Starring: Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, Giovanni Ribisi, Stephen Lang, Joel Moore
Directed by: James Cameron
Written by: James Cameron
Runtime: 162 min
Release Date: December 18, 2009
Avatar is arguably the most hyped, and now most successful movie ever created. The brainchild of James Cameron, Avatar was nearly 5 years in the making though the script was written as early as 1994. The film begins soaring above a rainforest – Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is dreaming while in cryostatic suspension on his way to Pandora, a moon of another planet approximately 4 light years from earth. Pandora is covered almost entirely by rainforest and is populated by a ten foot tall humanoid species called the Na’vi. Through a series of flashbacks we learn that Jake is a paraplegic, injured during his military service. Jake’s identical twin brother, a scientist, was selected for an expedition to Pandora to “drive” an avatar, a genetically engineered hybrid of Na’vi and human DNA. When Jake’s brother is murdered, representatives of the corporation sponsoring the expedition contact Jake – his genetic similarity to his brother will allow him to take his place as an avatar driver.
After a shuttle takes him to the surface of Pandora, Jake dons his oxygen mask. Humans are unable to breath Pandora's atmosphere but are unaffected by the weather otherwise. The officer in charge of military affairs on Pandora, Colonel Quaritch, is warning new arrivals that life on Pandora is harsh, that those who do not “cultivate a strong mental attitude” will not survive.
Jake is then introduced to Norm Spellman, also a scientist and avatar driver, Norm takes Jake to the science lab where he sees his avatar for the first time. Approximately 10 feet tall, the avatar is blue skinned with flecks of silver on his skin and has a long tail. Jake is surprised to find out the avatar looks like he and his brother, Norm explains this is a result of the human DNA he and his avatar share.
We are then introduced to Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) who greets Norm cordially and then proceeds to lash out at Jake – making it plain she does not want him on Pandora. The following morning Jake is taken to enter his avatar body for the first time. He awakens on a medical bed as human technicians check his avatar bodies’ stimulus response and motor skills. Jake wiggles his toes – ecstatic that he can feel his legs once more. He climbs from the bed, tears the monitoring leads from his new body and staggers outside into the compound before breaking into a sprint, exhilarated at his ability to run once more. Later Jake must meet with Colonel Quaritch who asks Jake to be his operative – to gather intel on the Na’vi during his missions in the event military action is one day required. In return Quaritch will see to it that Jake undergoes the costly medical procedure to repair his spine upon his return to Earth.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=3418&w=l[/img]During Jake’s first mission in his avatar body he is attacked by a large predator called a Thanator, as he attempts to escape Jake is separated from Grace and Norm. Jake finds himself alone as the light fades with a large pack of predatory dog-like animals stalking him. The creatures attack Jake relentlessly, just before Jake is injured a female Na’vi emerges from the jungle, dispatching the creatures and sending them scampering into the forest. After he follows her, Jake is able to learn her name is Neytiri, and that she is angry with him for forcing her to kill the animals. As Neytiri runs through the bioluminescent forest, Jake attempts to follow – Neytiri is about to force Jake to let her leave when a cloud of glowing jellyfish like creatures surround Jake’s body. These creatures are the seeds of Eywa, the great tree and deity of the Na’vi.
Neytiri interprets this as an omen and decides to take Jake with her to Home Tree. On their way to Home Tree Jake is captured by a war party of Neytiri’s people and is dragged back to the village. Neytiri’s mother (the seer of the village) will decide if Jake is allowed to live. Jake requests to learn about the ways of the Na’vi and after consideration of his request she allows Jake to live – and decides that he must learn the ways of the Na’vi under Neytiri’s tutelage.
Much of the middle of the film centers around Jake’s training – his journey towards understanding the Na’vi people and how they live. During this Jake begins to respect the Na’vi and to fall in love with Neytiri. Inevitably, the human forces on Pandora are unable to mine their precious unobtanium without the Na'vi relocating. Jake is faced with the prospect of alienating both the Na’vi for his unwitting betrayal, and his human superiors through his desire to redeem himself with Neytiri.
Avatar has a PG-13 rating for violence and some profanity. Overall the profanity is not terrible in this film, while there is some scanty clothing it is not portrayed as sexual.
At the time of my writing this I have seen Avatar five times, each time in a different theater. Two of these showings were in IMAX3D, one was a RealD 3D presentation in a brand new theater equipped with 4k projection, and two were 2D presentations.
Avatar brings a revolutionary level of 3D to commercial cinema – seeing this movie in 3D was the first time I have enjoyed the 3D presentation more than the 2D presentation. The Avatar experience is about immersion and escapism, 3D only serves to improve this experience. In scenes with holographic interfaces the data literally appears to float around your face. At a later point in the film there is a scene where ash falls from the sky – each fleck of ash floats down throughout the theater in front of you. No 3D presentation has ever managed to convey the depth of field Avatar does without seeming gimmicky. 3D is used exclusively to help tell the story and immerse the viewer in Avatar – and the result is a magnificent theatrical experience.
In the 2D presentation of the film it is obvious that Avatar is gorgeous regardless of the medium. Fine detail, color saturation and contrast are all superb. Having seen Avatar in 3D first I did find the 2D experience somewhat lacking – nonetheless it is a testament to how well done the 3D is that I actually preferred it.
In a theater of sufficient quality Avatar is an unmatched cinematic experience – lush colors, perfectly resolved fine detail and 3D immersion combine to create the most memorable and immersive movie going experience I have ever enjoyed. The film is a visual tour-de force from start to finish with eye candy galore. Cameron focuses primarily on the beauty of the Pandoran jungle, however there are a fair number of night scenes that are even more memorable due to the impeccably rendered bioluminescent creatures and plant life of Pandora.
Avatar was shot completely in digital - primarily on Sony CineAlta F-23 cameras – known for their wide color gamut and impressive performance. Cameron brought a greal deal of proprietary new technology to the production to assist in creating the best 3D experience possible and he has succeeded admirably.
While on Christmas vacation I was lucky enough to go see Avatar in a brand new auditorium with a superb sound system. Unlike some of the theaters I had seen Avatar in, this auditorium had properly balanced surrounds and fronts. Scenes where the human gunships are flying past give the surrounds an exceptional workout. Bass digs extremely deep in many scenes and while prodigious does not overwhelm the overall sound. James Horner’s score is well matched to Avatar’s story and the emotional undertones of the movie though not groundbreaking like the movie itself. Like the visual experience – the audio in Avatar will not leave you wanting.
Avatar is a monumental achievement in film making from a technical standpoint, it is the first film to use 3D to its maximum potential and in the process Cameron and his team have pioneered several new technologies. While the story in Avatar is “contrived and recycled” in the words of many critics, I chose to watch this movie without preconceptions. If you allow yourself to enjoy the experience that is avatar without dissecting the plot as you watch, I think you will be marvelously entertained. Avatar is an emotional and engaging film in many ways because you as the viewer feel so immersed in each scene. The cast of Avatar does a wonderful job – with Sam Worthington once again proving that he is capable of a nuanced and believable performance regardless of how he is cast. Avatar now holds the title of most successful film of all time, with over 1.8 billion dollars in the worldwide box office to date. While the story may not quite measure up to the spectacle – the spectacle is something special to behold.
Whether you go see Avatar for the eye-candy or the audio, the story or the cinematography, one thing is guaranteed – love it or hate it, Avatar is a movie you just have to see.