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Avatar (Review)

Avatar (Review)

Ground-breaking, as promised.
Dec 14, 2009
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Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy Release Date: 17/12/2009 Runtime: 162 minutes Country: USA, UK


Director:   Writer(s): 
James Cameron

Cast: , , , , ,
Avatar (Review), reviewed by Anders Wotzke on 2009-12-14T22:52:53+00:00 rating 4.5 out of5

Defying the sceptic inside all of us, James Cameron’s long-awaited sci-fi epic Avatar does the impossible by actually living up to the lofty expectations set by the director’s own inflated ego and the record-breaking success of his previous endeavour Titanic. Coating classic romanticism with breathtaking 3D visuals, Avatar transports us to another world for 162 minutes of sensory bliss, a place difficult to leave once the credits roll. Every cent of the film’s $300+ million budget can be accounted for, and I’m betting every cent will be recouped in box-office takings before the new year.

Set 145 years in the future, the film takes place in on the distant world of Pandora, an unforgiving jungle planet home to a blue alien population called the Na’vi. These giant elf-like creatures share a deep spiritual connection with the flora and fauna of the planet, one that human scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) would love to get close enough to research. To gain their trust, she has developed the AVATAR program which sees a group of specially trained scientists assume complete control over the body of a Na’vi surrogate.

When Augustine’s newest recruit, a paralysed ex-marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), finds his Avatar-self lost in the jungle one night, he is rescued by a sassy Na’vi maiden named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) who takes him back to her tribe. The two inevitably fall in love, but standing in the way of ‘happily ever after’ is warmonger Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who has orders to eradicate the Na’vi population if they cannot be peacefully relocated. Their village sits atop of the planets richest deposits of Unobtanium, an ironically titled, highly expensive mineral that the mining company SecFor will do anything to get their hands on.

It might have taken him over a decade to develop, but Cameron’s screenplay is bound by conventions, featuring a predictable fish-out-of-water story and a historically familiar ‘greedy Empire vs. primitive natives’ conflict.  In fact, Avatar might have amounted to little more than a pretty screensaver if it weren’t for the beautifully handled romance between  Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana. After wooing Captain Kirk and Dr. Spock in the recent Star Trek remake, Saldana is near unrecognisable as the Na’vi princess Neytiri, her character brought to life via impressive motion-capture rendering that is expressionistically human. Neytiri’s unique relationship with Jake’s avatar draws interesting parallels to online dating, considering the two  manage to fall in love without technically meeting.

avatar211 350x186 Avatar (Review)

Starring in a film that revels in excess, Worthington’s performance as Jake is surprisingly well grounded. He succeeds in keep the film’s humanity intact, while Stephen Lang is devilishly fun as the merciless Colonel who tries to take it away. Caught somewhere in the middle is Sigourney Weaver, who at no fault of her own makes an abrupt transition from moody, hard-edged scientist to a nurturing mother figure. Luckily, she’s good at both.

Simply put, Avatar is sexy.  From the astonishing level of environmental detail to the inspired creature design, this is the visually ground-breaking film Cameron promised. You must see this in 3D, you’ll regret it if you don’t. The explosive aerial finale will have you repeatedly picking your jaw off the floor, right up there with the chariot race from Ben Hur and the final battle in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in terms of magnificence. The action might be a tad frantic for some, but credit goes out to Mauro Fiore and Vince Pace’s fluid cinematography and John Refoua and Stephen E. Rivkin’s editing for conveying the endless spectacle without disorientating.

Among its many technical achievements, Avatar bridges the gap between digital and live-action filmmaking to the point where the two are almost interchangeable. It is entirely possible that, within the next decade, actors will no longer be cast in Hollywood blockbusters, instead replaced by a room full of pale-skinned, sleep-deprived computer programmers and animators. And the scary part is that we won’t be able to tell the difference. While it’s not quite at that point just yet, New Zealand-based visual effects company Weta Digital – along with legions of other secondary FX studios – come dangerously close. No other film has made an entire alien species feel so alive. No other film has made a fictional planet look so real.

Cinematic escapism doesn’t get much better than this.

[Rating: 4.5/5]

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