called”SKYLINE”

The movie began with strange lights appearing over the city of Los Angeles. These lights drew people like moths to a flame, allowing an extraterrestrial force to swallow as many members of the entire human population as possible, off the face of the Earth. Among the people affected by the appearance of this alien invasion force is a couple from New York City named Jarrod and Elaine, who are in town to visit Jarrod’s friend, a wealthy man named Terry who is celebrating his birthday at his Marina del Rey high rise. During the party, Elaine revealed that she was pregnant. And it turned out that Terry was having an affair with his assistant, behind his wife’s back.

The following morning, bright blue lights descended from the sky, entrancing anyone who looks at them. The light turned their victims’ eyes milky white and inflamed their blood vessels, so that they stand up on the skin. Held captive by the light, humans are immobilized and engulfed by the aliens. Jarrod nearly suffered this fate, until Terry tackled him to the ground. Jarrod returned to normal shortly after. He and Terry investigated the light from the roof of the high rise, where they saw several alien ships descend over the blue lights and vacuum up thousands of entranced humans.

I must admit that I had no real desire to see ”SKYLINE”, when I first saw the trailer. It struck me as the typical science-fiction story that featured the alien invasion of Earth for minimal reasons. In the case of the aliens in ”SKYLINE”, their reasons for attempting to destroy the human population by using their brains to insert into alien husks and increase their own population. I had assumed that Hollywood would be more open to the idea of Humans invading alien worlds, after the success of ”AVATAR”, but ”SKYLINE”seemed to indicate that this will not happen in the near future. Despite my disappointment of the movie’s theme, my family and I went to see the movie. Did we enjoyed it? No. Not one bit.

Some critic by the name of Matthew Sorrento complimented the movie for re-fashioning the modern alien invasion motif as the hopeless siege that it should be, allowing humanity to be overwhelmed and defeated. I must admit that this was the only original aspect of Joshua Cordes and and Liam O’Donnell’s plot. Otherwise, ”SKYLINE” failed on so many levels. Before I castigate”SKYLINE” to the great beyond, I must admit that on a technical level, I found Michael Watson’s cinematography impressive. The skyline of Santa Monica and Marina del Rey never looked better. It seemed a pity that the movie failed to go beyond the rooftop of the Marina del Rey high-rise condominium where one of the directors, Greg Strause, lived (located on Lincoln Boulevard). And I was also impressed by the special effects that featured the aliens and their ships, created by visual effects house Hydraulx (owned by the movie’s directors, the Brothers Strause). However, that achievement is tainted by allegations by Sony Pictures and the producers of the upcoming ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” that the Strause brothers used their knowledge from working on the latter film, for their own film – ”SKYLINE”. I have no idea how this conflict will resolve. I can only hope and pray that ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” will prove to be a better film.

Overall, ”SKYLINE” was not a good film. It sucked, if I must be brutally honest. One, the epic scope of the story was limited to a high rise in Marina del Rey, a neighborhood southwest of the Los Angeles city limits. Because of this limited setting, moviegoers never learned that other parts of the Earth had also been invaded, until the very end of the movie. I wonder if the Brothers Strause and the two screenwriters wanted to use this as a surprising plot twist. If they did, it failed. Only a dummy would have assumed that the alien invasion was limited to Southern California. Another problem that the movie suffered was lack of character development. I will hand it to screenwriters Cordes and O’Donnell for setting up possible character conflicts. One of those conflicts arose between Jarrod and Elaine over her pregnancy. He was reluctant to face fatherhood and she felt resentment toward his reluctance. Elaine also expressed fear over the possibility of Jarrod accepting a job offer from his friend, Terry and relocating to Los Angeles. And Terry’s relationship with his girlfriend Candice seemed to be on the rocks, due to an affair with his assistant Denise. But none of these conflicts were ever explored with any depth, due to them being shoved aside for the sake of the main story – the alien invasion. And the movie never revealed the professions of the main characters. If it did, it escaped my notice.

The acting in ”SKYLINE” seemed solid, but not spectacular. Eric Balfour did a solid job as the movie’s main protagonist. I could say the same about Brittany Daniel as Terry’s girlfriend, Candice and Crystal Reed as Denise. However, I must admit that I was very unimpressed by David Zayas’s portrayal of the building’s concierge, Oliver. I found his performance reeking with over-the-top machismo – especially in the movie’s last half hour. The only two performances that almost impressed me came from Scottie Thompson, who portrayed Elaine; and Donald Faison, who portrayed Terry. I especially felt that Faison’s talents were wasted in this film.

What else can I say about ”SKYLINE”? The cinematography and special effects were impressive. Most of the acting seemed solid, yet unspectacular. But the movie suffered from a setting limited to a Southern California high-rise. It also suffered from a badly written movie with a vague ending and undeveloped characters and plotlines. In the end, “SKYLINE” proved to be a major disappointment for me.

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“THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER” (2010) Review

 

“THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER” (2010) Review

Since the last cinematic installment of the ”NARNIA” franchise failed to make as much money as the first film, the Walt Disney Studios decided to end its association with C.S. Lewis’s saga and not continue with a third movie. Twentieth Century Fox came to the rescue and agreed to release the third film, ”THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER”

Directed by Michael Apted, ”THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER” centered around the adventures of the two younger Pevensie siblings – Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) – and their return to Narnia some three years after their adventures in ”PRINCE CASPIAN”. During the last year of World War II, Edmund and Lucy are living with relatives in Cambridge. One of those relations is their obnoxious cousin, Eustace Stubbs (Will Poulter), who accompanies them back to Narnia, when they are pulled into a painting inside his bedroom. The painting turns out to be a portrait of the Dawn Treader, a royal vessel belonging to the now King Caspian X (Ben Barnes). Caspian has been on a three-year voyage in search of the seven Lords of Narnia, whom his uncle Miraz (the villain of”PRINCE CASPIAN”) had banished when he usurped the Narnian throne. Along the way they encounter slave traders, dragons, dwarves, merfolk, a band of lost warriors and a mysterious mist that represents the spirit of Evil, before reaching the edge of the world.

”VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER” proved to be something of a departure from the previous two stories. One, the protagonists spend most of their time aboard a ship, traveling from one location to another. Secondly, only two of the Pevensie siblings are major characters in this tale, Edmund and Lucy. Apparently Peter (William Peter Moseley) and Susan (Popplewell) are traveling in the United States with their parents. However, both appear in a spell sequence in which Lucy images herself with Susan’s looks. Most importantly, the story’s main protagonist is not a certain individual. Instead, Edmund, Lucy, Caspian, Eustace and the crew of the Dawn Treader have to face a mysterious mist that acts more or less as a malignant spirit that influences the darker aspects of their personalities, fears and desires.

I might as well be frank. I am not a major fan of C.S. Lewis’ ”THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA” novels. I never have been a major fan and I doubt that I will ever become one. But I must admit that the last two movies made me appreciate them a lot more than if I had never seen them. I must admit that Walden Media had produced some very entertaining movies. As for ”VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER”, screenwriters Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and Michael Petroni found themselves with a dilemma. Lewis’ third NARNIA story turned out to be a bit disjointed and episodic. The BBC solved this problem by combining both ”VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER” and the fourth novel, ”THE SILVER CHAIR”into one production. Director Michael Apted and the three screenwriters were not that drastic. Instead, they assimilated some elements of the fourth novel (like the Narnians being held hostage by the mist and rescued) into the third movie’s script. Did it work? Perhaps it did not work for some, but it certainly worked for me. As I had earlier pointed out, the story’s main antagonist turned out to be a mysterious green mist that served as a euphemism for the characters’ inner fears, desires and darkness. In this regard, the mist reminded me of the First Evil character from Season Seven of”BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”. Many movie and television fans may not be that enamored of this type of “villain”, but it did not bother me. I have discovered that the older I get, the more I enjoyed such storylines that provide ambiguous catalysts for the characters’ inner conflicts.

I enjoyed ”VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER” very much. More than I had expected to. I had not expected to enjoy it that much, considering this was the first movie not to feature all four of the Pevensie siblings. If I must be honest, I did not miss Peter and Susan Pevensie. Edmund and Lucy managed to create a tight relationship with King Caspian and later, their cousin Eustace. And one has to give thanks to the solid screen chemistry between Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley, Will Poulter and Ben Barnes. Simon Pegg’s vocal performance as the swashbuckling mouse, Reepicheep added nicely to the mix.

One of the best aspects of ”VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER” was that the movie explored a good deal of the main characters’ personalities – especially their insecurities, fears and desires – due to the effect of the green mist. This gave Skandar Keynes a chance to explore another dark aspect of Edmund Pevensie’s personality – namely his resentment over Caspian’s position as Narnia’s most recent king and his own desire for power. And Keynes proved he had the acting chops to convey this aspect of Edmund’s personality and at the same time, maintain the character’s growing maturity. Georgie Henley proved to be something of a revelation in her portrayal of Lucy Pevensie. She had come a long way from the innocent and friendly young girl in 2005’s ”THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE”. Thanks to the green mist story arc, she made great use of her chance to stretch her acting skills by effectively portraying Lucy’s insecurities regarding her looks and living in the shadow of older sister Susan. Ben Barnes’ portrayal of the now King Caspian X struck me as more mature and solid. Yet, Barnes is also talented enough to convey hints of Caspian’s own insecurities of living up to his father’s name . . . and the reputations of the Pevensies in Narnia. Liam Neeson was as impressive and commanding as ever, while providing the voice for Aslan the Lion. And Simon Pegg was charming and effervescent as the heroic mouse, Reepicheep. I especially enjoyed the scene in which Reepicheep tries to give fencing lessons to a very reluctant Eustace. Speaking of Eustace Scrubb, actor Will Coulter literally stole the movie as Edmund and Lucy’s arrogant and obnoxious cousin. In fact, Coulter’s performance was so impressive that at times, he seemed like a pugnacious adult in a child’s body. The speaking voice he utilized for Eustace struck me as very strange, yet comic. I was not surprised to learn that Coulter managed to earn a nomination as Young Performer of the Year for the 2010 London Film Critics Circle Awards.

If there is one thing about ”VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER” that did not appeal to me was that it had been shot in 3D. I have made it clear in my reviews of ”AVATAR” and ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” that I am not a fan of 3D photography – at least for motion pictures. And if I must be frank, I did not find the 3D effects for this movie particularly impressive. Instead of a headache, I ended up suffering from sinus congestion from wearing eyeglasses and 3D glasses. And as much as I had enjoyed ”VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER”, I really saw no need for it to be shot in 3D. But thanks to cinematographer Dante Spinotti and visual effects supervisors, Angus Bickerton and Jim Rygiel; I must admit that I enjoyed the movie’s beautiful photography and visual effects.

In the end, I enjoyed ”THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER” very much. Despite being shot in 3D, I still managed to enjoy the beautiful photography and visual effects. Screenwriters Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely and Michael Petroni managed to take a novel with an episodic storyline and transform it into something more solid. The storyline regarding the green mist (a metaphor for the spirit of Evil) allowed the cast to delve into their characters’ darker impules and desires with great skill. And director Michael Apted managed to put it all together in an entertaining film.

“ALICE IN WONDERLAND” (2010) Review

“ALICE IN WONDERLAND” (2010) Review

I never understood director Tim Burton’s decision to name his latest film, ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”. I mean . . . why did he do it? His new movie was not another adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, ”Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. It was a sequel set thirteen years after the original story. So why use the shortened version of the title from Carroll’s original title? 

Many of you might be wondering why I had just made a big deal about this new movie’s title. For me, it represented an example of what I consider to be the numerous missteps that prevented me from embracing Burton’s new movie. Before I continue, I should confess that I have never been a Tim Burton fan. Never. I can only recall two of his movie that knocked my socks off – 1994’s ”ED WOOD” and the 2007 Golden Globe nominee, ”SWEENY TODD”. I wish I could include ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” in that category, but I cannot. The movie simply failed to impress me.

As I had stated earlier, ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” was a sequel to Carroll’s original story. Thirteen years after her original adventures in Wonderland, Alice Kingsleigh has become a nineteen year-old young woman on the verge of accepting a wedding proposal from one Hamish Ascot, the son of her late father’s partner, Lord Ascot. Unfortunately, Hamish is a shallow and self-absorbed young man with very little character. Salvation arrived during Hamish’s very public marriage proposal, when Alice spotted a familiar figure – the same White Rabbit who had previously lured her to Wonderland – scampering across Lord Ascot’s estate.

History repeated itself when Alice fell down into the rabbit hole. However, she soon discovered that Wonderland (orUnderland) had changed during her thirteen years absence. The Red Queen had managed to wreck havoc and assume control over most of Underland, thanks to her new ”champion” – a dragon known as the Jabberwocky. Only the realm of the Red Queen’s sister, the White Queen, has remained beyond the red-haired monarch’s reach. However, that situation threatened to change if the White Queen fails to acquire her own champion. A scroll called “the Oraculum” predicted that Alice will not only be the White Queen’s champion, but she will also defeat the Jabberwocky and end the Red Queen’s reign of terror. But due to her stubborn belief that Underland was and still is nothing but a dream, Alice was reluctant to take up the mantle of the White Queen’s champion.

Judging by the plot I had just described, ”ALICE OF WONDERLAND” should have been an enjoyable movie for me. Granted, Linda Woolverton’s script seemed like a typical ”slay the dragon” storyline that has been used in numerous fantasies. But it still had enough adventure, intrigue and personal angst for me to find it appealing. So, why did it fail to light my fire? Production designer Robert Stromberg created an interesting mixture of Gothic and animated styles for the film’s visuals in both the England and Wonderland sequences. Anthony Almaraz and his team of costume designers created lush and colorful costumes for the cast. And Dariusz Wolski’s photography brought out the best in the movie’s visual styles.

”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” could also boast some first-rate performances from the cast. Johnny Depp gave a wonderfully complicated performance as the Mad Hatter. His Mad Hatter was an interesting mixture of an extroverted personality and pathos, punctuated by bouts of borderline insanity. The Red Queen might possibly be one of Helena Bonham-Carter’s best roles. She struck me as the epitome of childishness, selfishness and cruelty. Crispin was slick, menacing and subtly funny as the Red Queen’s personal henchman, the Knave of Hearts. Anne Hathaway’s delicious portrayal of the White Queen reminded me of a Disney princess on crack. I really enjoyed it. Both Tim Piggott-Smith and Geraldine James (who were both in the 1985 miniseries, ”JEWEL IN THE CROWN”) gave solid performances as Alice’s potential in-laws – the kindly Lord Ascot and his shrewish and bullying wife, Lady Ascot. And Alan Rickman gave voice to the Blue Caterpillar in a deliciously sardonic performance. Despite my positive opinion of most of the film’s technical aspects and performances, it still failed to impress me. Why?

First of all, the movie rested upon the shoulders of Australian actress, Mia Wasikowska as the lead character, Alice Kingsleigh. I understand that Ms. Wasikowska has recently received critical acclaim for her portrayal of a suicidal teen in HBO’s ”IN TREATMENT”. It seemed a pity that she failed to be just as impressive as Alice in ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”. Some people have labeled her performance as ”subtle”. I would call it ”insipid”. Or perhaps just plain boring. I swear I have never come across such a bland and boring performance in my life. No only did Wasikowska managed to make Alice’s battle against the Jabberwocky seem dull, she still came close to putting me to sleep in her character’s moments of triumph in the movie’s finale.

Tim Burton’s direction of ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” proved to be just as uninspiring to me, as Wasikowska’s performance. Actually, I found myself thinking of the 1992 movie, ”DEATH BECOMES HER”. I was not comparing the visual effects between the two movies. Meryl Streep had uttered a word in the 1992 movie that perfectly described my opinion of Burton’s direction. Flaccid. ”FLA-A-A-A-CI-I-ID!” How did a director with Burton’s reputation managed to take a solid fantasy adventure and make it one of the most boring films in recent Hollywood history is beyond me. His direction lacked any pep. Or spark. I had felt as if I was watching a piece of limp lettuce in action. I even began to wonder if Burton’s dull direction had affected Wasikowska’s performance. Then I remembered that actors like Depp and Bonham-Carter managed to rise above his direction. I might as well dump the blame of Wasikowska’s performance on her shoulders. As for Tim Burton . . . what is there to say? His direction simply disappointed me.

I might as well say something about the movie’s 3-D effects. They were not only disappointing to me, but also a waste of time and the extra cash I had to pay for the movie tickets. I did not care for the 3-D effects in ”AVATARS”, but it was an example of technical wizardry in compare to the 3-D photography shown in ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”. Speaking of ”AVATAR”, I have one last thing to say in regard to 3-D . . . ’Damn you, James Cameron!”. Seriously. I would like to take the man’s head and bash it through a wall for introducing 3-D to the movie going experience. In the two movies I have seen it in, I found it unimpressive. Worse, I had to pay extra movie because movie theaters are more willing to show the 3-D versions of movies like ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”, instead of the 2-D versions.

In short, ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” had all of the hallmarks of a solid and entertaining movie experience for me. It was the continuation of a classic fantasy adventure. Talented actors like Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, Crispin Glover and Anne Hathaway gave first-rate performances. And I must admit that the movie’s production designs and photography gave it a unique visual style. But all of that could not save a movie hindered by pedestrian 3-D effects, a dull and insipid performance by Mia Wasikowska and an even more insipid direction by Tim Burton. Frankly, I think it is a miracle that this movie managed to become a box-office hit.

A Few Problems Regarding “AVATAR” (2009)

A Few Problems Regarding “AVATAR” (2009)

I am going to put my cards on the table. I have a problem with James Cameron’s new movie, ”AVATAR”. In fact, I have several problems with it. I was willing to remain silent about these problems, but after the movie’s recent big win at the Golden Globe Awards, I realized that I could not keep silent about them.

One would think I was just another fan expressing her dislike of ”AVATAR”. On the contrary, I happened to like ”AVATAR” very much. I saw the movie three times. And it became one of my top ten favorite movies of 2009. So, why post a rant against the movie? Because I fear that the movie has become a front runner for the Best Picture Academy Awards. And as much as I had enjoyed ”AVATAR”, I do not believe that it will not deserve all of its accolades. Even worse, I have a bone to pick about the movie’s distribution.

Award Season

Two nights ago, ”AVATAR” scored big at the Golden Globes Award show. It managed to collect at least two major awards – Best Director for James Cameron and Best Picture. In a documentary about 20th Century Fox called ”20TH CENTURY FOX: THE FIRST FIFTY YEARS” (1997), a former executive had pointed out that legendary producer and studio boss Darryl Zanuck believed that the backbone of any good movie was the story. Not the special effects, the casting or even the score; but the story.

Now, I am not claiming that ”AVATAR” has a weak story. Actually, I believe that it has a solid, good story with a relevant theme. However, many critics and moviegoers – including myself – believe that the story has mediocre dialogue. Even worse, it also seems very unoriginal. In fact, I would go as far to say that it is close to being a blatant rip-off of the 1990 Academy Award winner, ”DANCES WITH WOLVES”. Frankly, I cannot see how a movie that is unoriginal to the point that it seems to blatantly plagiarize another film deserves to win a Golden Globe Best Drama Picture award, let alone the Academy Award for Best Picture. I simply cannot.

3-D Special Effects and Movie Tickets

What has really ticked me off about ”AVATAR” is the fact that director James Cameron had decided to film the damn thing in 3-D. Well, he also provided regular prints of the movie. And the movie theaters have allowed filmgoers the choice to view the 3-D showings or regular showings. Unfortunately, all of the movie theaters that I usually attend, offer more showings of the film in 3-D. Worse, not only are the regular viewings scheduled late at night, filmgoers have to pay higher ticket prices for the 3-D showings. This really pisses me off. I find the 3-D glasses very uncomfortable. And the special effects struck me as being less impressive than those featured in the Terminator 2 3-D: Battle Across Time show at Universal Studios Hollywood. The higher ticket prices for the 3-D effects are simply not worth the effort. At least not to me. And I feel that Cameron, 20th Century Fox and the movie theaters are ripping off moviegoers in the process.

Will ”AVATAR” win the Best Picture Oscar? I suspect that it will. And frankly, I consider this a travesty. I am not saying that the movie is terrible. It is not. But Cameron has already managed to win a slew of Oscars for a movie with impressive visual effects and a mediocre script that turned out to be a blatant rip-off of 1937’s ”MAYTIME”. I am talking about 1997’s ”TITANIC”. And I fear that history will repeat itself when he wins a slew of awards for ”AVATAR” – a movie with the same virtues and flaws.

“AVATAR” (2009) Review

Here is my review of “AVATAR”, James Cameron’s long awaited new film: 

”AVATAR” (2009) Review

Has it really been twelve (12) years since director/producer James Cameron had released his last movie? Twelve years? And yet, it is true. Twelve years have passed since the releases of the Academy Award winning movie, ”TITANIC” and Cameron’s latest epic, ”AVATAR”. And I must say that it was worth the wait.

Set in the year 2154, ”AVATAR” told the story of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic former U.S. Marine, who arrived on the planet of Pandora to replace his murdered twin brother in a program that have created human-Na’vi hybrids called avatars, which are controlled by genetically matched human operators, due to humans’ inability to breathe the moon’s atmosphere. Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), the head of the Avatar Program, considered him an inadequate replacement for his brother, relegating him to a bodyguard role. Pandora, a lush, Earth-like moon of the planet Polyphemus, in the Alpha Centauri system, has been targeted by an Earth corporation administered by Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) called RDA. It wants to mine Pandora for a valuable mineral called unobtanium. Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), a former Marine and leader of the Humans’ security forces, promised Jake his “real legs” back in exchange for intelligence about the natives and what it will take to make them abandon Hometree, which rests above a large deposit of unobtanium.

When Jake escorted Augustine and biologist Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore) on an exploratory mission in their avatar forms, the group is attacked by a large predator, and Jake became separated and lost. Attempting to survive the night in Pandora’s dangerous jungles, he is rescued by Neytiri (Zoë Saldaña), a female Na’vi. Neytiri brings Jake back to Hometree, which is inhabited by Neytiri’s clan, the Omaticaya. Mo’at, (C. C. H. Pounder), the Na’vi shaman and Neytiri’s mother, instructed her to teach him their ways. Within three months or so, Jake fell in love with Neytiri. Unfortunately, he found himself conflicted between his feelings for the female Na’vi and her clan, and his deal with Colonel Quaritch.

Judging by the reactions of many critics and filmgoers, James Cameron seemed to have created a very unique film. I would certainly agree with this opinion – especially in regard to the physical and visual world of Pandora. Quite frankly, I found it lush and strangely beautiful. I also have to commend Cameron for not only creating Pandora’s strange world, but also for guiding crew members like production designers Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg; the art direction team led by Todd Cherniawsky, Kevin Ishioka, and Kim Sinclair; cinematographer Mauro Fiore; the special effects team led by Dave Booth; and the visual effects team. Cameron took his work even further by hiring Dr. Paul Frommer of USC to create a Na’vi language and culture. Actors like Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldaña and C.C.H. Pounder had to learn the new language.

I did not have any real problems with the movie’s plot. Cameron did a solid job in writing a story that dealt with environmental issues, along with imperialism and biodiversity by consolidating them into a conflict between the nature-based (or primitive in certain circles) Na’vi and the Humans’ military-industrial complex represented by the RDA Corporation and its military force. Sounds familiar? It should. Cameron claimed that he was inspired from such movies as ”AT PLAY IN THE FIELDS OF THE LORD” and ”THE EMERALD FOREST”, which feature clashes between cultures and civilizations. He also acknowledged his film’s connection to the 1990 Academy Award winning film, ”DANCES WITH WOLVES” in the storyline featuring Jake’s connection to the Na’vi. Personally, I found myself wondering if ”AVATAR” was simply ”DANCES WITH WOLVES” on another planet. Honestly. The two movies struck me as being that similar.

Some fans might accuse me of hinting that Cameron’s story lacked any originality. Well, they would be right. I am hinting exactly that. After all, this would not be the first time for the Canadian-born director. At least three of his most famous films, ”AVATAR” included, bore strong similarities to other fictional works. In an ARTICLE I had posted on my blog, I had pointed out the strong similarities between ”TITANIC” to the 1937 Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy film, ”MAYTIME”. And after his 1984 film, ”THE TERMINATOR” hit the theaters, a well-known science-fiction writer named Harlan Ellison pointed out that the movie bore a strong resemblance to two television episodes he had written. The writer ended up receiving ”acknowledgement to the works of” credit on video and cable releases of the movie, as well as a cash settlement of an undisclosed amount. And if the love story between Jake and Neytiri bore a strong resemblance with the one featured in the 1990 film (in that story, the female lead was a white woman raised by the Lakota), the movie’s score written by James Horner seemed to seal the deal for me. It bore a very strong resemblance to Native American music.

Another aspect of Cameron’s script that struck a similar note with me was its dialogue. Let me be frank. I found it just as cheesy and unoriginal as the dialogue found in ”TITANIC”. A good example could be found in Colonel Quaritch’s speech to the human newcomers to Pandora. When he uttered the phrase, ”You’re not in Kansas anymore”, I practically winced. The Wachowski Brothers used that phrase with a more memorable and original twist in their 1999 movie, ”THE MATRIX”. However, I must admit that ”AVATAR” did have one quote that I found particularly memorable. During one of his narratives about the Na’vi, Jake Scully said the following:

” Everything is backwards now, like out there is the true world and in here is the dream.”

Okay, it does not really seem like much in written form. But Sam Worthington’s interpretation of the line made it memorable for me.

One complaint lobbied against the movie was that it pandered to the cliché of the ”white man savior of the noble savage”. Frankly, I believe that the only grounds for this accusation centered around Jake rallying the Na’vi to fight against the Human assault against the Hometree. I figured that since he was responsible for giving Quaritch the means to launch the assault, I could let the scene slide. However, I failed to spot any further evidence to support this argument. After all, it was Neytiri’s father Eytucan, who allowed Jake to remain with the Na’vi. Neytiri’s mother Mo’at ordered Neytiri to introduce him to Na’vi culture. Mo’at was also responsible for giving Jake a chance to redeem himself for his earlier betrayal. Another female – namely Trudy – was responsible for rescuing Jake, Grace and Norm from the RDA cell. And it certainly was NOT Jake who defeated the movie’s main villain, Colonel Quaritch, in the end. No one could ever mistake this film for the 1953 movie, ”HIS MAJESTY’S O’KEEFE”.

Speaking of Sam Worthington, he led the cast as the a paraplegic former U.S. Marine Jake Scully, who found himself drawn to Pandora and the Na’vi culture. Although I would not consider Jake to be one of his more complicated or complex characters, I thought that Worthington did an excellent job in conveying Jake’s conflict between the Humans’ agenda and his love for Neytiri and the Na’vi. He also managed to effectively project Jake’s array of emotions following the character’s arrival on Pandora, whether in Human form or connected to his Na’vi-Human form. And he also did a top-notch job as the film’s narrator. Believe or not, not every actor or actress has a talent for verbal narration.

Zoë Saldaña was cast as Neytiri, the Na’vi huntress with whom Jake fell in love. Saldaña did not simply provide Neytiri’s voice. She also provided the character’s body language and facial expression via a process called motion/performance capture. This process has already been used in movies such as two of the latest ”STAR WARS” movies, the ”MUMMY” films, ”KING KONG” and the last two ”LORD OF THE RINGS” movies. I must admit that Saldaña did an excellent job in guiding Neytiri’s character from being slightly resentful and contemptuous toward Jake, to being a female in love and finally to the fierce and determined Na’vi warrior determined to protect her home. Frankly, she was my favorite character in the movie.

Sigourney Weaver found herself being directed by Cameron for the second time as Dr. Grace Augustine, a scientist and creator of the Avatar Program. Her Grace is a no-nonsense woman with a dislike toward Selfridge, Quaritch and the RDA Corporation. Her bluntness was tempered by a genuine desire to study the Na’vi and Pandora. Weaver did a solid job in portraying these aspects of Grace’s character. Stephen Lang could have easily portray Colonel Quaritch as a one-dimensional villain. In fact, he nearly drifted into such a portrayal on one or two occasions. But in the end, Lang managed to control himself and give a first-rate performance. He even infused a touch of homme fatale into his performance in scenes that featured Colonel Quaritch’s attempts to “seduce” Jake into providing information about the Na’vi and their Hometree. I found that aspect an interesting twist.

Many critics have dismissed Michelle Rodriguez’s performance as Marine pilot Trudy Chacon as another one of her many tough chick roles. From a superficial viewpoint, they might be right. But if I must be honest, I found that Neytiri seemed to fit that role a lot better than Trudy. There was something about Rodriguez’s role that struck me as different from her previous ones. Her Trudy seemed like a laid back type with a warm and cheeky sense of humor – completely different from the roles that the actress had portrayed on ”LOST” and ”THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS”. I consider this a good thing, for it told me that Rodriguez was quite capable of portraying more than one type of role. If I must be frank, I would not consider Parker Selfridge to be one of Giovanni Ribisi’s best roles. Mind you, the actor managed to keep himself from drifting into a purely hammy performance. But I found his portrayal of the RDA Corporation’s administrator as a walking cliché of corporate greed and rather unoriginal. The only other movies I have ever seen Laz Alonso in were ”JARHEAD” and last year’s ”THE MIRACLE OF ST. ANNA”. I found his role as Neyriti’s fiancé, Tsu’Tey, to be a different kettle of fish. His Tsu’Tey was an aggressive and slightly arrogant warrior with a deep distrust of Jake and the other Humans. Like Lang, Alonso could have easily allowed his character to drift into a one-dimensional performance. I have to give kudos to the actor for making Tsu’Tey somewhat sympathetic in the end. I suspect that deep down, the character truly loved and respected Neytiri, despite the political and cultural nature of their betrothal. I also enjoyed the way Alonso used the motion capture suit and body language to convey his character’s aggressive nature.

I have already commented upon the special and visual effects in ”AVATAR” that managed to blow everyone’s minds, including mine. However, I could have done without viewing the movie with 3-D glasses. I simply did not see how filming the movie with a 3-D camera was worth the effort. I found the 3-D effects found in the TERMINATOR 2: 3-D show at Universal Studios Hollywood more impressive. And since I already wear glasses, wearing an extra pair of 3-D glasses proved to be very annoying for me. And while we are on the subject of quibbles, I found Horner’s score and the theme song performed by Leona Lewis called ”I See You” not that impressive, either. In fact, I am surprised that the song managed to earn a Golden Globe Award nomination.

After reading most of this article, one might end up with the belief that I have mixed feelings about ”AVATAR”. Let me assure you that my views are not mixed. Yes, I have some quibbles with the story’s lack of originality and sometimes pedestrian dialogue. And I found the 3-D photography not worth the effort. But I still enjoyed the movie’s plot very much. It was a solid tale that centered on a theme I wholeheartedly support. The cast, led by Sam Worthington and Zoë Saldaña did an excellent job. As Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet did twelve years ago, Worthington and Saldaña managed to create a great screen team that proved to be the heart and soul of the film through their performances. And from a visual point-of-view, Cameron outdid himself in his creation of the world of Pandora.