Avatar – 5 stars (loved it)
James Cameron’s “Avatar” is a movie of epic proportions. The budget has been reported as high as $300 million and it’s been years in the making. “Avatar” has arrived and it exceeds the hype. It is the blockbuster to end all blockbusters. I don’t think I’m overstepping or exaggerating when I say that it’s the biggest thing to hit movie theaters since “Star Wars” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic Marine, has been sent to Pandora, a distant planet with a mineral (or ore, I can never remember the difference) worth $20 million per kilogram known as Unobtanium (worst name for a Macguffin possibly ever). There is a United States corporation stationed on Pandora to mine the valuable mineral (or ore, someone help me out here) but there is one problem – the natives. The Na’vi are the inhabitants of Pandora and are causing problems for the miners. Jake’s mission is to work with a team of scientists that have engineered a Na’vi-human hybrid known as Avatars. Jake will embody an Avatar and hopefully learn more about the Na’vi and coerce them into moving so that the corporation can reap the reward. And if he can’t convince them to move, well, that’s okay because the Marines stationed there would rather go “Apocalypse Now” on the natives anyway.
We have the usual cast of bad guys with the corporate crony, Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Risbi), and the war hawk, Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang). We could get political here and compare them to war hungry, environmentalist hating conservatives that view terrorists and other foreigners as less than human and the planet as something to be conquered rather than respected, but we won’t go there in this review. Colonel Quaritch seems to eat Napalm for breakfast, and he likes it that he’ll have a Marine working for Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) and her Avatar program. He gets to Jake early on and promises him a new set of legs if he helps him move the Na’vi out of their home. At first Jake thinks it sounds like a great idea.
He, Dr. Augustine, and Norm Spellman (Joel Moore) take a trip into the forest of Pandora to take some samples and instead encounter a creature that seems to be a combination of a dinosaur, a lion, and a certain unmentionable body part with teeth. After an intense chase scene with some great 3D effects (which we’ll get to more later), Jake finds himself lost in the forest and being rescued by a Na’vi named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). Before long he’s whisked away into the world of the Na’vi and is accepted as one of their own (Yes, I skipped a lot of plot detail. Deal with it.).
This is a long movie (162 minutes to be exact) with a lot stuffed into it, but the material never seems to get away from Cameron. He takes his time establishing the Na’vi as a people with a real culture complete with their own language and rituals. And what a beautiful people they are, too, with their different shades of blues and greens and their unique animals and plants, most of which seem to glow in the dark. We know going in to the movie that Jake will most likely be accepted as one of the Na’vi and that he’ll learn to love them, but Cameron even handles this correctly making the process a fun one to watch as it unfolds – especially in 3D.
I’m not sure I’ve ever really seen a full-length film in 3D, but I’ve been to Disney World. I’ve seen the “Bug’s Life” production with different objects hurtling at your face making you wet yourself and cry a little inside because you’re so terrified at what might come next, but “Avatar” doesn’t use 3D as a gimmick. It doesn’t take anything away from the story happening in front of us, but rather, it enhances the story. It makes us feel like we’re on Pandora walking through the phosphorescent plants with Jake and Neytiri. Every once in a while you can see a little bug fly in front of one of the characters or some ferns that bounce back as someone walks through them. The effect is engaging and beautiful. “Avatar” has raised the bar in standards for special effects and the use of 3D. The work done is truly groundbreaking.
For all that the movie has going for it, there are flaws – mainly with the dialogue. I understand that this is a blockbuster and that Cameron wasn’t going for the Best Screenplay Oscar here, but the number of clichéd lines glides dangerously close to the outer limits. The Colonel actually says at one point, “You’re not in Kansas anymore.” The storyline isn’t the most original either. I’ve heard it compared to “Fern Gully” and “Pocahontas” and it’s an accurate comparison. Environmentalist rhetoric mixed with some New Age philosophy isn’t exactly new material for Hollywood, but the message that Cameron is going for comes across clearly without ever seeming too heavy-handed.
James Cameron is clearly the Hollywood money-maker with hits like “The Terminator” and “Titanic” under his belt (and in his wallet) and he’s squashed all expectations with “Avatar.” The film has already made its money back and is set to break box office records. In a year with big-budget blockbusters like “Transformers 2” and “GI Joe,” “Avatar” could have simply become another footnote in this year’s releases, but with an extremely (and surprisingly) moving story and some of the most beautiful special effects (and in 3D at that!), it is now in contention for one of the best films of the year. This is the blockbuster of the decade.
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 162 minutes
Starring: Sam Worthington (Jake Sully); Zoe Saldana (Neytiri); Sigourney Weaver (Dr. Grace Augustine); Stephen Lang (Col. Miles Quaritch); Giovanni Risbi (Parker Selfridge); Joel Moore (Norm Spellman); Michelle Rodriguez (Trudy Chacon); CCH Pounder (Mo’at); Wes Studi (Eytukan); Laz Alonso (Tsu’Tey)
Directed by: James Cameron; written by Cameron; produced by Cameron and Jon Landau. A Twentieth Century Fox release.