AvatarWritten and directed by James CameronStarring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver and Stephen LangRated PG-13*7.5*Goes well with: Aliens, Dances With Wolves, 2001: A Space Odyssey
Sometimes, people tell you that you just have to see a movie on the big screen. And, hey, sometimes they're right, like when it comes to James Cameron's mega-3D-sci-fi-extravaganza, Avatar. There's been extraordinary hype surrounding the movie, which has been reported to have cost as much as $300 million to make. All of this turns it into more of an event than just a film, but if you're going to see it, make sure you do it at the theater and in 3D. Listen, Avatar won't be as good in 2D, and you don't have a 3D TV set (yet). But, most importantly, this is a step in another direction for the movies, and, visually, it's a staggering cinematic experience.
Before I go on, let's get a couple of things straight. Is Avatar perfect? No, not by a long shot. It's way too long, and the story is predictable, foreseeable and inevitable. Still, the story's not so bad that it brings down the movie, and though the dialogue is clunky, it's rarely distracting. And when the climactic battle finally occurs, it's so awesome that you might not mind the film's length.
Here's the deal: It's 2154, and crippled former Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is hired to replace his recently deceased scientist brother on the planet Pandora, where a massive corporation, fronted by sleazy executive Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) and military honcho Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), is mining its resources. Humans can't breathe on Pandora, there's all kinds of hostile wildlife, and blue-skinned, catlike indigenous humanoids, the Na'vi, live really close to the mother lode. The humans have two ways of dealing with these beings: There's Dr. Grace Augustine's Avatar program, which allows Jake and others to enter into a pod and psychically control a creature created from DNA from him and the Na'vi. This offers the opportunity to interact directly with the locals—you know, as in diplomacy. And then there's Col. Quaritch's way, which is essentially the Dick Cheney doctrine.
James Cameron is many things, but subtle isn't one of them. The planet is called Pandora, after all. He's telling an epic tale, about the very nature of life and humanity, our relationship to everything around us and how our species tends to destroy anything that gets in the way of what we consider progress. The Na'vi interact with Pandora in a similar way the aboriginals once did in Australia and the way Native Americans did on this continent. They're part of Pandora, and Pandora is part of them, and it's an inconvenient truth that the humans are there because they've decimated their own blue marble. And Jake, in his Na'vi body, ends up being taught to live like a native by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), the chief's daughter.
So, will she and Jake fall for each other? Will he discover the importance of respecting nature? Will he eventually lead the Na'vi against the human encroachers? If you can't sort that one out, you probably wondered how Titanic was going to end.
Normally, cutting-edge special effects aren't enough to overcome a movie's flaws. But this is an entirely different way of making and seeing a film, a gorgeous success of CGI and motion capture. The creatures and plants of Pandora look and feel organic and real, and the 3D of the entire experience is so immersive that you forget you're wearing the glasses.
Of course, Avatar will probably end up next to Titanic, rather than 2001: A Space Odyssey, on our collective mental shelves. But until then, it's worth recognizing that while the acting and the script are fairly standard, Avatar is a visual, technological and cinematic achievement that can't be judged—yet—in the same way as most other films, because it is utterly unlike all other films. My advice? See it before the backlash starts, and whatever you do, make sure you see it in 3D.
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