James Cameron is credited with making some of the most spectacular films in recent memory: Titanic, Terminator and Terminator 2.  Moreso he may be known for making some of the most expensive films in history.   Avatar squarely falls in the latter category and does so for many reasons.

Avatar is the story of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington, Terminator: Salivation) a US Marine whose murdered twin brother was a scientist on the planet Pandora.   Scully is then recruited to move to Pandora as he is genetically compatible with his brother’s Avatar.

The Avatars are artificial analogs of the Na’vi, the native sentient people of the planet.  An avatar allows humans to interact with the natives, and experience the harsh climate of the planet.    Scully is thrown in with a group of scientists including Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver).  Weaver performs her roll well as the human expert on the Na’vi. It is hard to not make a mental connection to her roll in “Gorilla’s in the Midst” here.

Quickly, on a botanical expedition, Sully is separated from his scientists compatriots and eventually joins the Na’vi tribe.

The main plot of this film is entirely unoriginal and by far not Cameron’s best idea for a film.  The plot is borrowed from any number of westerns that show sympathy for the Indians.  Additionally there is an environmental message seemingly tagged on at the end of the scriptwriting process.

Much like the disappointment with “Star Wars: Episode I” Cameron, like George Lucas, has shifted his focus on filmmaking as a storytelling medium, to more of a platform for technological advances.  The Star Wars prequels were the first films done primarily on green screen and with digital recording technology.  Here, Avatar does more to integrate human actors with computer generated characters and scenery.  The film does so flawlessly.  Unfortunately this movie becomes much more about the technology than it is about the movie itself.

But the technology is almost worth it.  Maybe about two hours worth it, but the last forty minutes, primarily the climactic battle, could have come earlier in the movie and been just as satisfying.Visually the movie is nothing less than spectacular.  Until now you would have had to see an animated movie by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke) to find this level of detailed artistry on the big screen.

The visuals are breathtaking and at no point is the audience at all aware of the boundary between the film’s actual and digital elements.

Playing second fiddle to the digital animation are the actors, all of whom would be receiving higher accolades had their performances not been overshadowed.  Topping the list of supporting actors is Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quaritch.  He brings the character’s evil side to life as the film progresses.  Also making a name for herself, if not actually appearing on screen is Zoe Saldana (Star Trek)  Neytiri, the female alien love interest of Scully’s Avatar (it’s really not that complicated).

I did see this movie in 3D which in all actuality is just the last gimmick that Hollywood has that makes the theater going experience any better than the home theatre experience.  When this movie comes out on BluRay there will be nothing lost when you go from 3D to 1080p.

In the end this movie is Dances With Wolves with blue aliens.   Or as some have dubbed it: “Dances with Smurfs.”  The plot is highly predictable, and you shouldn’t have to wait around for two hours and forty minutes for something this predictable. But like a train ride in the fall, just sit back and really take in the scenery!

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