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average rating is 3 out of 5


Alasdair MacRae


Posted on:

Oct 2, 2022

Film Reviews
Directed by:
James Cameron
Written by:
James Cameron
Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana, Sigourney Weaver

Back in 2009, James Cameron’s Avatar was a landmark blockbuster. It was the first, and arguably only, widely successful 3D cinematic experience, it became one of the highest-grossing films of all time, and on its home release, it was used to convince the average person that they should upgrade their TV and buy a Blu-ray player. Now, in the months before the release of the sequel, Avatar: The Way of the Water, it is back in cinemas in a remastered format with select IMAX screenings featuring certain scenes in a newly increased higher frame rate of 48-frames-per-second (fps).


Hundreds of years in the future, space colonisation has begun. Wheelchair-bound former marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) travels to the planet Pandora to take the place of his deceased brother in a scientific enterprise. His mission is to pilot an Avatar, a giant blue humanoid created to help humans assimilate with the indigenous people known as the Na’vi. He feels pressure from his superiors to succeed, eager scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) wants to reconnect with the people after a previously forged connection had failed, but the money-hungry Parker Selfridge (Paul Ribisi), and bloodthirsty Colonel Miles Quadritch (Stephen Lang), simply want to extract a pricey mineral from the ground under the Na’vi settlement. However, when Jake begins to connect with the local tribe, and in particular the chief’s daughter Neytiri (Zoë Saldana), his world is divided in two. He lives a human life, cold and artificial under the corporation, so unfeeling and desolate that even people’s skin seems to grey. And a Na’vi life, exploring the rhythms of the luscious and vibrant natural world of Pandora. The latter delivers the luminous visuals one associates with the film, striking neon-infused insects and fauna that light up not only the jungle, but a passion for adventure. Through an organic function of his hair, Jake, in traditional Na’vi custom fuses a physical bond with the plants, animals, and people in his newly adopted home. But this connection only makes it harder when the humans remind him of why he has been sent there.


Strangely, for a 160-minute-long epic tale of intergalactic colonialism with a strong concern for environmental preservation, the narrative of Avatar feels rather bare bones. Almost every supporting character is able to be categorised simply as good or evil, with Jake Sully being the only semi-complex character. And even then he occupies a position uncomfortably close to that of the white saviour trope. Instead, Avatar is largely defined by how the audience buys into its world, relying heavily on the strength of the aesthetics in order to form a meaningful connection. As much as Cameron tries to push the visuals of his film, such as set pieces designed around floating mountains moving in and out of the mist in 3d, they aren’t quite enough to stop the film from growing stale before it can reach its finale.


“It looks like a videogame”, is a criticism that is often levied at more CGI-heavy films. It may be thrown in to say that the image is of poor quality, or that there are too many fantastical elements on screen that break the viewer’s suspense of disbelief. When it comes to the use of the higher frame rate in Avatar, a trick that makes movement look more fluid, it quite literally begins to look like a videogame. For context, the most common film presentation runs at 24 fps, videogames on the newest generation of consoles predominantly target 60fps, and Avatar’s HFR scenes operate at 48fps. Other directors such as Peter Jackson (The Hobbit) and Ang Lee (Gemini Man) have trialled higher frame rates with little success. And it looks like the outcome might be the same for Cameron too. Experimenting with the core components of filmmaking, such as frame rate, is an intriguing and bold endeavour, but the scenes in Avatar are jarring. The problem is that the technique feels too strikingly present without yielding a visceral reaction. The thinking behind the implementation is clear, to offer up an otherworldly sense of motion and freedom on the planet of Pandora, but it feels too overtly mechanical, and ultimately it takes one out of the film.


Whilst Avatar may not be a wholly successful or satisfying adventure, it is a massively intriguing big-budget experiment packed with a whole lot of technical innovation. The return to Pandora is a bumpy and uneven ride but seeing what Cameron was able to do over a dozen years ago does raise excitement for the upcoming sequels, who knows what he has in store?

About the Film Critic
Alasdair MacRae
Alasdair MacRae
Theatrical Release
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