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Do you remember the last time you saw a movie in the theater and went ‘Wow?’ Mouth open for the entire runtime, Wow. And not just some action scene you thought blew your mind. When was the last time you sat in a theater, in serious awe of the screen? When’s the last time a movie theater made you feel small, and not in an IMAX sort of way?

I never actually saw Terminator 2 in a theater, but the effect of seeing the T-1000 was my first big ‘Wow’ moment. The incredibly elaborate motorcycle chase that culminated with the T-1000 walking through fire in liquid form, then morphing back into Robert Patrick blew me away like nothing else has…until Avatar. I’m not a Star Wars geek, nor did I run out and learn Elvish after watching the Lord Of The Rings.  But you can bet your ass I want to learn Na’vi and that I can tell you the name of most of the characters in this movie without a Wiki article.

Science Fiction is a form of fiction wherein the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated laws of nature (though some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation).

I want to tackle the CG first, because somehow there are still people who think it’s just “okay.” If you feel that way, no film will ever please you. Avatar is at the very top of the CG spectrum with this film, and will be for some time to come. The “emotion capture” technology Cameron and his team have created gives you 100% of the actor’s facial performance. Trying to discern CG from live action elements in this film is pointless. They’re almost flawlessly integrated into each other. The world and most of the human tech is more photo-real than anything in the movie. (See if you can spot the photoreal Quaritch in his AMP Suit, however).

I’ve heard so many people talk about how derivative the plot is or how preachy the story is. I’ve read the scriptment the film is based on which is, more or less, exactly what you’ll see in theaters.  While everyone seems ready to compare it to Dances With Wolves, I would like to make it aware that not even Dances WIth Wolves was an “original story” even if it was based on a true story. The concept of a person who has become an outcast in their own world, who then finds beauty and purpose in another is timeless. Timeless tales work, because they are at the core of our base hopes, desires, fears, and anxieties. There is an inherent hook in the premise of becoming someone new, of being able to shed the person you were and become something better. In watching this film, you’re not just watching that process. You are a part of it. As Jake falls in love with Neytiri, and more importantly with Pandora, so do you. The dialogue is a bit wonky, but it’s nowhere near as bad as people are making it out to be. This isn’t Terminator: Salvation. Everything else is so overwhelming that once the emotion takes over you won’t really care.

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Many reviewers have attacked the film for their portrayal of humans as ruthless and greedy, and the Na’vi as enlightened, interconnected pacifists. While I would love to share those reviewers’ optimism for the human race, I am more of a realist in that regard. All you have to do is step outside your house to see that the wonderous miracle of nature has been replaced by shopping malls and overflowing cities at a terrifying pace. Can you honestly say that we don’t dismiss anyone we deem different? The fact that Cameron wrote the story ten years ago, and that it still rings as relevant, is a testament to the story’s potency. I don’t consider that a sermon in the slightest.

The Na’vi are meant to exemplify the best that humans have to offer, the ultimate of potential. That whole village to raise a child thing? It’s true in the most expansive way with the Na’vi, working on a global network. A civilization that doesn’t need iPods, Blu-Ray dvds, BMWs, or condominiums. Hell, they don’t even want roads. Pandora provides them with all they need. They understand the fluidity of life and death. More than anything, they have each other in a way we’ll never comprehend.

What strikes you first about Pandora, or even the military installation and various future technology, is how real it all seems. The plant life and bioluminescent forests at night are breathtaking, and never feel like animated scenarios. This forest lives and breathes. The immersion with this film is like nothing you’ve experienced before. The 3D doesn’t come out of the screen, it literally pulls you into it’s world. Think Pixars’ Up, but on a far more epic scale. The thousand foot tall trees tower over you, the plant life surrounds you from all angles with dust particles kicking up in front of you. Somehow Cameron was able to make it feel like you were in these places with them: inside the gunships, the AMP suits, the buildings. Even when Jake was in his link chair, I felt like I was enclosed inside with him.

Is all of this detail overkill? The work of a director with OCD? For your normal everyday audience, most likely. But it is the mark of an undeniably and defiantly creative man. Cameron’s not making a two hour movie you go in and walk away from. He’s creating a universe for you to exist in.

Sam Worthington does an admirable job as Jake Sully, the wounded war vet. You can really feel his growing appreciation for Pandora, and his confusion at discerning the “real” reality from the “avatar” reality. From the moment Jake opens his eyes, you’re with him. When Jake and Neytiri take flight upon their Ikran, or Banshee, it is awe inspiring. And on the flipside, when the attack begins on the Na’vi, you are devastated because you are invested in these characters. That’s a testament to all the actors who do good work across the board, with the two obvious standouts being Zoe Saldana as Neytiri and Stephen Lang as General Quaritch.

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Zoe Saldana didn’t just do a day in a vocal booth for this role. She IS Neytiri. She trained extensively so that her body movements exemplified everything about the Na’vi. Her fierce nature, and grace, but also the softer side beneath her warrior exterior. She is an incredibly affecting character, and never once do you even consider that there might be an actor controlling her. But it is indeed 100% Zoe Saldana’s (and all the mo-capped actors) performance.

Quaritch, what can you say except that he’s just fucking badass. I mean, willing to kick open an airlock and hold his breath in toxic air while emptying a clip before pulling out ANOTHER gun badass. He’s so good in this role, he actually makes a lot of his bad dialogue sound better. Perhaps a bit underdeveloped in his motivations, Lang works what he has into something truly memorable. I know I haven’t said anything about the action, but there are no words for that. Seriously. I can’t even describe how balls out awesome it is. You really just have to see it.

It’ll be years before we get anything on this level, either in scope or technical achievement, and years before we see CG characters this damn compelling. Avatar is an experience. It is a film you absolutely need to see in a theater in 3D, because it completely enhances and enriches your viewing. We all want to be transported to another place, another world, when we go to the movies. In my eyes, James Cameron is the first person to really pull that off in an all-encompassing way. Most likely, it won’t happen again until he directs another movie, because  Cameron hasn’t set the bar so much as launched it into deep space orbit.

-Brian

A - Grade

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