Movie Review: Avatar
Rating: PG-13 (intense epic battle sequences, warfare, smoking, sensuality, some language)
Length: 162 minutes
Release Date: December 18, 2009
Directed by: James Cameron
Stars: 4 out of 5
After steering "Titanic" to become the biggest box office hit in history, director James Cameron could have easily rested on his laurels. He was celebrated in his profession and had nothing left to prove as a filmmaker. However, Cameron has always been more than a filmmaker; he is also a dreamer. Since childhood, he has envisioned the world he would finally bring to reality in "Avatar."
The film begins on planet Earth in the year 2154. The planet has been dying a long, slow death for many years and must be saved. The only thing that will help save Earth is a very rare mineral called unobtanium. Unfortunately, the nearest planet with rich deposits of this mineral is Pandora, a moon of the Alpha Centauri system that is uninhabitable by humans.
Since Pandora is a gaseous planet with no oxygen, humans need special gear to inhabit it. The problem is that this special gear will show the natives, called Na'vi, that the humans are invaders. To solve this problem, a group of scientists, led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), develop a hybrid of humans and Na'vi called avatars. These avatars are synthetic bodies that look just like Na'vi, but are controlled remotely by the mind of a human.
The avatars are very expensive to create, so when one particular soldier dies after his avatar is complete, the military locates his twin brother to take his place. This brother, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), is a genetic match and can man the avatar built for his brother. Grace is not pleased, both because Jake is a paraplegic and because she does not trust him on her team. Nonetheless, Jake is able to use his dead brother's avatar to take the Na'vi form. Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) tells Jake the military will pay for an expensive surgery to restore his ability to walk, if he travels to Pandora and helps with the mission.
Jake gladly joins the mission to convince the Na'vi to move their base camp off of the largest deposit of unobtanium on the planet. When he goes out for the first time and is able to walk just like the Na'vi, it is an exhilarating moment. It is clear Jake enjoys being in avatar form.
He infiltrates the Na'vi camp by accident and is ordered to become a part of the group by Mo'at (CCH Pounder), who is the mother of Princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). As Neytiri tries to assimilate Jake to life with the Na'vi, her doubt about him melts and a true love story forms. It is not unlike the romance of Jack and Rose in "Titanic."
After several weeks of learning about the peaceful Na'vi way of life, Jake begins to side with them over his fellow humans, much to the chagrin of Quaritch and Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi). The two conspire to stop Jake from trying to warn the Na'vi about their impending doom as the time to attack the tribe draws near.
The film clocks in at 160 minutes, but still doesn't feel long enough. Cameron, who also wrote the screenplay, spends the first two acts of the movie setting up and developing the characters. Weaver, Worthington and Saldana all give rich performances, despite spending the entire movie in motion-capture suits so they can be digitized into Na'vi. Particularly effective is Saldana, whose lithe moves make the giant blue Na'vi Neytiri downright sexy.
Cameron had planned to make "Avatar" a full decade before it actually came out, but realized the technology he needed to make the film didn't yet exist. He spent the better part of a decade developing both the needed technology and an entire Na'vi language. All of that hard work paid off, because "Avatar" is simply stunning.
Before "Avatar," 3D had not been used on a regular basis in years. In fact, most film fans considered it schlocky, like something only a desperate director would use as a gimmick. The format hadn't received a decent upgrade in some time. With Cameron's upgrade and ingenious use of the format, it is now all the rage. The trend of either filming in 3D or converting to 3D after filming is now almost expected of any big-studio film. That is a testament to the impact that "Avatar" had had on the movie industry.