December 18, 2009 Avatar
Studio: 20th Century Fox Rating: PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking.
It's been a dozen years since director James Cameron stepped behind a camera for a feature film.
I'm happy to tell you that he hasn't lost his touch with "Avatar."
Set on an alien moon named Pandora, a greedy corporation intends to drive the natives out of their homes in order to mine a rare and valuable mineral.
The tall, blue-skinned aliens called the "Na-vi" don't like that plan very much, so an army of hired guns is brought in help the company obtain its precious metal.
While the mercenaries prepare for attack, scientists work on a diplomatic solution. One part of the plan is to place their minds into genetically-engineered bodies called avatars. They're a combination of human and alien DNA.
But unexpectedly, a former marine is thrown into the mix. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is selected to join with an avatar and live among the "Na-vi." He is selected for the project after his brother is killed just a few days before departing our world for Pandora. But Jake has his own issues, because he's paralyzed from the waist down.
However, his military training does come in handy. Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) is the commander of the corporation's security force. He asks Jake to spy for him. The mission is to learn about the alien culture and its weaknesses.
Although this story has some familiar elements, "Avatar" succeeds on every level.
Jake's immersion into the alien culture soon opens his eyes to the reality of the situation and he begins to question whether the humans are really the good guys. There are definitely echoes of films like "Dances With Wolves" and "Lawrence Of Arabia."
But just because this tale has been told before in other lands with other characters doesn't take away from its effectiveness. It's good enough and sold with enough conviction to keep you engaged.
Even with an attractive plot, the real strength of this movie is how it looks. Cameron has created a 3-D universe that draws you in and surrounds you. Everything, no matter how fantastic, looks real.
It goes without saying that very few directors can stage action sequences like the man who brought us "Aliens," "Terminator 2" and "Titanic." The battle sequences are amazing, with a finale that is appropriately grand.
The actors all blend in very nicely with their computer generated world and characters. Worthington is an able leading man. His frustration with his broken body and exhilaration over his new alien form seem genuine. Zoe Saldana provides the voice and movements for the "Na-Vi" he eventually falls for.
Her Neytiri is both strong and smart. She's simultaneously worried about Jake's presence but is too fascinated by him to end his life. Their bond grows as the story moves along.
Sigourney Weaver returns to the science fiction genre and delivers a strong performance as the leader of the avatar project. Michelle Rodriguez and Giovanni Ribisi do some nice supporting work as a helicopter pilot and greedy corporate slimeball.
That being said, the strongest impression is made by Lang. His gung-ho colonel is a very bad dude and makes for an impressive villain. He is a worthy adversary for our heroes.
"Avatar" is simply incredible. Cameron had this movie in his head for a decade, but had to delay making it until technology caught up with his imagination. It was worth the wait.
This is filmmaking at its best. Science fiction has always been a very good tool to deliver topical messages in a way that doesn't seem too threatening. That is the case here. Some of the choices made in the movie echo similar subjects being debated in our world. And it raises questions about whether we're making the right decisions.
On my rating scale, "Avatar" earns a HOME RUN.
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