Avatar

 
Action-heavy epic has dazzling effects, familiar story.
  • Review Date: December 7, 2009
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Release Year: 2009
  • Running Time: 161 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Overall, the movie's message is that we could all stand to learn something from a (fictional) peaceful, nature-loving alien population. Strong environmental and pro-peace themes. Some viewers may see the message of occupying a foreign land to usurp their cultural riches as a political dig at America's involvement in the Middle East.

Positive role models

Several characters make difficult but moral choices. Jake chooses to defend the Na'vi even though it's against orders to do so and means he must fight (and kill) fellow human soldiers. Neytiri, Grace, and Trudy all make personal sacrifices to help the clan; they're strong, courageous, and assertive female characters. (In both the human and Na'vi populations, female characters are just as brave and important as the males -- even the Na'vi mating ritual requires that a female accept/choose the male who chooses her.) On the flip side, the Colonel and corporate boss Parker are portrayed as bloodthirsty and greedy.

Violence

Characters (supporting and extras) die due to explosions, bullet wounds, arrows (some treated with toxins), precipitous falls, and asphyxiation. There are several intense scenes involving frightening Pandoran creatures and plants, as well as tension between Jake's rogue group of pro-Na'vi humans and the rest of the humans sent to Pandora.

Sex

Many longing looks between Jake's avatar and Neytiri, which eventually leads to kissing and "mating" (only kissing and touching are seen on screen). The Na'vi's humanoid bodies are barely dressed.

Language

The word "s--t" is said several times (as well as its brothers, "bull s--t" and "holy s--t"). Other colorful language includes "goddamn," "piss," limp-dicked," "hell," "oh my God," "ass," and mild insults like "stupid," "ignorant," etc.

Consumerism

No product placement in the movie, but there are dozens of tie-in merchandising deals tied to the title -- including toys and books aimed at young kids.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Sigourney Weaver's character, Grace, smokes cigarettes and somewhat glamorizes the activity.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know this highly anticipated James Cameron sci-fi epic may be too intense (and long, at 161 minutes) for some tweens. There are several effects-heavy battle and hunting sequences that include missile-launching military aircraft, nerotoxin-laced arrows, scary Pandora-dwelling fauna and flora, and lots of explosions -- all of which has more impact when the movie is seen in 3-D. Salty wartime language includes many uses of "s--t" and comparable words. As in his previous epics, Cameron infuses the action-driven story with strong female characters and a morality tale centered in a romantic relationship -- though the human-Na'vi relationship in question gets a bit complicated, because the human is actually in his avatar. The romantic leads' chemistry is made more sensual by the barely dressed bodies of the Na'vi. (Note: Fans of the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender should know that this movie is in no way connected to that show or the movie based on it.)

What's the story?

In the 22nd century, wheelchair-bound Marine Jake Scully (Sam Worthington) embarks on a corporate-run, military-backed experiment in which he and a select group of academics -- led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) -- can fully control avatars that look exactly like the Na'vi: the lean, blue-skinned native population of a distant world called Pandora. On his first outing as his AVATAR, Jake is saved by Na'vi female Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) -- and then captured by her clan. They decide to spare Jake's life as long as he agrees to learn the Na'vi ways from Neytiri. He does; but then he's told by maniacal Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) that he'll be spying on the Na'vi to make it easier to remove them from their home, an ancestral tree that's rooted above a deposit of an unbelievably valuable substance called "Unobtainium" (pun intended). As Jake becomes more and more involved with Neytiri and her people, he's forced to choose between following orders and helping the Na'vi.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

What if the director of the highest-grossing movie ever made (Titanic) spent a rumored $500 million on a futuristic sci-fi epic and no one other than hardcore fanboys went to see it? Most of Hollywood would probably be secretly gleeful that the self-proclaimed King of the World had flopped. The good news for James Cameron -- and epic movie lovers everywhere -- is that Avatar isn't a flop. It's more like the story of Dances with Wolves crossed with the breathtaking visual effects of Lord of the Rings and the love story of Titanic, with a splash of the "turning native" aspect of Apocalypse Now thrown in to spice things up. Even though Cameron seems to have gone to the same hammy dialogue school of screenwriting as George Lucas, he can certainly immerse an audience in a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle. Every shot of Pandora is amazingly detailed, from floating mountains to flying beasts to the feline-featured, Native American-inspired Na'vi. The movie's scale is undeniably impressive.

Cameron owes a huge debt to his movie's female characters, all of whom are much more interesting than the stereotypical men -- especially the outlandishly evil Quaritch and Giovanni Ribisi's greedy corporate overseer. Weaver and Michele Rodriguez (as soldier Trudy Chacon), like Aliens' Ripley or Terminator's Sarah Connor, could take on anything or any man, and Saldana follows up a memorable turn as Uhura in Star Trek with another strong performance as Neytiri. It's quite a feat to create romantic electricity between fictional alien creatures, but Saldana and Worthington manage it surprisingly well. If you allow yourself to get lost into Cameron's Pandora, it's impossible not to root for the Na'vi (or Neytiri and Jake). Part sci-fi, part romance, all James Cameron, this is the sci-fi epic that women will get sucked into enjoying as much as the guys.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the movie's revolutionary special effects. Do they overwhelm or support the movie's story? How does the portrayal of the Na'vi affect the movie's emotional impact?

  • What themes does Cameron consistently work into his films? Compare the strong female characters in Avatar, Terminator, and Titanic. Any similarities?

  • What political messages is Cameron exploring in the movie? How are its themes relevant to what's going on in today's world? Do you think these messages will stand the test of time?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:December 18, 2009
DVD release date:April 20, 2010
Cast:Michelle Rodriguez, Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana
Director:James Cameron
Studio:Twentieth Century Fox
Genre:Science Fiction
Run time:161 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking

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Written byAnonymous June 6, 2010
age 12+
 

Meh...

Well, sorry, if you haven't seen it on the big screen in 3D (I did), forget you ever heard of it. The graphics are well, out of this world, but the storyline is like Pocahontas meets the smurfs sadly...
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much consumerism
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Great messages
Parent of a 5, 6, 10, and 13 year old Written bymdpwilliams February 16, 2010
age 16+
 
Okay, they're alien life forms, but their bodies resemble humans completely and the lack of clothing (bare breasts and nipples) were a problem for me. Most of the time, the females are covered - when viewed from the front, by a necklace, but there are 5 or 6 occasions where you get a good, clear profile of a bare breast with an erect nipple right in front of you. There's also a sex scene. You don't see any graphic hard core sex, but they make out and moan some. You have no doubt as to what they are doing, especially when she states after they finish (and she's straddling his lap) that they have now "mated for life".The storyline was great. I wasn't even bothered by the whole "Mother" of the planet topics. But to say that sex isn't an issue in this movie is misleading. If the nudity had been made clear, I would not have gone to see it. So, parents, if you wouldn't take your teen to a movie where they show a woman's bare breast in profile 5 or 6 times, don't take them to see this. The only difference between what you see in this movie and what you see in real life is that the breast in question is blue.
Parent of a 6, 10, and 10 year old Written byboyzintx January 10, 2010
age 10+
 
After reading many reviews and talking to many other parents, I finally took my kids to see Avatar in 3D. They are boys aged 10 and 6. I did not think the violence was a concern at all. There was no blood and all of the action is seen from a distance. There were fire balls and explosives, but no close-ups of anyone dying. I also did not think the sensuality ended up being a concern. There is a brief kissing scene, and the term "mating" is then used as a synonym for marriage. There is never an overt reference to sex. The na'vi people wear very little clothing, and there are a few scenes shot from a distance where you can see the side of a female breast with nipple. Since it is from a distance and from the side it is mostly in shadow. Throughout the rest of the movie the breasts are mostly covered with ornate necklaces. I also was not concerned with this matter since these are a native people and not portrayed to be human or expected to be dressed as such. I did discuss this matter with my kids beforehand. The language is extremely rough and not used just in the battle scenes. The movie starts with adult language and the language is used throughout. Though I knew there was adult language in this film there was a lot more and more continuous use of adult language than I realized. This proved to be my largest concern, though I discussed this issue both before and after the film with my children. I think most of the language was gratuitous and did not add to the intensity of the film. Whether or not you take your child will need to hinge on whether or not you believe your child can hear these words and still have the maturity to know not to use these words. There are numerous uses of a**, sh**, g**-da**, and some terms that a curious child might want to have explained, such as limp-d*****.
What other families should know
Too much swearing
Parent of a 5 year old Written bypbout January 6, 2010
age 8+
 

language

too many God's in vain -- I do not care how good it is if it does that!

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