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Avatar Movie Review

By Pam Swartz

Avatar, as I am sure everyone knows, is James Cameron’s 14-year masterpiece, and the most expensive movie ever made. Like most people, I have anxiously been waiting for it to come out. Neil and I were so excited that we ordered our tickets two weeks in advance, and got to the movie theater a full two hours early concerned that there would be a huge line up. We got in, don’t worry!

“Avatar” takes place in the year 2154 on a planet called Pandora. Earth is going through a major energy crisis, and an unethical corporation has found a way to mine an indigenous mineral known as unobtainium (pronounced "UN-OBTANE-IUM"). The problem is this mineral lies beneath the sacred ground of Pandora’s Hometree - an immense structure where the Na’vi sleep, eat, and connect to Eywa, their spiritual God. Eywa guides and maintains balance in their home world and in their lives.

The RDA (AKA humans) couldn’t care less about the Na’vi or their beliefs, and will go to all lengths to get this $20 million dollar per ounce resource. Clearly, the Na’vi and the RDA have a very uneasy relationship. The humans don’t respect the Na’vi as the keepers and owners of this land. Instead, they refer to them as savages and blue monkeys, and think that teaching them English and giving medical supplies will win their trust. What the humans don’t realize is that although Na’vi may not be as technologically advanced as humans, they are physically and spiritually light years ahead.

The story is told through the protagonist/good guy, Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington). Jake is an ex-Marine who has lost the use of his legs and is bound to a wheelchair. Turns out public healthcare hasn’t caught up to the year 2154 yet, and only privileged humans can afford corrective surgery.

Jake’s twin brother had been a scientist working on the Avatar project. After he is killed, Jake is offered the opportunity to take his place, because he shares the same genetic make up which is compatible with an avatar. He is sent to work with the head of the Avatar program, Dr. Grace Augustine (played by Sigourney Weaver). An avatar is a genetically engineered body of a Na’vi that’s been bred on Earth in a genetics lab, and remotely controlled by a human mind. It was thought this would improve relations with the Na’vi.

Jake arrives on Pandora at a place called Hell’s Gate, which is the human colony on the planet. The military personnel there are more “hired guns” than servicemen. After Jake gets settled in his Avatar, he learns that it is his responsibility to earn the trust of the Na’vi people so the RDA can mine the unobtanium. In exchange, he gets brand new legs. Not an easy dilemma, because Colonel Miles Quaritch (played by Stephen Lang) is both heartless and violent, he has no respect for the Na’vi, and will do whatever it takes to obtain their Hometree.

Jake’s curious behavior gets him lost and deserted on Pandora for a night where he meets a Na’vi Princess named Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldana). She is given the task of teaching Jake the ways of her people, much to her displeasure, and so begins Jake’s journey of becoming a true Na’vi man. Yeah, the two hook up.

What Cameron has created visually in Avatar is nothing less than stunning. It’s not hype to say that there are dazzling, eye-popping computer-generated visual effects and incredible action sequences. You really feel immersed in this environment’s fluorescent glory. During the day, the jungle is lush and detailed, and at night, it looks very alien and terrifying. It’s staggering to think of all the different creepy-crawlies that Cameron and his team had to come up with to fill the jungle. Amazing.

Earlier this week, I read an article suggesting that the Avatar characters are animation, and I have to disagree. On paper it is, but the characters are so detailed, so graceful, and so refined that the lines are too blurred to be categorized. Their facial expressions, their bodies, even the fine details in their teeth and nails make the Na’vi far too real to the untrained eye. The last part of the movie is a seamless mixture of live action and digital, and I now understand why it took Cameron so many years waiting for the technology to catch up, and to ultimately complete this movie.

The stereoscopic 3D was also very positive, and I completely forgot that I had glasses on within the first few minutes. Given that Avatar has a lot of action and fast moving scenes, I would have enjoyed more pop-out effects, but I could see how Cameron wanted a moderate approach.

In a CNN interview, James Cameron said that he would be nervous if all the movie reviews were glowingly positive, so I’m going to calm his nerves a bit.

The movie has its share of flaws that will be overlooked by most, but not all. It’s near impossible to come up with an original story, and Avatar is too easily compared to movies like Dances With Wolves, Braveheart, Moses, Star Trek III, and Star Wars. While Avatar is innovatively penned and implemented, the story’s style is based on Hollywood’s earlier successes.

97% of the dialogue ran well, but that 3% really hurt. Some of the dialogue was just unbelievable. For example, when Jake asks why Neytiri rescued him, she says "Because your heart is pure". Yeah, I like that in a man. The same way I like the man with the biggest bird - and I’m not talking dirty.

On the positive side, there were some really creative ideas in this movie. For example, I liked how the Na’vi tails became nature’s USB connector for the animals and Na’vi to communicate together. It was a great character transition for Jake to go from wheelchair to blue-skinned acrobat, and they did have the occasional play on words which I won’t spoil here.

With the industry watching, whether it’s on Pandora or Earth, I’m sure Avatar is going to make some history in 2010. Congratulations to the Avatar team! Let’s hope the sequel doesn’t take ANOTHER 14 years!

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Final score 8/10