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Ready for "Avatar" Again?

By admin Published: August 25, 2010

The theatrical re-release on Friday will have additional footage, which you can read about here. If you haven't seen it yet, I have posted my review of the original version after the jump.

From the Akron Beacon Journal, December 2009:

Avatar, the latest epic from director James Cameron, has spectacular special effects and computer-generated images, especially in the 3-D version which I previewed.

Because of the pair of spectacles consistently perched on my nose, I generally have trouble dealing with 3-D because of the second pair of glasses involved. But even I could see how remarkable the effects are in Avatar. The 2-D version in some theaters should be a bit less remarkable, but the images in the film could impress even if they are not leaping from the screen toward your eyes; the richness of detail and the fluidity of motion are fabulous on their own.

The film also moves very well, so it did not seem as long as its 2 1/2-plus hours' running time indicates. The action sequences are often thrilling, even if there are moments when Cameron's inspiration seems second-hand; certain aerial stunts too readily recall tricks from True Lies, which was fresh 15 years ago but now is only old and much imitated.

There's no question that this expects to be the big movie of the holiday season, if not the entire year; some 125 merchandising tie-ins are planned.

Unfortunately, if you go to Avatar looking for a great story or compelling characters, you will be disappointed. This is a very obvious allegory of American Indians, with a little of the Afghan rebellion after the Soviet invasion thrown in. Its elements have been worked and reworked, often more effectively, in films like Dances With Wolves and Little Big Man. The big, final action sequences have a lot of thunder, but will still have you expecting, and getting, some unsurprising turns in the story.

Set in the future, the story involves Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a former Marine who is now in a wheelchair. Still looking for adventure, he travels to a distant planet to help deal with the Na'vi, the large, humanoid creatures who inhabit the planet. The humans have established a planetary outpost called Pandora to mine a valuable substance on the planet; to deal with the Na'vi, they have created avatars, which have the physical traits of the Na'vi but are operated by humans through a complex form of remote control.

Jake's twin brother was supposed to become an avatar; with his death, Jake has been able to step in because he provides a genetic match for the avatar intended for his brother. As the avatar, he also regains his ability to walk, as well as leaping, flying and interacting with the Na'vi.

Jake's job is partly to learn more about the Na'vi (a special interest for Grace Augustine, a scientist played by Sigourney Weaver). But it is even more to persuade the Na'vi to allow the mining; if he cannot, then they will be attacked by a military force led with cartoon bluntness by Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang).

Of course, as Jake becomes ever more involved in the lives of the Na'vi, he comes to sympathize with them and to appreciate their close bond with their planet and its nature. He also begins to feel strongly for Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), and so is torn as the pressure grows to move the Na'vi out of the way of Earth's ambitions. Even though the Na'vi seem no match for the big machines and weaponry Earth brings, they have strong reasons for holding their ground. A fight brews, and eventually boils over.

You can figure out pretty much everything in the movie at that point, even though the ending has its implausible aspects. And the acting is no more than competent, since the script demands nothing more.

Still, for long stretches the movie satisfies not by telling a great story but by presenting terrific pictures. The presentation of the Na'vi, their planet, its foliage and its creatures has repeated oh-my-gosh moments, and the 3-D delighted me with both its grand gestures and the tiny things (insects, bits of flame) that seem to float in the air.

The last time I remember seeing 3-D imagery this effective was in the high-budget Captain EO film Michael Jackson helped develop for Disney theme parks. And that was made more than 20 years ago. And, as I said, Cameron still knows how to move along an action movie. I still wish some of the film's budget — estimated at more than $300 million — had been spent on a better script. But as an action spectacle, Avatar more than gets by.

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