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'Avatar' is a technical triumph

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Posted: Tuesday, December 22, 2009 12:00 am

Every decade or so, James Cameron needs to show up and remind everyone how epics are made.

The director of The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, and yes, Titanic, is back after a 12-year absence, and this time he has some new tricks up his sleeve.

Avatar is about paraplegic war veteran Jake Sully (Sam Worthington, Terminator Salvation) who is brought to a perilous new planet, Pandora. His mission is to learn the ways of the indigenous race of humanoid beings who live there by donning an “avatar” body. He was then supposed to report back intel on how to drive them out of their home in order for the humans to mine for valuable minerals below it.

But as Jake learns more about the Na’vi culture, his loyalties begin to shift.


Things we liked about the movie:

1. Unlike most modern, slam-bang, constantly climaxing action movies, Avatar builds slowly. It takes its time developing characters with quirks and personality, and the themes of the story resonate. Yes, the last act of the movie is all action, and it’s a doozy of a humdinger of a battle, breathtaking and gripping in its scope, but it’s all the more thrilling because we care deeply about what’s going on.

2. The film is a technical triumph. The world of Pandora is brilliantly realized, creating a completely immersive experience – particularly in eye-popping 3-D. Every design is intricately planned and every detail of every shot is pitch perfect. Richard Taylor and the boys at Weta Digital have topped their CG achievements in every way imaginable creating the motion-capture driven Na’vi, making Gollum look like Steamboat Willie.

3. Even in an effects-driven movie, the acting is not lost. The motion-capture performances, led by Worthington and Zoe Saldana (Star Trek), are outstanding. Giovanni Ribisi (Flight of the Phoenix) is suitably slimy as the corporate villain, and Michelle Rodriguez (Fast and Furious) is a welcome dose of pure awesome. But the best performances are from Stephen Lang (Public Enemies) as a gung-ho Army commander and Cameron veteran Sigourney Weaver (Aliens) as the lead scientist. The conflict between military conquest and scientific discovery is front and center in Avatar, and these two acting greats bring it home.


Things we disliked about the movie:

1. While he may have reinvented the wheel when it comes to special effects, Cameron’s not bringing anything new to the table when it comes to the story. It’s a classic technology vs. nature, white man’s redemption story, almost as if Fern Gully and The Last Samurai had a baby who then went into space, grew up and became completely awesome.

But really, who cares that the plot is the only thing that wasn’t ground breaking? That’s not why you go see Avatar. You go for the truly visionary cinematography. You go for the revolutionary motion capture techniques, that allow the actors to convey genuine emotion through their CG characters. You go to see Pandora’s forests illuminate at night, for lightning bugs that fly like something out of Leonardo DaVinci’s sketchbooks.

You go for an experience.

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