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James Cameron's epic sci-fi fantasy film released in 2009.

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Cameron Creates Worlds Like No Other

  • Dec 18, 2009
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James Cameron's "Avatar" is one of those films where you're happy to just sit back and let it happen. The story is unoriginal on just about every level, yet the way the story is told is an experience unto itself, not utilizing cinematic 3-D technologies so much as revolutionizing them, veering them away from conventional fly-off-the-screen tactics and ushering them into the twenty-first century. Yet again, Cameron's infamous tendency towards perfectionism (and really, really big budgets) pays off, allowing for one of the most creative, striking, immersive environments ever created for the big screen. To look at this movie is to envelope yourself in sheer visual delights, from futuristic spaceships to high-tech gadgets to fantastic creatures, all so finely crafted that they may be mistaken as the real thing.

The plot treads familiar ground as a fable about colonization, intolerance, corporate greed, wastefulness, and war. It takes place over 100 years in the future, when Earth, although not actually seen, has apparently been in the grip of an economic and energy crisis. In an effort to alleviate this issue, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephan Lang) leads a military operation to the lush, distant moon of Pandora, which is home to a valuable mineral source known as unobtanium. Unfortunately, the largest deposit rests under a patch of land populated by the indigenous Na'vi, graceful ten-foot-tall creatures with glistening blue skin and gold eyes. Because they lack technology, because they believe their land has spiritual properties, they're considered primitive and savage by human standards.

Since Pandora's atmosphere is incapable of supporting human life, interaction with the Na'vi depends on linking the human mind to engineered Na'vi clones called avatars. Here enters Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic ex-marine sent to Pandora to replace his identical twin brother, who has since been killed. His mission: Use his avatar to infiltrate a tribe of the Na'vi, earn their trust, and convince them to move away from their current location. Under the supervision of Earth scientist Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), Jake assumes control of his avatar and enters the jungle, where he soon encounters a Na'vi princess named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). Torn between distrusting him and appreciating his bravery, Neytiri is told by her mother, Mo'at (CCH Pounder), to teach Jake in the ways of their tribe in the hopes that he will become one of the people.

The story then becomes one of great conflict, not just between human and alien, but also between Jake's duty as a marine and his place amongst the Na'vi, which has been complicated by his growing affection for Neytiri. It also becomes a clash of priority, the heartless administrator Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) interested only in making a profit while Grace, who has studied the Na'vi for many years and can speak their language fluently, wants to see their species and way of life preserved. It inevitably comes down to a final battle between good and evil, in which Cameron relies on his own formula of pitting the mechanical against the organic; watching Jake fight Quaritch as he operates an enormous robotic walker, one cannot help but be reminded of the battle between the queen alien and Ripley's power loader in "Aliens."

Much has been made of the technical innovations utilized in "Avatar," and I have to say, everything you've heard is true. The 3-D process, made possible through the development of stereoscopic cameras, gives the picture a realistic sense of depth. This is especially true in the scenes taking place on Pandora, which is entirely computer generated. The Na'vi were brought to life by means of motion capture technology, adding a realism the likes of which I've never seen with computer generated imagery, not even in the last three films directed by Robert Zemeckis. They're undeniably otherworldly in appearance, yet they're not so exotic that basic emotions - fear, anger, grief, satisfaction - are impossible to point out. This was a wise move on Cameron's part; we can only invest in the Na'vi if we're able to relate to them at fundamental levels.

But the film's greatest achievement, like "Star Wars" before it, is in the way it blends special effects with common story elements. Jake, an example of the Amazing Grace paradigm, starts out as just another guy doing his job before realizing that actions have consequences, some of which could have and should have been prevented. The Na'vi can be symbolic of any number of mistreated indigenous peoples, from Native Americans to Aborigines. There's obvious distrust on both sides, which means there will eventually come a point at which differences must be set aside. The bad guys, most notably Quaritch and Selfridge, are very broadly drawn and not at all likely to have a crisis of conscience anytime soon. Just look at the name Selfridge. Doesn't it sound awfully similar to the word "selfish"?

All of this seamlessly combines into an unreasonably entertaining film, one that will be appealing, I believe, to audiences both inside and outside science fiction circles. It delivers as a visual effects extravaganza, yes, but it also delivers as an action spectacle, a morality play, and a surprisingly beautiful examination of spirituality, which in this case is backed by measurable scientific data. It also delivers as a showcase of 3-D, and if there's a choice, I strongly recommend you pay the extra money to see it that way (be it at a traditional venue or on an IMAX screen, which I hear is quite an experience). James Cameron has always been an innovator, and he has definitely proven himself once again with "Avatar," a testament to the art of filmmaking.

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July 03, 2011
I know that the plot was unoriginal but this was an experience. To like it, you have to allow yourself to be immersed in the world it had created. Nice review.
July 03, 2011
Yes, that's pretty much how I felt as well. It's strange; part of me wishes I had liked it even more, while another part of me wishes I wasn't so easy on it.
More Avatar (2009 film) reviews
review by . March 09, 2010
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review by . February 23, 2011
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James Cameron, it seems to me, creates wonderful dishware in which to place the most nourishing and satisfying of those things we humans crave. All those J. Cameron-imprinted tureens and goblets took rare imagination and meticulous craftsmanship to make. Just one piece can cost a Wall Street banker's annual bonus. They boggle. But look inside that tureen and there ain't no vichyssoise. Take Avatar.       This is one of the most beautiful movies you'll ever hope …
review by . January 30, 2010
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Fly me to the moon
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review by . March 01, 2010
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review by . November 12, 2010
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*** out of ****   James Cameron knows how to build hype. He also knows how to spend money very well. “Avatar” is the result of how Cameron spends his time and money, being a technical masterpiece but none the less a terribly familiar trip. Sure, it’s very engaging. Sure, it looks pretty. But when watching it, I noticed that everything Cameron shows or does is something that has been done before. Some of his choices often result in “Avatar” being very predictable …
review by . January 24, 2011
Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good   Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good Too good  
review by . February 21, 2011
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Thats Right I Didn't like this movie
Avatar is your basic outsider/broken dude finds himself in a place he dosent belong/fit in. And after being there a while he finds himself and he's a new man. Avatar felt like a play it safe movie to me. It was predictable and we've literally seen movies like this a thousand times. The 3-D in my opinion didnt really add anything to the film. So after all that why am I giving this movie a 3 and a half? Because Avatar is one of the most awe-inspiring movies Ive seen in a long time. I loved …
review by . December 29, 2009
Avatar: relegates Lord of the Rings to 'old hat'
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review by . December 21, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
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review by . December 18, 2009
The Greatest Science Fiction Epic of All Time!
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About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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Avatar is a 2009 American science fiction epic film written and directed by James Cameron and starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez and Stephen Lang. The film is set in the year 2154, when humans are mining a precious mineral called unobtanium on Pandora, a lush moon of a gas giant in the Alpha Centauri star system. The expansion of the mining colony threatens the continued existence of a local tribe of Na'vi—a sentient humanoid species indigenous to Pandora. The film's title refers to the genetically engineered Na'vi and human hybrid bodies used by several human characters to interact with the natives of Pandora.

Development on Avatar began in 1994, when Cameron wrote an 80-page scriptment for the film. Filming was supposed to take place after the completion of Cameron's 1997 film Titanic, for a planned release in 1999, but according to Cameron, the necessary technology was not yet available to achieve his vision of the film. Work on the language for the film's extraterrestrial beings began in summer 2005, and Cameron began developing the screenplay and fictional universe in early 2006.

Avatar was officially budgeted at US$237 million. Other estimates put the cost between $280 million and $310 million for production, and at $150 million for promotion. The film was released for traditional two-dimensional projectors, as well as in 3-D, using the RealD 3D, Dolby 3D, XpanD 3D and IMAX 3D formats, and also in ...

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Director: James Cameron
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Release Date: December 18, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screen Writer: James Cameron
Runtime: 162 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox
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