James Cameron’s Avatar | movie review

Avatar is a great film.  Here is a movie that will actually surprise you and offer things you have never seen before.  James Cameron has delivered a special effects powerhouse that is actually an extended acid trip in the jungle.  The human tech is underwhelming, so is the heavy-handed theme, but consider these as elements tacked on to a movie about exploring the forest.

James Cameron has really outdone himself on just about every level, and his perfectionist bent is on display in details done right.  The IMAX 3D really comes through and isn’t concerned with tacky tricks.  3D is used as a depth producer and expands every shot into a panorama.  The best scenes of the movie are completely CGI, and it isn’t photo-realistic, but it’s getting there.  It feels more like a hyper claymation light show.  Cameron really came through with the world creation, and everything meshes together just so.

But, honestly, what kind of crazy drugs has Cameron been on these past 12 years?  This is a psychedelic trip; I’ve heard stories about these crazy Atlantean people who are blue, but Cameron has really taken this stuff to heart.  The whole world, it’s connected, by the ROOTS!  The creature design in this movie is kind of like a George Lucas movie, but not boring.  There are a lot of six legs, and a lot of two eyes, and a lot of craziness going on in that jungle.  The moss lights up when you step on it, and the mushrooms are touch-sensitive, and don’t even get me started on the floating mountains.  I have to say that my favorite creature is the helicopter gecko, but there were a lot to choose from.

Up front, it has to be said that all of the human spaceship and military stuff looks a lot faker than the plant world.  It looks like a video game all the time, not that it wasn’t entertaining seeing big mothership showdowns, and I’m always a fan of mechs, but it just isn’t as good.  The tech is all updated Aliens hardware, and it looks good, but it pales in comparison next to the Fern Gully light show.  The Na’vi are a lot better on the big screen than they look on your TV, and I thought that Sigourney Weaver’s blue double was a lot like her.  They are huge and blue, and they have carbon bones.  A great job; not realistic, not really animation, either, kind of in between.

The story, a Cameron original, is about Jake Sully (thousand-watt smile Sam Worthington) coming to Pandora (they’re about to open Pandora’s Box!) to help the evil corporation mine Unobtainium (it’s unobtainable!) by using the human/Na’vi hybrid creatures (an avatar, if you will) to talk to the locals.  Not much thought is given to the surrogate bodies (I guess they have no free will of their own), and Sully quickly falls in with the local tribe.  Luckily, the Na’vi he runs into is Neytiri, who falls into pretty human standards of sex appeal, although the tail necessitates a two-layer thong design.  I would’ve liked to see some morbidly obese Na’vi, but that will have to wait for the sequel.

When Jake gets into the tribe, the usual nonsense happens (jealous boyfriend, disapproving dad, prophetic mom) that leads to a Native American style test of manhood.  This middle part of the movie, wherein Jake is led through the forest by Neytiri and is taught the ins and outs of the jungle, is the best part of the movie.  Everything is just about great, with no humans to break up the illusion.  The animals are great, and every once in a while you might be treated to a blue nipple (alien nipples don’t count towards R ratings).  Jake learns to ride the six-legged alien horse, fly the alien lizard bird, and then gets to sleep with the hot alien chick under a brain tree.  This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is pretty damn creative and original.  These special effects are like watching Jurassic Park for the first time–it’s just that good.

The human story pads the second act with some war parable by way of environmental awareness.  They never say what Unobtainium does, but it might as well be called Oilium, or Iraqium.  I think the Na’vi are a bad analogy for the Middle East, though, because Na’vi women are mostly treated as equals.  I mean, I’m pretty liberal, but these anti-Bush lines are getting really old.  “We’re going to fight terror with terror,” and “It’s some kind of shock and awe campaign.”  This just isn’t fresh anymore, but the movie beats us over the head again and again with this imperialist moralizing.  When the humans are gearing up to blow up the Na’vi, the crowd is full of fat rednecks with trucker hats and mustaches, versus the good guys who are all thoughtful scientist types.  It might be true (big if regardless, but I’m playing to stereotypes like Cameron here), but it is a lazy dichotomy.

The final act’s throw-down between the forest and the humans is awfully predictable, and not as slick as the pure jungle scenes, but it is still epic.  The animation is way beyond anything Transformers II offered up earlier this year, and the explosions are particularly explodey.  There is very little that is wrong with this film.  I don’t think everyone will love this movie, but I hope it does well enough for the trilogy to be made.  I had my doubts going into this movie, but Cameron came through for me one more time.

I like Sam Worthington; he has a more subtle approach to the action genre than most of his peers.  Terminator Salvation was awful, but Worthington was easily the best part of it, and Clash of the Titans is looking promising, if unoriginal.  Worthington is all about heart-of-gold introspection, not aggressive masculine bluster.  He pulled through for this movie.  Go see this movie, pay extra for the IMAX tickets, and throw your expectations out the window.  For the first fifteen minutes, you’ll say, “Is this all there is?”  Be patient; ease your way into the movie, and you’ll be blown away.