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Movie Review: 'Avatar' awaits you

Published December 23. 2009 05:00PM

My avatar was going to review "Avatar," but I couldn't tear it away from Turner Classic Movies' epic-movie marathon.

Director James Cameron's "Avatar" is epic in every sense and is his latest big-screen release since his previous epic, "Titanic" (1997).

The movie was screened in 3-D, which is the best way to appreciate it. Cameron ("Aliens," "The Terminator," "True Lies") creates another world set in the year 2154 on the mythical planet Pandora.

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a Marine and paraplegic because of battle wounds, through a manipulation of his DNA, is transformed into a humanoid creature called a Na'vi, a primitive tribe which populates Pandora.

His goal is to obtain information to negotiate with or defeat Pandora's inhabitants, so that the government can mine a valuable mineral ore deposit located below their sacred shrine. A scientist (Sigourney Weaver) wants to study the inhabitants.

Jake falls in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), a female Na'vi. His duties as a soldier are in conflict with his emotions, resulting in divided loyalties.

The first hour or so of the film presents background information about Jake, the military mission, the complicated transformation of Jake into a Na'vi, details about the planet Pandora and depictions of Jake's training by Neytiri to become a Na'vi warrior. The middle portion of the film presents Jake's growing disobedience to a colonel (Stephen Lang), who promised Jake new legs if he successfully completes the mission. The film's last portion is a climatic battle between the military and the Na'vi on Pandora.

"Avatar" is spectacular-looking, with a palette of greens, blues, purples, pinks - rainbow splash of colors. The 3-D mapping is especially intriguing. Cameron is ingenious in the many ways he makes the movie-goer feel front and center, with bugs whirling by, jungle ferns swishing past, jellyfish-like milkweed seeds floating down, and even dirt kicked up into the foreground.

The Na'vi are believable as characters, with large green luminous eyes and graceful movements, considering they have blue skin and are some 20-foot-tall height.

The device of Jake keeping a video journal allows extensive use of voiceover, which often helps to explain plot points. What might be the first 3-D use of subtitles translates dialogue when a Na'vi talks.

"Avatar" is not lacking in emotional involvement. The love story between Jake and Neytiri is moving at times. Worthington is also good in his human form. Weaver somewhat reprises her "Aliens" role. Lang is a particularly no-nonsense villain.

Avatar" was some 14 years in the making, until Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) could catch up with Cameron's vision. He added a few innovations of his own, working with Peter Jackson's WETA Studio in New Zealand, and legions of digital film-making artists from dozens of film special effects firms.

There are elements of several movies in "Avatar," including "RoboCop" and "Transformers," for the robotic fighting machines; "Star Wars," for the Ewok-like village of the Na'vi on Pandora; "Jurassic Park," for the strange-looking beasts; and "The Lion King," for its music and tribal chants.

"Avatar" has a distinct political slant and, in this, has been compared to a thinly-veiled screed about a conquering nation subjugating indigenous peoples or a major power fighting against guerilla warfare.

No American flags are visible on uniforms or helicopters or planes, but since Jake Sully is said to be a Marine, the implications are obvious. At an estimated budget of $230 million, "Avatar" may be the most expensive anti-war movie ever.

"Avatar": MPAA Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13) for intense epic battle scenes and warfare, sensuality and some smoking; Genre: Action, Adventure, Science Fiction, Thriller; Run Time: 2 hr., 42 min.; Distributed by 20th Century Fox.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Locations for "Avatar," with about 40 percent live action and 60 percent CGI, included Hawaii, New Zealand and California.

Box Office: Dec. 18: "Avatar" opened at No.1, with $73 million for the weekend, after opening at midnight Dec. 17. "The Princess and the Frog" hopped to No. 2, with $12.2 million, $44.7 million, two weeks.

3. "The Blind Side," $10 million, $164.7 million, five weeks; 4. "Did You Hear about the Morgans" was another bomb for Jennifer Anniston and Hugh Grant, opening with only $7 million; 5. "The Twilight Saga" New Moon," $4.3 million, $274.5 million, five weeks; 6. "Invictus," $4.1 million, $15.8 million, two weeks; 7. "Disney's A Christmas Carol," $3.4 million, $130.7 million, seven weeks: 8. "Up in the Air," $3.1 million, $8.1 million, three weeks; 9. "Brothers," $2.6 million, $22 million, three weeks; 10. "Old Dogs," $2.2 million, $43.5 million, four weeks.

Unreel: "Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel,"opening Dec. 23, returns Alvin, Simon and Theodore in an animated feature about a high-school battle of the bands.

Opening Christmas Day, Dec. 25, "Sherlock Holmes" stars Robert Downey Jr. as the London detective and Jude Law as Watson in an "Iron Man" meets "Pirates of the Caribbean" special-effects-laden update.

"It's Complicated" stars Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin in a romantic comedy directed by Nancy Meyers.

"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" is directed by Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame and stars Christopher Plummer and the late Heath Ledger in a twist on the Dr. Faustus tale.

Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

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