Saturday, January 9, 2010

Avatar (2009)

Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, et al
Rated PG-13, 162 minutes

Revolutionary 3D. From the director of "The Terminator." IMAX. The director of "Aliens." CGI blue people. The director of "Titanic." FROM THE DIRECTOR OF "TRUE LIES" FOR CHRISSAKES!!!!

This film had a marketing push so big, an ad came out of your toilet when you flushed. And, unlike my nature, I actually went and saw it.

Set more than a century in the future, "Avatar" depicts a far-off moon of a far-off planet where a corporation is mining for a rare, expensive material. Inhabiting the land they wish to cash in on are a native people called the Na'vi - blue-skinned, tall, animal-like, and truly in touch with nature. And naturally, a military force wants to swoop in and eradicate them and their land. As part of the process, a team assume the bodies of Na'vi "avatars" - native surrogates who work the diplomacy end of things.

Jake Sully (Worthington) is a former Marine, filling in for his
deceased brother on the science team. With a "meathead" bias against him, and his condition as a paraplegic, Jake is relegated to standing guard, even when operating his fully-functional avatar. When he goes astray on a routine gathering of samples, Jake winds up being the team's best link to the ways of the Na'vi. He integrates with them, learns their ways, and falls in love with his guide.

In his human form, Jake's allegiance sways. The military in him says cooperate with the Colonel. But his exposure to the natives makes him second guess.

Despite sledgehammer-sized political overtones in a familiar archetype, I got into the emotion of the Na'vi. Their land was especially beautiful. And it was especially real looking when the first round of destruction equipment came to clear it away. CGI has evolved a ton, obviously, and it got used to great effect in the most lush scenes, as well as the most dark.

In the trailers, the actors were third banana (at best) to James "Money" Cameron's involvement, as well as the 3D environment. And truly, no one performance really grabbed me. The human characters provided a lot of the facepalming moments I had watching "Avatar." Most of them felt paint-by-numbers and one-dimensional. The biggest bout of embarrassment I had, though, was calling the sought-after substance "unobtanium." The action, as almost always in big time movies, was a bit too over the top. But it didn't detract near as much here as it would in some guns-blazing macho "story."

I saw it in 3D on a standard issue screen, so I can't speak to the groundbreaking technology as well as I can the nuts and bolts of the movie. In my experience, the 3D was used in some groan-worthy ways throughout, with the tips of weapons coming forth for no real reason - that sort of thing. But again, it doesn't speak to how it worked in IMAX, so I'll keep from making that part of my score.


The runtime was a little taxing, but I managed to get rescued from restlessness several times. A number of things felt played in this movie, but they were still executed well. I don't regret being pulled in by the hype, which is pretty rare for me.

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