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Review: Avatar by James Cameron

Book review of James Cameron’s Avatar

James Cameron's AvatarI know, I know, this is a site for fantasy books, and not movies, but I just saw Avatar last night and I couldn’t help but get my thoughts on the film out. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen it: I saw it in the theater when it came out, and I saw a fairly good quality bootleg version at home shortly thereafter. But this was the full on HD version, and in the intimate setting of my home living room (with 42″ tv and Dolby surround) it was the most personal viewing of the film for me so far. One note before I get going: I generally don’t watch the same movies over and over (I agree with Tony Robbins’ thoughts on seeing the same movie twice), but watching Avatar for the third time last night made me realize something. There are certain movies, books, or other creative works that are worth viewing a second and third time: they’re called works of art. And I believe that Avatar is indeed, a masterpiece.

What compelled me to review Avatar here at Fantasy Book News first and foremost is Cameron’s amazing ability to mix both sci-fi and fantasy so bluntly, and yet so seamlessly at the same time. The movie is clearly designed to appeal to fans of both the sci-fi genre with the marine plotline: mech warriors, enormous guns, knives, tanks, flying ships and paper-thin computer screens, all of which are set in a not-too-distant future. The flip side are the native Na’vi people, with their bows and arrows, spiritual worship of the land, and dragons. Yes, dragons. I know they’re called “mountain banshees” or “forest banshees” in the film, but these are the most realistic, high-quality (and expensive!) depictions of dragon-like entities that we’ve ever seen on screen, or anywhere else for that matter. For me, as a fantasy fan, that’s super cool. Cameron’s ability to blend both of these genres is what leads to the appeal of a larger audience than any single sci-fi or fantasy film has ever accomplished.

The themes of Avatar are also extremely appealing to a large percentage of people. First, the story of a more technologically advanced civilization conquering the land of a less technologically advanced civilization is one we’ve heard before, but its also one that many people can identify with. As Americans, we learn about native americans losing their land when Europeans discovered the Americas in the 14 and 1500’s. The second large theme in Avatar can be easily compared with more recent events: invading a land using military force for the profit of a natural resource contained in that land. There aren’t many breathing people in the world who don’t at least have some idea of what Bush has done in Iraq, and in Avatar Cameron comments fairly bluntly on the idea, whether it pertains to this more recent instance or other similar situations in the past is for Cameron to answer.

The last piece that really sold Avatar for me (besides the killer visuals!) is the characterization. Let’s face it, Cameron managed to create 20 foot tall blue characters with tails that we identify with, care for and can really get behind. That’s impressive. The theme of two characters from different worlds (literally) meeting and falling in love is a theme that can appeal to an extremely large audience as well. For me, it has a bit more of a personal touch, as when I met my wife, she knew less English than Neytiri when she met Jake Sully, and I spoke about the same amount of Portuguese as Jake spoke of the Na’vi tongue, that is to say, none. Being involved with someone of a different culture who speaks a different language is a great pleasure in my life, and one that Wade Davis talks about in his TED talk in 2007, for anyone who’s interested in exploring the topic further.

Overall, I was more impressed with Avatar the third time around than the first two. I think this is the mark of a quality work of art: when a creation is so beautiful that it not only expresses itself differently each time you come back to it, but evokes a new emotional response. Now the only problem is waiting until the second and third installments arrive in 2014 and 2015.

You can purchase Avatar over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 9 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

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