Director/ writer James (“King of the World”) Cameron’s long simmering (15 years!) work is rich, compelling, immersive and replete with astounding visuals. It is a one-of-a-kind entertainment experience that should be seen at least once and in the 3-D venue in your town with the largest screen and the best sound system.
When it opens on December 15, there will be about 2100 3D screens and 1200 2D. Do not diminish the pleasure of this film by seeing it in 2D.
The story takes place in 2154 when the United States armed forces needs to travel to a moon named Pandora in another galaxy to obtain a mineral called Unobtainium which will substitute for the almost non-existent supply of oil on Earth. The indigenous Na’vi clan inhabit the exotic and lush Pandora.
The story is told by a paraplegic Marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) through a video diary. After the death of his identical-twin scientist brother, Jake takes his place to become an Avatar, a hybrid life form that combines human DNA with that of the Na’vi; achieving the Avatar state occurs under lab conditions, with the subject experiencing his or her alternate world as if in a dream.
Sully is not qualified to take this position, as biologist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) makes clear with a resounding put-down.
But the resilient Marine does not back down and joins the mission. Jake is employed by the hawkish and “tough-as-nails” Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) as a spy with the implied hope of convincing the Na’vi to let the Americans take what they need from their land.
There is a sense we’ve visited some of this territory before in films such as “Apocalypse Now”, “Apocalypto”, or even “Jurassic Park”, yet all of the exotic insects, giant airborne reptiles and birds, dinosaur-like beasts and fearsome, dog-like attack creatures and blue people are distinctly from another universe and a future time.
Separated from his scientific companion and fellow Avatar Dr. Augustine, and, stranded at night, Jake is rescued from becoming a midnight meal by Na’vi princess warrior Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who subsequently shows him around and very gradually falls in love with him as they experience difficult times together.
The third act of this stunning film is a horrific encounter between the powerful American military with its huge spaceships and superior technology and the bow and arrow Na’vi’s. The David versus Goliath type ending is the film’s weakest suit with an ending which warms the heart but leaves logic somewhat behind. It is an eco-friendly and green tale whose climax is its weakest link. Then again, Mr. Cameron’s “Titanic” had an ending which everyone knew before entering the theater.
Bur let’s not quibble; this film is a remarkable achievement and advances cinema to a spectacular new level. It’s the fastest 163 minute you’ll see this year and a ride you won’t forget.