For all of the talk about how Avatar is going to revolutionize moviemaking and change films forever, the finished product is nothing more than just another movie with lots of stuff going boom, but longer and more costly to make. And, with lots of half-naked blue aliens (if you are into that sort of thing).
Set in 2154, Sam Worthington stars as Jake Sully - a Marine who suffered a spinal cord injury, which leaves him in a wheelchair. When his brother tragically dies, Jake is recruited to take his place in a scientific experiment being conducted on the far off planet of Pandora.
On Pandora, three different groups of humans are at work with their own agendas. A group of scientists, led by Grace (Sigourney Weaver), have created bodies (called Avatars), which look exactly like the native people (the Na'vi), but are remotely controlled by the scientists who try to interact with these otherworldly beings.
A major corporation has discovered and started to mine a valuable rock found on Pandora, but the Na'vi are not willing to let their land be plundered by these greedy humans, especially when the largest amount of this stuff is located at one of the Na'vi's most holy places.
And, a bunch of former military dudes have been hired to provide security, but they are more than ready and willing to engage the Na'vi and take possession of the planet (because these military dudes like to kill stuff).
When Sully gets left behind on a training mission and is rescued by a young Na'vi lady, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), he starts to learn about these creatures, and earns enough of their trust to make himself valuable to the scientists, corporation and military dudes.
Will Sully be fully accepted by the Na'vi?
Will he find a peaceful solution, or give the military dudes enough information to destroy the Na'vi?
When James Cameron typed the word Na'vi, did he have the same experience George Lucas had when he typed the word Wookiee?
Unfortunately, writer/director Cameron and the team are so wrapped up in the technical aspects of Avatar they forgot to add some heart and depth. Sure, it looks good, but lots of movies look good in today's day and age. The special effects have to serve and enhance the story in order to blow our minds.
You can't deny the computer graphics and 3-D effects are impressive. Cameron has created a Pandora that looks very much like a rain forest with lush vegetation and dangerous creatures behind every tree and bush. The Na'vi and animals found on Pandora look otherworldly, yet have some parallels to creatures we can recognize from our reality, so the audience never laughs at them (we save our laughs for the dialogue).
Also, the Na'vi are some of the best looking computer generated human-like characters you have ever seen on screen, but still not quite real enough to replace Leonardo DiCaprio, or even Rob Schneider. All of the female Na'vi look like emaciated Sports Illustrated swimsuit models who haven't had a sandwich since prom night, which is distracting (they might be as blue as the Smurfs, but Smurfette NEVER had legs that went all the way up to THERE!), while I think A Christmas Carol had more realistic facial expressions and reactions.
However, Cameron's real failings in Avatar are the story and script. He might have spent over 10 years or more developing the movie, but it feels like he spent 10 minutes writing it. Avatar's story is a very basic battle between the technologically advanced and those who live at one with nature, with some good old fashioned greedy corporation sentiment and stereotypical, exaggerated portrayal of an overeager military tossed in. The evil corporate leader, Parker (Giovanni Ribisi), is cartoonishly and coarsely nasty, while only Stephen Lang's intensity saves his Colonel Quaritch from becoming nothing more than Captain Queeg on steroids.
Sadly, Cameron passes on many opportunities to make the story more complicated, and gives the audience very simple dialogue (I guess no one is looking for Shakespeare in this movie, and less dialogue helps a film play better overseas to non-English speaking fans). While the story would have benefitted from more complex interactions between the military, scientists, corporation and Na'vi, Cameron would rather fill the movie with lots of running around, lots of swinging around, lots of riding around, and lots of flying around. I was worried the love story was going to detract from the action and more intense sub-plots, but it's just as thin and underdeveloped as the rest of Avatar.
The final big showdown between the Na'vi and the military dudes brings some shock and awe, and the 3-D effect is one of the best I have seen on screen. At times, it felt like branches and leaves on the screen were about to hit me in the face, and sitting in the middle of that climactic showdown is a pleasantly dizzying experience.
Cameron is brilliant, and he can still wow the audience's visual senses, but I wish he brought in someone else to write the script.
1 ½ Waffles (Out of 4)
Avatar is rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking.