With the long-awaited sequel right around the corner (December 16), now might be the perfect time to talk about Sam Worthington’s gritty-to-grateful immersive narration in the one and only Avatar.
Beyond hitting all the right notes with viewers, Avatar is the James Cameron classic that captivated the hearts and minds of people everywhere about 13 years ago and redefined how we think of the word alien. It was considered one of the most groundbreaking films of its time as not just a visual masterpiece, but narrative brilliance.
Avatar doesn’t just subvert the expectations of audiences; it turns them upside-down entirely. Flipping the script on a tried and true formula, the film instead presents us as the spacefaring (and domineering) species bent on exploiting an alien world in the name of profit.
In a nutshell, it’s the story of humans becoming the aliens we’ve come to fear from Hollywood – and as we veer closer and closer to becoming an interplanetary race, it hits chillingly close to home.
Avatar follows the narrative of ex-marine and paraplegic, Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington. Right from the very first moment of screen-time, Worthington’s voice-over can be heard, casually adding exposition and insight to the film, giving viewers context to the events that led to his current state, and that of the dystopian world he lives in. He describes the technology of the time and contrasts it with the poverty and injustices that people face – even elucidates how given the right amount of money or stature, his paralysis could be cured.
He delves briefly into his personal history, letting us know how he was injured and why his worldviews are what they are. He’s a man who’s all but given up on the world because he feels that it’s given up on him (and people like him), but still shows the audience that he’s got a spark of hope inside himself.
Right from the very first scene, Jake’s narration quickly fills us in on everything there is to know about the state of the world and the era he’s from. It’s a dystopian look at what might happen to our planet in the not-so-distant future if we don’t change our ways. The story he tells us is one of greed and servitude; need and neglect. It’s a world that punishes anyone who doesn’t look out for themselves, and he tells us he’s proof of that.
Following the exposition, the audience is immediately thrust into space along with Jake, his voice-over guiding the audience through all of the complexities of space travel and explaining how he can relocate to a distant planet within a single human lifetime. The use of Worthington’s authoritative and definitive narration is so well placed that it doesn’t just push the story along, but helps the audience take everything they learn at face value.
Jake’s Video Logs – A Reflection of his Narration
Throughout his experience in the Avatar program, Jake is encouraged to keep a video journal and update it with what he’s learned every time he leaves his avatar body. When we hear him talk about what he’s gained or experienced while interacting with the Navi, it’s always in direct reflection of his narration. As an audience, we not only get to watch him grow and change from a grunt for hire, to a fully fleshed out and alive being, but we hear it.
The same as his narrations, Jake’s video entries are peppered throughout the entire movie, highlighting every major change relevant to the story and the world(s) it takes place.
We hear his state of mind move from somber and reluctant, to excitable and alive. We hear the protagonist transform from a state of apathy and bitterness to someone with a full heart and a need to do the right thing. Without Worthington’s narration, the audience is at a deafening loss for an entire dimension of internal character growth.
The Changing Tone in Jake’s Narration
By the end of the film, there are no more video logs; only the birth of a new self. As Jake wakes up, now permanently in his avatar, there’s no more need to track his changes because he’s become a different person – literally and figuratively.
With a renewed sense of purpose, Jake’s narration cheerfully guides viewers toward the conclusion of the story in complete contrast to the way it ushered us in. The change in his tone and outlook as a narrator at the end of the movie mirrors his personal growth.
He sounds like a different person – and it’s because he is.
Sam Worthington’s Other Voice Over Work
While he’s best known for playing (and voicing) Jake Sully in Avatar and the highly anticipated Avatar 2 (it’s been over a decade since the original came out), Sam Worthington is also a fairly prolific voice actor in his own right. He’s worked in the gaming industry on several titles from the Call of Duty franchise and narrated a 2006 ABC documentary about Vietnam, The Battle of Long Tan.
Kim Handysides is an award-winning voice artist, and coach. Among her 20K+ narrations you have heard her on Discovery, Netflix, and the major networks, in iMax, the White House and the Smithsonian.