Movie Review: Avatar

[xrr rating=3.25/5]

For my last movie of 2009 I opted to see Avatar.  It is the latest in line of what are considered to be some of the best cinematic experiences of all time by Writer/Producer/Director James Cameron.  And Avatar succeeds in continuing that line.

It’s not because this movie has a great story, because it doesn’t.  No this story is one you’ve seen many times before.  It’s a comfortable story, one you know, one with few surprises.  And that’s because if this movie had a complex story that you actually had to focus on, you would not be able to appreciate the splendor and beauty of what you’re seeing before you on the screen.  And that is the entire point of this movie: eye candy.

It is very hard to accept that 90% of this movie is CGI.  Because there, before you, are the Na’vi, 9 foot tall blue creatures that look every bit as real as you or I.  They are amazing to behold, and not because of their scantily clad nature.  No it’s because the move and breath like no computer animation ever has on screen before.  But it’s not just them, it’s the world they live in, Pandora.

The creatures of Pandora are as rich, diverse, and exotic as those we read about being found in the Brazilian rain forest here on Earth.  And as such, they, and the world they live in, are a wonder to behold.  I was so riveted by the animation in this movie that the only times I looked away from the screen were when the characters outside their avatar forms.

This is where the movie gets its name from.  The humans have, for many years, been trying to gain favor with the Na’vi so they can negotiate for land rights to mine an ore from Pandora called “unobtainium” – something not found on earth.  To do this Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) has created the “Avatar Program”.  A program where human and Na’vi DNA are combined to create Na’vi bodies that can be driven by the minds of human beings connected to them through cybernetic means.

This program is failing.  And the big corporate types, in this movie personified by Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), are at the end of their line of patience.  The largest deposit of unobtainium rests firmly under the “Home Tree” of the Na’vi people, and they intend one of two solutions to get at it: either the Na’vi move, or they get moved.

This is where our hero Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) comes in.  He is a paraplegic marine grunt who’s dead brother was set to enter the Avatar program.  The catch was is that they were identical twins, which means they have the same DNA.  This means that Jake could “drive” his brother’s Avatar.  So he accepts an offer and spends six years in cryogenic sleep on his way to Pandora.

Jake quickly meets Norm Spellman (Joel Moore) who is also an Avatar driver and his partner in the program.  Unlike the other Avatar drivers who are civilians, Jake, who is a marine, answers Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) who is the marine commander.  He tells Jake that if he is able to gather intel on the Na’vi of a nature that allows for a resolution to the problem that he will make sure Jake gets his legs repaired.  It is very clear that Quaritch is not interested in a peaceful solution.

The three drivers, and Trudy Chacon (Michelle Rodriguez), a marine pilot who is set as the escort for the Jake, Norm, and Grace both in and out of their Avatar forms, head out on their first mission together.  During this, Jake wanders off from the rest of the group and gets attacked by one of the more deadly of the forest creatures.  This leads to him loosing track of both his location, and the others, and he is forced to spend a night in the woods alone.  Something apparently no human or Avatar has done before.

Fortunately for Jake, he is rescued by one of the Na’vi, a female named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana).  After rescuing him, she is about to abandon him in the woods, when there is a quite interesting a beautiful moment that she takes to be an omen.  So she brings him home to her tribe and the “Home Tree“.  There he manages to convince the tribe to let him learn their ways.

From there the movie goes pretty much where you expect it to.  As I said above, the story itself holds few surprises, and is really the only reason I couldn’t give this movie a higher rating.  It did however earn its rating in both the acting, and the sheer stunning beauty of what is presented before you on the screen.  No CGI movie that follows will be successful without looking this good.  There were points where I could feel myself tearing up at how beautiful it all was.

If you are considering to taking your kids to this movie, be aware of a few things.  The Na’vi don’t wear much of anything in the way of clothing, and there is a high degree of violence in the movie, but nothing too graphic.  If you feel your kids can handle this, then you’re good to go.  Otherwise, I’d not take them.

Of course, if you are going, you’ll have to decide how you want to see this movie.  You can go view it in one of 5 different manners: standard 2D, RealD 3D, Dolby 3D, IMAX-lite (regular movie theaters that have been converted to IMAX), and standard IMAX.  I can only recommend that you not bother with seeing this movie in 2D, you will loose so much of the experience it’d be a waste of money.

My choice in the end was IMAX-lite.  I did a bit of research before this, and concluded that despite that you can’t tilt your head while viewing and don’t get to keep the 3D glasses, that this would be the best choice for me.  I’ve seen standard IMAX movies before, and while I don’t suffer from the motion sickness that some do in thestandard IMAX theaters, I do feel that I can’t keep my focus on the entire screen at once.  My second choice would have been RealD 3D.

If you are a science fiction sort, you probably either already have seen this movie or are planning to.  If you are the romantic sort, this movie has plenty of that as we see the evolution of the relationship between Jake and Neytiri.  If you are attracted to this movie for it’s beauty or simply like the “boy meets girl and saves the world” story that it presents then you should see this movie.

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