Monday, December 21, 2009

Avatar ****

**** out of ****

There are many words that can describe Avatar: Incredible. Sweeping. Exhilarating. Awesome. OMG. I'll choose just one: epic. Once again, James Cameron has redefined what an epic film can truly be. The writer/director of such instant classics as the first two Terminator movies, Aliens, and of course, Titanic, makes yet another sci-fi actioner that makes everyone in the world turn their heads. The story is at once complicated and yet surprisingly simple. The acting is always genuine, and the special effects are quite simply the biggest and best ever put on screen.
The story centers around Jake, played with an everyman charm by Sam Worthington (Terminator: Salvation), a wheelchair-bound paraplegic sent to the distant planet Pandora after his twin brother dies. Pandora has a wide array of animals both small and large, but the people on the planet are only concerned with a precious metal under the surface. It just so happens an intelligent species called the Na'vi- giant blue cat/lizard creatures about twice as big as humans- are living right over a large supply of the metal, so Jake's job is to go in and try to move them out. The catch is: he and several others are able to take over a specially harvested Na'vi body so they can walk among the natives. (They hook up to the bodies in some kind of advanced tanning bed- think The Matrix. They come back to their human bodies when their avatars fall asleep.) This means that Jake is able to walk and run again. He gets in with the tribe and is taught their ways by a fierce warrior princess, played wonderfully by Zoe Saldana. After becoming one of them, Jake realizes how wrong the humans are to try and move them. He has to do battle against the scarred, determined Colonel to save the tribe.
To create a real-looking alien species played by people, Cameron had to invent a new kind of motion-capture technology, similar to what Robert Zemeckis did for The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol, except way better. Not only do the avatars capture the movements and emotions of the characters, they actually look and sound like the actors playing them! Seeing Sigourney Weaver as a tough scientist and a big blue creature is a real treat. The Na'vi and all the other animals, and the candy-colored planet itself for that matter, all looks incredibly real, and the film's intricate camerawork (and 3-D effects) puts the audience right there with the characters. It's easy to see why this film took 15 years to finish: it's so damn intricate.
In addition to the amazing special effects, this is an incredibly well-made film. The editing is masterful, letting you know in the first five minutes this is not just another hokey alien special effects film. The music is grand and aids in the emotions, the futuristic sets and props look authentic (even though it does look like they borrowed more than a couple ideas from Aliens), and the story is everything you'd want from an epic film like this- and everything you'd expect from a talented writer like Cameron. The plot may get predictable, but it's thrilling every step of the way. It offers real comparison to movies like Star Wars and Jurassic Park. The action and battle sequences are outstanding, as are the thrilling scenes earlier where Jake has to learn to fly on a giant winged creature.
Little-known actor Stephen Lang makes a wonderful villain as Colonel Quaritch, who kills with such a matter-of-factness like he's reading a report. The film also co-stars Michelle Rodriguez (TV's Lost) as a sexy pilot, Joel David Moore (Dodgeball) as a technician (he also gets his own avatar), and Giovanni Ribisi as the leader of the humans on the planet.
The film is really pretty flawless. If there's something to gripe about, it's the length. (Two hours and forty minutes.) As an epic film, it is fitting to be that long, but as a 3-D film, it does give one a headache after that long. (And of course I have only good things to say about the IMAX format. The giant screens, monster sound system, and vibrations under your feet really do elevate the film to an experience. See the film in this format if at all possible.) This naturally won't be as popular as Titanic (what would be?), but it truly is the movie event of the year and will definitely go down as one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time.
I would recommend this film to anyone who likes sci-fi, fantasy, or action films, or anyone who wants to see a kick-ass movie this holiday season.

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