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Avatar Review by Moving Pictures Magazine

Reviewed by Rick Klaw
(December 2009)

Directed/Written by: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi

Twelve years after crafting the Oscar-winning best picture “Titanic” and nearly two decades since “Terminator 2,” director/screenwriter/producer James Cameron returns to the big screen and his science fiction roots with the much ballyhooed “Avatar.” Equipped with groundbreaking 3-D and graphics technology, Cameron’s nearly three-hour epic emerges as perhaps the most beautiful movie ever produced.

Avatar; courtesy WETA and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.
A Na’vi warrior races into battle on a thanator, a fearsome panther-like creature native to Pandora; courtesy WETA and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.

In the far future, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a wounded and paralyzed former U.S. Marine, travels to Pandora, a lush, jungle-covered extraterrestrial moon and home to a sentient humanoid race, the Na’vi. Approximately 10-feet tall with tails and sparkling blue skin, the Na’vi fight when a human corporation, backed by battalions of Marines, attempts to remove the indigenous people from their native lands.

Unable to breathe the air on Pandora, human scientists create genetically-bred human-Na’vi hybrids known as Avatars. Jake participates in the Avatar program, which enables him to walk again though a new body. Sent deep into Pandora’s jungles as a scout, Jake encounters many of Pandora’s varied beauties and dangers.

Avatar; photo by Mark Fellman and WETA, courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.
Worthington: Jake (Sam Worthington) meets his avatar, a genetically engineered hybrid of human DNA mixed with DNA from the natives of Pandora; photo by Mark Fellman and WETA, courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.

Complete with contrived dialogue and a telegraphed plot, the hackneyed tale derives, almost fully-formed, via the 1950s and the far more compelling fiction of Jack Vance and Robert Heinlein. Offering little in character originality, Cameron borrows heavily from his previous sci-fi endeavors. Even one of his former stars, Sigourney Weaver, returns as the head scientist for the Avatar project. The adequate acting rarely excels and at times even devolves into stereotype.

The world of the Na’vi, while intriguing, offers little that hasn’t been portrayed before. To his credit, the excellent combat scenes serve to remind filmgoers that Cameron belongs among the top tier of all-time action directors. None of this matters though. The true essence of “Avatar” rests with the impressive visual effects.

No stranger to special effects, Cameron created new advancements in that arena with several of his previous films, including both “Terminators,” “The Abyss” and “Titanic.” The 3-D and visual effects of “Avatar” far exceed anything previously seen. The extensive trailers fail to properly showcase the extent of the dazzling imagery, and offer only a glimpse of why this feature needs to be seen in the theater. Even with the lengthy running time, due primarily to the visuals, the movie doesn’t feel overly long.

Avatar; photo by Mark Fellman, courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.
As an epic battle approaches, Jake (Sam Worthington, left), Grace (Sigourney Weaver), Trudy (Michelle Rodriguez) and Norm (Joel David Moore) plan their next move; photo by Mark Fellman, courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.

Unlike most directors, Cameron, for the most part, uses the 3-D subtly. Realistic sweat dripping of faces enhances the tension. By giving depth, a large ship interior becomes massive. The projection screens used on the ships are fully integrated and interact seamlessly with the crew. Lighter-than-air creatures have depth and mass. All these little touches breathe life into the very alien world of “Avatar.”

The attractive Na’vi, conceived using a technology similar to that which created Gollum (in “Lord of the Rings”) and Peter Jackson’s giant ape in “King Kong,” retain a human-ness while simultaneously basking in their uniqueness. The entire Pandora landscape abounds in a lushness of detail, from the tiniest creatures to the humongous floating mountains.

By fully embracing and understanding current technologies, Cameron has created a visual delight unlike any previous movie. Even with the story flaws, the drop-dead gorgeous “Avatar” provides unforgettable entertainment.

Photo (top): Neytiri (Zoë Saldana, right) teaches Jake (Sam Worthington) the skills he’ll need to survive on Pandora; courtesy WETA and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.


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