MOVIE REVIEW – ‘Avatar’

Review by J.T. Johnson

DIRECTOR: James Cameron
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Mauro Fiore
WRITER: James Cameron
MUSIC: James Horner

After a 12 year absence, director James Cameron returns to the big screen with his long-awaited project, “Avatar”. More appropriately, the film should be titled “Dances with the Aliens”. The film sees Sam Worthington playing Jake Sully, a paraplegic marine who has been sent in his deceased twin brother’s place to take part in the scientific studies taking place on the planet Pandora.

The planet is being colonized but the humans are having trouble dealing with the native Na’vi, a seemingly primitive race that is taller than the human’s and they have blue skin. SecFor is a company located on the planet that is trying to obtain the planet’s unobtanium, a valuable mineral that is helping to remedy the energy and economic crisis that is occurring on Earth.

The man on site is Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), a man who doesn’t care whether it’s the military or the peaceful scientists that deal with the Na’vi. He just wants his precious minerals.

Stephen Lang plays the evil Colonel Miles Quaritch, a man who commands the military forces and would love nothing more than the annihilation of the entire Na’vi species. He enlists Jake to spy on the aliens and learn everything he can so that Quaritch’s forces can attack them when the time comes.

Jake complies until he learns the ways of the Na’vi and begins to doubt whether or not he is doing the right thing. This is where the wheels of movie damn near fall off. The film starts off with an interesting concept of aliens and humans possibly learning from one another. Then it turns into “Dances with Wolves” with the Indians being replaced by aliens and Kevin Costner being replaced by Worthington.

The story almost kills the film, plain and simple. Ten minutes in, the audience knows exactly what is going to happen. The film’s predictability and lack of a truly original idea show throughout and, at times, it can be a real bore fest.

However, the movie is not without hope. This is one of those rare times where the special-effects can actually come in to save the day. The film is one of the most beautiful movies to come around in a long time. The planet of Pandora is filled with creatures of all shapes and sizes and they all play their roles in the film.

The action sequences are realistic and full of energy. The final battles in the film outshine any of the problems found with the story as the audience gets swept away. This is no surprise considering that Weta Digital, the wonderful people behind “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, participated in bringing the world of Pandora to life.

Another great thing about the film is the new cameras developed to shoot the live-action sequences with the real actors. In order to achieve the effects he wanted, Cameron had new stereoscopic cameras developed that helped see what the human eye sees. These cameras did their jobs so well that there were times where it was unknown whether or not the actors were real or digital versions of themselves.

James Cameron has always been on the edge of the current technology. Like George Lucas, he is a director that is more concerned with his creations rather than the story surrounding them. Here, it is no different.

Also, despite not having much of a story to work with, the actors give some pretty solid performances. The two of note are Worthington and Sigourney Weaver. Worthington throws himself into the part and the audience does at least feel for this guy who is being torn between doing what he is told and doing what is right.

Weaver, on the other hand, is the tough-as-nails Dr. Grace Augustine. She is playing yet another strong female role and you are always glued to the screen when she appears. Despite a story that almost kills the film, “Avatar’s” special-effects and strong performances from its lead actors save the movie from its own pitfalls.

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