Paraplegic war vet Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), is sent to the exotic planet Pandora, replacing his brother, who was killed. Although he's part of the military under the command of Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), the human presence is driven by a corporation mining a unique mineral alongside a scientific probe directed by Dr Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver). Humans cannot breathe Pandoran air, so they genetically engineer human/Na'vi hybrids known as Avatars. The indigenous Na'vi are resentful - but Princess Neytiri (Zoë Saldana) befriends him and becomes his guide and protector on the strange planet. Jake is soon caught in the middle of the conflict between the Na'vi and the human military machine raping their world.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
James Cameron's Avatar is a richly symbolic, captivating and immense film which laces together some of the great mythical stories of mankind into a contempo action adventure fusing its sci fi genes with spiritual and ecological themes. And it pivots on romance. A film that tackles that much material has to be large in scale, and not even Cameron's massive Titanic measures up to the epic visual and dramatic scope of Avatar - whether in 2D or 3D.
A couple of incongruities aside, Cameron holds the vision together with its internal logic intact, creating a spectacular world filled with both the familiar (beautiful, striking flora) and the exotic (several species born of the filmmakers' imaginations). In this anything is possible digital world, the challenge for filmmakers (those who have the budget) is to give meaning to the outpouring of creative energy. Cameron marshals his forces and funnels it all into a strong, well crafted story, which essentially boils down to an extreme version of Romeo & Juliet with some recognisable topics of current world interest, ranging from warmongering to rapacious capitalism and the sanctity, beauty and power of nature. And of course, love.
But for all this to matter enough for us to sit through over two and a half hours and feel satisfied, Cameron had to make sure that we connected to the characters populating the story. Sam Worthington has the gutsy, no-nonsense personality that suits his character, Jake, whose courage and decency drive the enterprise. Stephen Lang offers a worthy opponent as the military brute whose heart has been dead a long time (encouraged to be a hateful badass by Cameron), and Sigourney Weaver is terrific as the scientist frustrated (as usual) by the heavy hand of the insensitive military.
Zoë Saldana is both feisty and fascinating as the Na'vi Princess who becomes the bridge between humans and the Na'vi, who all seem to have recognisably human traits and personas. They just dress differently (strong accent on natural accoutrements), hunt with bows and arrows, and speak a fantasy language.
The action sequences are superbly created by a digital army of compositors and FX engineers - including a brigade of motion capture specialists - and the seamless visual effects render the tall, blue Na'vi entirely credible. Some of the natural wonders are fused with imaginary beauty in Pandora's astonishing forests, floating mountains, spectacular plants and tremendous trees - the latter playing a key role as spiritual guardians.
It's a measure of the film's success - and its enormity - that we are tempted to go right back in to the cinema to see it again, as many will do, to suck up the dense detail and the special atmosphere it creates - and the powerful story it tells. That Cameron has called the planet where the action is set Pandora, signals his wide-ranging use of symbolism to say something about the world we live in here and now; one true test of first class science fiction.
Review by Louise Keller :
The scale is extraordinary as is the bewitching world of Avatar that James Cameron has created with jaw-dropping technology, stunning production design and exotic golden eyed, blue-skinned aliens whose passions are as tangible as the giant flying dragons on which they fly. A hugely ambitious project many years in the planning, Cameron has cleverly structured his screenplay, allowing us to enter the reality through the jaded eyes of the film's protagonist, played by Sam Worthington. Love and acceptance are at the heart of this megabuck megapic; while our hearts are opened by the Emotion Key, our eyes are dazzled by the visual spectacle, enhanced by remarkable 3D technology.
The role of trigger-happy Jake Sully, a wheelchair bound former marine sent by default to the remote human outpost on Pandora, is the making of Sam Worthington, who soon discovers the 'dream' and 'real' world become reversed. It is Jake's instinctive survival skills as he embodies his remotely-controlled biological avatar body that allows his eventual acceptance in the striking world of dense forests, the epicentre of which is the wonderfully imagined Tree of Souls. There are floating mountains, humungous strangely formed beasts and creatures that are as delicate and beautiful as others are harsh. Jake's 'learn fast or die' mission is to study the Na'vi 'savages' from the inside, helped by the fact his teacher Neytiri (Zoë Saldana, arresting) is long-legged, lithe and lovely with oversize almond-shaped eyes that almost glow in the dark. She is every bit as memorable and feisty a heroine as Sigourney Weaver's Ripley in Alien, 22 years ago, and it is apt that Weaver has an important presence here. Although the Na'vi way of 'bonding' makes use of their long plait, when it comes to love and bonding for life, it seems the simple kiss transcends the galaxy.
The performance capture used is the magical work of WETA; the locations are from Hawaii and New Zealand. The music (often reminiscent of his soaring score in Titanic) is James Horner's. There is nothing small or insignificant about any of it. Beyond the impressive visuals, Cameron places equal importance on the story and characters, and it is the fact that we care so much for the plight of Jake, Neytiri and the whole Na'vi world that our journey is such a satisfying one. There are touches of humour and a climactic extravaganza of an ending with mega special effects and tension as good is pitted against evil (Stephen Lang is in fine form as the soul-less Colonel Miles Quaritch). Ironically, evil is destruction-seeking man merged with deadly machines, who together seek to destroy the harmonious world of Avatar. This is an event of a film, a spectacle that allows us to live the fantasy and one that, despite its length, keeps us connected till the very last frame.
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CAST: Sam Worthington, Michelle Rodriguez, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, CCH Pounder, Joel Moore, Laz Alonso
PRODUCER: James Cameron, Jon Landau
DIRECTOR: James Cameron
SCRIPT: James Cameron
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mauro Fiore, Vince Pace
EDITOR: Steve R. Moore, John Refoua, Stephen Rivkin
MUSIC: James Horner
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg
RUNNING TIME: 162 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 17, 2009 (also in 3D in selected cinemas)