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AVATAR: 4 ½ STARS

imagesIn the gap between James “King of the World” Cameron’s last theatrical feature, “Titanic,” and his new film, “Avatar” (in theatres this weekend) Clint Eastwood directed 11 movies, Michael Bay made 6 and even Uwe Boll, a director so reviled there is an on–line petition to prevent him from making any more films, has made fifteen in the time it took Cameron to make just one, but it’s quite a movie.

“Avatar,” based on an original idea by Cameron, is set in the 22nd century on a small planet called Pandora. Under the lush terra firma is a valuable mineral much sought after by the Avatar program—a collaboration between industry and military. Since the climate and atmosphere aren’t hospitable to humans a substitute for homosapien invaders is required. That would be living, breathing avatars of the Pandorian natives, controlled by a human “driver” through a high tech link-up that connects the driver’s mind to their Avatar body. The ten feet tall, blue skinned natives, called the Na’vi— although the humans dismissively call them “blue monkeys”—are deeply connected to their planet, sharing a connection with the land and all its creatures that defies human comprehension. Only one man comes close to understanding the Na’vi. He’s Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) a former marine who lost the use of his legs in combat. Brought on board the Avatar program he is initially used as a mole to infiltrate a Na’vi community to glean information that will make the harvesting of minerals easier, but what begins as simply completing his mission and using his legs again through the avatar soon becomes something else. He learns to love not only the Na’vi people, but one Na’vi in particular, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana).

First let’s dispel some myths. You don’t need to take Gravol with you to the movie theatre. 1.) There were rumors on the net that “Avatar’s” mix of hand held camera and 3-D was literally stomach turning. Not true. 2.) It’s not “Dances with Wolves in Space” or “Fergully” with aliens. 3.) Sight unseen people were calling it Cameron’s Folly, a three hour waste of film and money (a reported $300 million). Not true. 4.) “The Na’vi are the new Jar Jar Binks,” bloggers screamed! Also not true.

With “Avatar” Cameron has made a sprawling epic that lives up to the hype. It is something completely new, a movie that is not a sequel, a remake or based on an existing novel; a film that sprung from Cameron’s imagination and exists on its own plane. Brett Ratner, Michael Bay and all other Hollywood hacks, hang your heads in shame.

Cameron starts from scratch creating a whole new world with language, customs, religion and crazy creatures but never forgets that this is an action movie and not an anthological study. To that he adds allusions to the Iraq war, shock and awe policies and the Native American genocide all bundled up in one giant sci fi romance action flick.

It’s not all perfect, the dialogue is frequently 1980’s-action-movie lame, filled with clichés; there are logic lapses and Saldana’s character shifts from Ripley (remember “Alien”?) to damsel in distress in the blink of an eye, but the film’s achievements outweigh any of these misgivings.

Despite what the early word on the movie may have been Cameron—who at this rate won’t make another film until 2221—makes the audience feel compassion for obviously computer enhanced giant blue creatures, keep our interest for almost three hours and presents a dazzling climax that’ll leave you slack jawed.


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