Review: James Cameron's 'Avatar'

I paid $4.00 at a matinee to watch Avatar, now 3 weeks after its worldwide release. The 2.5 hour video game movie amazed me, and at the same time, its overarching vanity and irony haunts me. Let's talk.

The movie itself tells the story of former marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington)'s journey the new world Pandora, where he's embedded with a corporate mining operation of 'Unobtainium', a mineral essential to old Terra. Jake takes over for his Ph.D. identical twin, who's killed months before he's supposed to ship out to be an Avatar driver. In return, they'll fix his paraplegic legs after his 6 year hitch on Pandora.

Pandora's an earth-like planet orbiting a gas giant with several other moons (think Titan, only habitable). Not only habitable...the planet's teaming with life, including an indiginous group of 10 foot tall blue natives, the Na'vi. The Avatar drivers remote-control company-grown Na'vi bodies, enabling them to walk and talk among the Na'vi and gain their trust. On the ground in Pandora, there are human scientists studying the Na'vi, company men mining for Unobtaninium, and mercenaries charged with protecting the operation. Not surprisingly, the mercenaries want to blow-up the Na'vi and get back home 'before dinner'.

On his first mission out in the bush, Jake gets lost escaping from a Pandoran monster. Left overnight in the jungle, a pack of dog-like predators attack him and he's rescued by Netyri, the chief's daughter from a local tribe of Na'vi. She's learned English, and takes him to her tribe to be judged--he ought to be killed (well, his Avatar body at least), but her Mom says Jake should stay with their tribe and learn their ways, in hopes of 'curing the Skypeople insanity'.

If the above sounds familiar, it's Dances with Wolves, minus Kevin Costner's bad acting. Once you strip off the technology, this film is nothing more a cowboys-and-Indians tale.

Some random thoughts:

* Is there a law that Michelle Rodriguez has to wear a tank top in every role?

* Any sci-fi film that references 'Unobtanium' (*cough*The Core*cough*)...FAIL!

* The central lovestory between Jake and Neytiri grows organically, and it's a treat. I've no idea how much emoting/acting was motion capture versus animation--it's seamless and I bought it.

* This is a film about environmentalism, collective good, harmony, contrasted with evil corporations bent on profit. It cost half a billion dollars to make. It's enriching James Cameron and his evil corporate backers. How many starving people could eat on $500 million?

* Sigourney Weaver. Still beautiful after all these years--great performance!

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