directed by James Cameron
(20th Century Fox, 2009)

Avatar is an experience you do not want to miss in the theaters if you are a fan of fantasy and love intense, gorgeous imagery. Director and writer James Cameron clearly spared no expense creating images that will stick with you long after you've left the theater.

Jake "Sully" Sullivan (Sam Worthington) is a recently injured Marine who has lost the use of his legs -- and he's also lost his scientist twin brother. When he gets the opportunity to take his brother's place in the Avatar experiments, he accepts the scientists' proposition to take over an alien avatar being grown especially for his twin. He also accepts the charge of Colonel Miles Quantich (Stephen Lang) to infiltrate the Na'vi people and find out how best to get them to move away from a rich deposit of newly discovered mineral, ironically named "unobtainium," which an American corporation wants.

An accident brings Jake into the thick of Na'vi society, where he is charged to learn their ways and is given the aid of the chief's daughter, Naytiri (Zoe Saldana), to help him do so.

Jake has three months to pass the Na'vi ritual and learn their ways -- or the bulldozers will come to destroy the Tree of Souls where the richest deposits of the unobtainium are to be found.

The CGI is awesome. You feels as though you are literally on Pandora, with the strongest longing to join the Na'vi and commute with the magnificent Tree of Souls.

As for the plot, Avatar has been likened to Dances with Wolves in space, Manifest Destiny by Barry Longyear and many others. The plot is stereotypical, which in some ways is a good idea because I am not sure most people's brains could hold both the scenery and the story at the same time.

WARNING: People with vertigo should use caution when watching this film on the big screen. You are going to be flying on a dragon's back in 3-D, and the effects are dizzyingly realistic.

by Becky Kyle
8 May 2010

It's Dances with Wolves meets Fern Gully, with a mixture of live-action and computer-generated performances that makes Who Framed Roger Rabbit? look like a stereoscope.

I missed seeing Avatar in a theater, which means much of the 3-D wonderment of this James Cameron production was lost on me. Of course, a good movie cannot stand on special effects alone, so I was curious to see if the movie I'd heard so much about would have much merit on a small, two-dimensional screen.

The story is about Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a crippled marine who takes a post as an avatar guard on an alien world. Basically, his consciousness is transplanted into a body of cloned human and Na'vi DNA; the Na'vi are the tall, thin, blue-skinned aboriginals who live on Pandora, a jungle planet that is also the source of a rare metal that is very valuable on Earth.

Cue corporate greed. A massive mission is undertaken to Pandora to rip as much profit from the soil as possible, native homelands be damned. While ostensibly a corporate mission headed by the soulless Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), the team includes a small group of scientists led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), who wants to study the Na'vi and respects their ways, and a large military contingent commanded by Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who wants to drop as many bombs and kill as many natives as he can.

When some of the local fauna attacks and he is separated from his group, Sully ends up being adopted into the local Na'vi tribe, represented by the lovely Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who introduces Sully to a whole new level of immodesty.

Will Sully form a cultural bridge between two peoples? Will he provide intelligence to Quaritch to assist the military option? Or will he "go native" and become one with the Na'vi, fighting against his own people to preserve the natives' simple but beautiful way of life. Oh, go on, have a guess.

Avatar is an ambitious (and costly) undertaking, a 60-40 mix of CGI and live action. The Na'vi -- at least on the small screen -- look real and move naturally, a new benchmark for this kind of filmmaking. The Pandoran landscape, too, is a visual marvel, with surprises hidden behind every tree.

So, ultimately, it doesn't matter much how good the film is, because visually and technologically, it has raised the bar. Avatar is a visual treat. Most viewers won't care if the plot is derivative and simplistic, or if the dialogue is often laughably bad.

by Tom Knapp
8 May 2010


Buy it from Amazon.com.