Friday, December 18, 2009

AVATAR / ****

Distributor: Fox
Release Date: December 18, 2009
Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure
Running Time: 160 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

It’s been 12 years since director James Cameron unleashed his epic “Titanic,” which swept the Oscars, winning 11 awards out of 14 nominations. On that night, Cameron proclaimed himself “the king of the world.” It also grossed a mere $600 million at the box office, a record that still stands to this day.

Therefore it is inevitable that his next film would arrive with heightened expectations, a hype that would be nearly impossible to live up to. TV spots have literally promised that his follow up film, “Avatar,” will change the way movies are made, and seen. The hype was so massive that South Park skewered the film weeks ago, referring to a film called “Dances with Smurfs.” I did my best to put all of the hype out of my mind as I sat down to watch the film.

The film takes place in the year 2154. Humans have discovered a valuable mineral on the planet Pandora, and they’ll be damned if they’re going to let the native Na’vi people stand in their way. A specialized group of scientists led by a woman named Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) has developed an Avatar program, in which new Na’vi are created from both human and Na’vi DNA. Humans are able to control these Avatars in order to get closer to the Na’vi and learn their ways, in the hopes that they can convince the Na’vi to relocate. This way the humans can get their precious minerals with minimal effort.

Enter Jake Sully (Sam Worthington of “Terminator Salvation”), a paralyzed former Marine. Jake’s twin brother was trained to work the Avatar, which is highly in tune with a person’s nervous system. Unfortunately Jake’s brother was killed, leaving an open spot for an Avatar operator. Even though he’s had no formal training, Jake is obviously the closest match to his deceased twin, and is brought on board to replace him. The added bonus for Jake is that he will get the sensation of walking again. The scene in which Jake first walks again through his Avatar is one of the great joys in a film filled with them.

From here, Jake embarks on an adventure of the highest magnitude, an adventure only Cameron could helm. The planet Pandora is truly an amazing sight to behold, as for once the 3D doesn’t feel at all intrusive. Cameron has created a world in which there is no shortage of amazing sights to see and behold. This is the best use of 3D I’ve ever seen in a film.

Jake infiltrates the Na’vi society effectively, and spends a majority of his time getting to know and falling in love with Neytiri (voiced by Zoe Saldana). She teaches Jake how to become one of them, and while he initially is doing so at the behest of Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) and corporate bigwig Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), he eventually grows to love both Neytiri and the ways of her people. When push comes to shove and the humans try to overrun the Na’vi, Jake sides against his own race.

The direction the story takes should be a surprise to approximately no one, but the visuals that Cameron and his team conjure up are nothing short of spectacular. No one can accuse Cameron of doing anything small – this is a big, bold, and ambitious film that no other director would even have the temerity to attempt to achieve.

Some may complain that the story is more or less a retelling of “Dances with Wolves.” Some may complain that the dialogue is trite, or that the villains are too far over the top. While those things may be true, the absolute spectacle and grandeur of the film easily overwhelms its weaknesses.

“Avatar” is a landmark film, a true watershed moment in the history of this industry that I love. Years from now it will still be talked about, emulated, and revered. This is one of the best films of the year.

Long live the king.

Theater: RDM Westroads 14, Omaha, NE
Time: 900 am; Quality Check
Date: December 17, 2009

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