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How is it that one guy from Canada has the uncanny ability to channel the future of filmmaking time and again?  Where exactly did he find that crystal ball that has eluded other directors who make much noise over their failing strides in the same venture?  With the amazing Avatar, director James Cameron brings cinema into the 21st Century.

Revisiting territory similar to that of his 1986 opus, Aliens, Cameron shows us a future of technological advances but few moral ones.  The interests of man threaten to overtake those of humanity.  A primitive planet is the host of a rare mineral that will solve the energy crisis on Earth.  A military deployment is needed to back up the will of its government as it intends to subject the citizens of Pandora to its will, uprooting entire habitations and ecosystems in pursuit of this elusive stone.  A marine, Jake Sully will use a stunning technological experiment to infiltrate the Naívi, the natives of Pandora in order to gain their trust and find their weak spots to play to the militaryís advantage.  Sully, as a paraplegic will gain mobility once again in the body of his avatar, a clone that is a hybrid of both human and Naívi.  Science has created a machine that allows Jakeís consciousness to entirely inhabit the clone, creating a perfect disguise for Jakeís mission.  What Jake doesnít count on is discovering the Naíviís way of life is very real and far preferable to the one he is currently living in.  Will Jakeís sense of duty win over his sense of morality as he is called upon to destroy the Naívi and their ancient world?

Avatar is the culmination of James Cameronís greatest moments as a director; bearing the audaciousness and surprise of 1984ís Terminator, the vision and pacing of Aliens and the sweeping scope and romance of Titanic.

A sci-fi extravaganza, Cameron has melded the worlds of live action filmmaking and animation perfectly, using motion capture to create the Naívi and their fantastic planet.  The Naívi are bright blue creatures with a humanoid-shape, elongated limbs and giant doe-like eyes.  They resemble what the outcome of a late night encounter between a Masai, an Incan and a little (blue) green man from space would be.  Cameronís Pandora is another Eden, beautiful and dangerous, untouched by modern life or machinery; a paradise of beautiful flora, majestic trees and breathtaking mountain landscapes.  Truly in balance with their world, the Naívi have learned what we on Earth have long forgotten; that we are subject to nature, not the other way around.  Even their hunts for food are performed with rituals denoting the deepest respect for their prey.  They honour nature and nature shows them the same esteem; the Naívi hold secrets of science, healing and communication that humans will never learn.  The refugee from the Jarhead tribe, Jake Sully, is ignorant to all of this and his relatively simple thought patterns are not prepared for his immersion into the Naíviís peaceful way of life.  Nor could he have expected to be selected by Pandora itself to be their Ďchosen one,í specially blessed among its people as a symbol and protector, making Jakeís life as a double-agent much more complicated.  As Jake is slowly accepted by the Naívi, he learns their ways like the smallest Naívi baby; how to climb the trees he canít see the tops of, and how to fall from them without splattering, taming vicious birds and horse-like creatures into accepting and allowing him to ride on their backs. Cameronís amazing team of animators makes the impossible very real and a wonderful script grips the audience and makes us believe every word coming from the mouths of these beautifully arranged pixels.

The story of man vs. nature is perfectly timed as our world actually is in desperate need of the wisdom of the Naívi and their respect for the environment.  The destruction of Pandora, a world in balance, isnít far-fetched despite its blue-skinned inhabitants; itís happening closer to home on a daily basis along the Amazon.  Cameronís message is plain, but never feels preachy.  Further humanizing his animated cast, the romance of Avatar is wonderful; with the tribal princess, Neytiri, slowly falling for Jake, the strange outsider despite her caution and sense of duty to marry the next leader of her clan.  The love story begins with Neytiri very reluctantly taking responsibility for Jake, training him to see the world through her eyes and become one of their people as the Utraya Mokri, the soul of Pandora has ordained.  Jakeís inevitable role in the humanís war against the Naívi will threaten to tear the two apart.

The action in Avatar is heart-pounding and paced perfectly. Cameron introduces the war machines early upon Jakeís arrival on the Pandora base:  There is an armoured exoskeleton that resembles a cross between the cargo lifter that helped Sigourney Weaver fight the Alien Queen back in 1986 and Robocopís ED-209.  The battle cruisers are frightening and look almost too heavy to get off the ground.  The pyrotechnics are stunning and the horror of the heedless destruction by the military is heartbreaking as Cameron shows us rather graphically the cost to the tragically outgunned Naívi, whose only recourse is spears and arrows, which is exactly what the Marines are counting on.

The cast - yes, Virginia, there is one under those blue pixels - is brilliant.  Sam Worthington, last seen in Terminator: Salvation, another future connected to James Cameron, is perfect as the Marine with a lot to prove.  As a paraplegic, Jake hankers for this opportunity to once again be useful and the regaining of his legs, even through another body, is the rebirth of his life.  In mourning for his scientist twin who was actually meant to inhabit the avatar; Jake is a good Marine, who doubts and questions his orders for the first time when faced with the beauty of the Naívi and the love of Neytiri.  On one side of that debate lies Sigourney Weaver as Grace Augustine, the scientist in charge of the Avatar programme, whose fascination with the Naívi and curiosity about the natural treasures Pandora holds puts her at definite odds with the military standing over her shoulder, making decisions for her.  That faction would be led by Colonel Quaritch, a gung-ho, red-meat-eating Marine whose only consideration is for his mission and an extremely cut and bulked-up Stephen Lang (are those muscles CGI?) makes hay chewing the scenery playing the one-dimensional military man.  The facial performance-capture technology does a lot to help us acknowledge ZoŽ Saldanaís fine work as Neytiri, the strong warrior princess.  It canít have been easy to shine through the pixels, but even though she is blue and about 9 feet tall, Saldanaís Neytiri is as real and emotional as any human girl, though I think she would hiss at me for the comparison.

In Avatar, Cameron has created the first great epic of the twenty-first century.  It is a new benchmark for filmmakers to reach.  Avatar feels to me the way the first Star Wars movie did; that same sense of excitement in knowing we are seeing a new chapter in filmmaking.  That this is James Cameronís first narrative feature since 1997ís Titanic doesnít make me wonder anymore, it was worth every minute to get this right.  This combination of live action and animation that has been attempted by others, yet never attained is flawless here.  Then again, flawless is a pretty good word for Avatar all around.  Avatar is a perfect film and the best time at the movies Iíve had this century.

Extremely well done.


~ The Lady Miz Diva

December 16th, 2009





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