- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © 20th Century Fox
Reviewed by Jamey Codding
t wouldn’t be fair to slap the “all style, no substance” label on James Cameron’s latest sci-fi epic, but it’s certainly tempting. After all, for as visually layered and complex as “Avatar” is, its characters are often flat, its dialogue sometimes stilted and its story hackneyed. But dismissing it as nothing more than a visual marvel would be a mistake, if only because doing so actually understates just how spectacular the movie looks (particularly in 3D) and ignores the fact that, despite its flaws, “Avatar” is a whole lot of fun. As for all the talk about it being a cinematic “game-changer”…well, it’s safe to say computer graphics will never be the same.
The year is 2154, and after depleting Earth of its natural resources, the human race discovers Pandora, a moon four light years away in the Alpha Centauri-A star system that’s rich with Unobtainium. This exotic mineral holds the key to solving Earth’s energy crisis, so the Resources Development Administration (RDA) creates the Hell’s Gate human colony on Pandora, enlists the protection of the private security force known as Secops, and begins mining the planet. But in their quest for Unobtainium, the humans upset the giant Pandora natives, the Na’vi, who share a deep spiritual connection with their planet, a connection they feel is being threatened by the “Sky People.”
In an effort to establish friendly relations with the indigenous Na’vi, the RDA creates the Avatar Program, which allows humans to enter the Na’vi culture via genetically engineered avatar Na’vi bodies that share a consciousness with their human operators. Because these avatars are hybrids composed of both human and Na’vi DNA, each avatar is telepathically linked to one particular human, so when one of the scientists in the Avatar Program unexpectedly dies, the only possible replacement is his twin brother, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a former Marine who now is confined to a wheelchair. After some early hiccups, Jake quickly adapts to his avatar body, particularly his new set of functional legs. But when he gets lost on his first expedition in the harsh Pandora rainforest, he learns that neither his new wheels nor his military background will save him from, say, a hungry pack of vicious viperwolves or the even deadlier thanator. Fortunately for Jake, a beautiful Na’vi female named Neytiri (Zoë Saldana) comes to his rescue after receiving a sign from the sacred “Tree of Voices,” and afterwards takes Jake to her father, the leader of the Omaticaya Clan.
And thus, a sizable hole opens up in Cameron’s story when this Na’vi tribe takes Jake in, despite their strong (and justifiable) distrust of the Sky People. Neytiri is instructed to teach Jake the way of the Na’vi people, which includes insights into the sanctity of all Pandoran wildlife, lessons on all sorts of Na’vi rituals and history, and information regarding the tribe’s most sacred sites. Maybe this is just a case of blind faith, where the Na’vi choose to ignore their instincts because of the sign they received from the Tree of Voices, but that seems far too convenient, especially when Jake starts feeding intel to Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), the Secops commander who’s just itching to start a war with the natives despite the fierce opposition he receives from Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), the chain-smoking head scientist for the Avatar Program. The situation is further complicated when Jake and Neytiri fall in love. Naturally.
The truth is, the basic story behind “Avatar” is predictable from the outset, but because it’s all wrapped up in such a captivating package, it’s easy (and way more fun) to just let go and enjoy the ride. Cameron has created a world that’s both stunning and stunningly lethal, with a collection of animals, insects and plant life that reflects the creative genius of Cameron and his effects crew, along with a slew of futuristic weaponry and military vehicles that will have any action junkie’s mouth watering. From the floating Hallelujah Mountains to the exhilarating banshee rides, “Avatar” is loaded with one dazzling visual after another, all of which makes the 160-minute run time fly by. Cameron has been conceptualizing this movie for 15 years, waiting for the technology to catch up to his imagination. While it’s reasonable to question whether or not he spent enough time on the story, there’s no doubting that he nailed the execution.
Extended Collector's Edition Blu-Ray Review:
For those wondering why there was no bonus material on the single-disc release of “Avatar,” it’s because Fox was saving them up for this awesome three-disc set. Disc One features all the different versions of the film (the original theatrical cut, the special edition re-release, and the new extended version featuring 16 additional minutes), as well as the option to turn on a family audio track that removes all objectionable language. In addition, Disc Two boasts 45 minutes of never-before-seen deleted scenes and the feature-length documentary “Capturing Avatar,” while Disc Three includes a massive collection of production featurettes covering every aspect of the making of the film, the original script treatment and screenplay, and much more. This is obviously a must-have for diehard fans, but those interested in learning more about James Cameron’s incredible filmmaking process would be wise to pick this up too.