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Avatar (2009)
Rated PG13

Starring: Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, and Zoe Saldana

Rating:
*****
out of
*****

Taking place in 2154, Avatar introduces us to the Na'vi, a race of 10-foot-tall feline-like creatures who live in spiritual harmony with their forest planet of Pandora. Humans have traveled to Pandora after plundering the natural resources of Earth. So far, the Na'vi have resisted the infiltration of the humans into their world. This is because the humans have been split into two philosophies on how to deal with the Na'vi. The military arm of expedition has been held in check by the scientific one but the restraint is tenuous at best.

The scientists, led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), have developed a method for winning the hearts and minds of the Na'vi by using remotely controlled "avatars", creatures that were created by combining Na'vi and human DNA. These avatars allow their drivers to experience contact with the Na'vi with no danger of physical harm. Their creation is an expensive and time consuming process, however.

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a paraplegic Marine who transfers into the driver program after his brother, who was extensively trained for the project, was killed. He shares enough of his brother's DNA to be able to control his brother's avatar. However, his lack of training in the ways of the Na'vi makes Dr. Augustine skeptical of his ability to succeed. His Marine background has attracted the attention of Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) who recruits Jake to gather information about the Na'vi to help plot a military strike against them.

On his first mission to Pandora, Jake becomes separated from his team and is found by a Na'vi female named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who introduces him to the Na'vi civilization, convinced that she's received a sign from the goddess of the forest that Jake is different than other "sky people" who've come to visit their tribe. Jake is tasked with learning the ways of the Na'vi, which will allow him to access their innermost secrets. This will allow him to provide critical data to Colonel Quaritch but, as he falls in love with the Na'vi people and Neytiri in particular, Jake may soon regret his mission.

It's hard to believe that it's been 12 years since director James Cameron has made a feature film. His last entry into theaters? Titanic. And, as was the case before the release of Titanic, Cameron has been criticized about the fact that he's spent what amounts to the gross domestic product of Micronesia on Avatar. Say what you will about his spending habits, it looks like every penny made it to the screen as Avatar is the most visually impressive film I've ever seen. (I've seen both the 2D and 3D versions of the movie and, without question, the 3D version is superior.)

Avatar was created by using a combination of live action footage and CGI animation and manages to deliver an experience that is like nothing you've seen before on film. There was never a time while watching the movie that I was nitpicking the special effects nor did I ever feel as if I was watching a cartoon as I do during sone CGI-heavy films. (The 3D version floored me with the excellent and incredibly subtle use of the presentation technology.)

That being said, the story of Avatar is nothing special or amazing. In fact, it's downright predictable. You've seen this story before. A friend of mine compared it to Dances With Wolves, with its story of an outsider with an ulterior motive infiltrating an indigenous people who then comes to respect and defend them. I'd have to agree. However, the movie presents such an agreeable and inventive visual experience, you don't mind sitting through it. The rather soft storyline makes the unusual world of Pandora feel somewhat safe and familiar as you sit back and digest the spectacular visual treats.

No one directs action as well as James Cameron. I have long criticized CGI heavy action fare such as Transformers, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for their confusing action sequences. Avatar, however, shows that CGI can be used to create rousing and involving action sequences without confusing the viewer or losing any visual impact.

I normally don't recommend a movie on visuals alone. Avatar's story is its weak point but only because it doesn't provide much in the way of surprises. It provides an excellent foundation for the amazing special effects and, because of that, I highly recommend Avatar as a movie-going experience.

Trivia: As of December 2009, with an alleged budget of US $230,000,000 (estimated), this is the most expensive movie ever made. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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