Avatar (2009)

8 May


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

(Originally reviewed early 2010)

“Avatar” is an extraordinary spectacle to behold—a film with the same kind of science-fiction/fantasy heart and energy that made “Star Wars” and “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy hits. James Cameron (director of the Terminator movies and “Titanic”) takes a story and fills it with amazing sights and gives “Avatar” a lot more than people would expect from him.

The film is set in the year 2154. U.S. Armed forces are set on a mission to an earth-sized moon called Pandora to locate a rare piece of mineral that the Earth desperately needs. The natives on Pandora are the Na’Vi, 12-ft. tall blue-skinned beings who respect their environment. They do not present a threat to Earth but nevertheless, the Armed forces are planning to attack them and retrieve that rare mineral that is somewhere in their dwelling. To venture out of their drafts, the people use avatars—Na’Vi lookalikes that are genetically created from observing the natives and are mind-controlled by humans, whose bodies still lay inside a machine in a trance-like state.

This new breakthrough is amazing to the hero Jake Sully (Sam Worthington). Jake is a paraplegic assigned on the mission because he is a genetic match for his dead identical twin, who already had an avatar ready for him. With this new body he inhabits, he can walk and run again. He can also venture out into the Pandora wilderness. Technically, there is no danger for him. If his avatar is destroyed, the human mind returns to its own body unharmed. Maybe.

“Avatar” is mostly about Jake as he changes his life on Pandora. First he’s a good soldier who wants to go along with the group. But then not much later, a series of events happens and he becomes a Na’Vi native. He befriends a female native named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who saved his life. He learns that the Na’Vi, who live in an enormous tree, are in harmony with nature and survive only because they know their planet well. To get around, they are forced to tame wild creatures, much like the Native Americans. In this case, they tame dragons that can be controlled once its tail and a Na’Vi’s tail are connected together. Strange.

Then the film sets into darker territory. The Armed forces are prepared to attack, given orders by the ruthless, aggressive Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephan Lang, who really lets it all out with this performance). We get many battle/action sequences, but these have purpose. “Avatar” has already established the characters so we fear for them. These scenes are powerful and frightening and well-handled. The movie is full of scenes that fall into those three adjectives. I can also add “amazing” in the scene in which Jake tames a dragon-like beast and later flies on it. That is a great sequence. It works even better in 3-D. 3-D is starting to become a trend nowadays but I watched this film in IMAX True 3-D and found myself (I’m not kidding) holding on to my own seat. 3-D works best when the film shown in 3-D gives us amazing-looking flying sequences. We can experience the flight ourselves while watching it.

The film looks great. “Avatar” is not only a sensational entertainment but also a technical breakthrough. Pandora was created by a large amount of CGI and it looks fantastic. We haven’t seen this place before; we would love to return someday. The Na’Vi are created by using real human actors in motion-capture technology. All is done convincingly—that is most important when working with technology like this. The Na’Vi look like unique individuals and give Cameron and the artists a lot of credit for making Neytiri, a female blue-skinned, golden-eyed giantess, look beautiful. Another pleasure in the movie is the relationship that builds up when Jake and Neytiri train together and learn to trust each other and even love each other. This is very risky to pull off, especially once you consider what would happen if Neytiri found out Jake’s body was only an avatar. But it works here. I loved watching these two together.

The film is 163 minutes. I have to admit, I never checked my watch—that’s a good sign. Though I also must admit, I thought the movie was going to end about an hour-and-a-half into the movie (that’s just a guess). But no, I was given an hour of more amazing visuals and more interesting story to experience. The running time of 163 minutes doesn’t seem like a long time. “Avatar” interested me from beginning to end.

James Cameron has done it again. This is his first film since “Titanic” twelve years ago and he spent all that time developing this project. He never took a step wrong. “Avatar” is one of the best films of 2009. Maybe James Cameron really is “king of the world.”

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