Avatar (2009)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 1/3/10
Written And Directed By: James Cameron
Music: James Horner
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel Moore


Every so often a film comes along that breaks down the barriers of what you thought was possible. "Avatar" is one of those films. Certainly not because of its story, acting, or drama, but for its sheer visual splendor and its ability to so fully realize an alien world. The execution is flawless and James Cameron makes every little detail of the planet Pandora utterly believable, with the small exception of the characters' dumbed down dialog. To be fair, the main character is a muscle-bound and not-so-bright ex-marine, but that doesn't make him pleasant or easy to identify with. The story is a derivative cautionary tale of greed and ecological horror, as humans execute a slash-and-burn mining operation on the fantastic planet of Pandora. Sigourney Weaver heads up a scientific research group that studies the indigenous people of Pandora called the Na'vi, and has developed a way for humans to telepathically control artificially grown Na'vi bodies as a way to integrate with the natives. Through a strange twist of fate, ex-marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is chosen to control one of these avatars, and through another strange twist of fate he meets a female Na'vi named Neytiri (Zoë Saldana) and is taken in by her tribe. But trouble is brewing as the mining corporation and its security force plan to destroy the Na'vi and their most sacred places, with extreme force if necessary. Jake has to decide whose side he's on and which race to betray. Naturally, the final thirty minutes are a last stand confrontation between the two races, with enormous amounts of death and destruction.

As Cameron's first film since "Titanic" (1997), I knew that this was going to be big and it does not disappoint. However, I was annoyed by the fact that Cameron was reportedly working on a live action adaptation of "Battle Angel" before he switched gears to work on "Avatar." Honestly, I would have preferred to see that film instead. Adding more confusion was the fact that M. Night Shyamalan was making a live action adaptation of the animated TV series called "Avatar" at the same time, and that its title was changed to "The Last Airbender." I guess in the end, none of that really matters and all we're left with is an amazing piece of cinema. More than anything, the film resembles a live action version of "Final Fantasy X" with its breathtaking locales, diverse flora and fauna, various cultures and races, and its heavy handed themes of Man vs. Machine vs. Nature. In fact, the film is probably the best video game adaptation ever, except that it's not based on a video game... All of the actors do a fine job, but they're severely upstaged by the visual effects. The awe and wonder of Pandora never lets up, and each new scene is filled with even more stunning imagery. The attention to detail is quite overwhelming, and the film definitely deserves multiple viewings to be fully appreciated. Well done, Mr. Cameron. Now, about that "Battle Angel" film you were working on...