AVATAR (Dir. James Cameron, 2009)
When my brother and I were kids we would often put down the lackluster effects of many of the sci-fi films released in the wake of STAR WARS saying they looked "fakey."
Well, there's almost nothing fakey looking in AVATAR, James Cameron's long-in-the-making special effects epic in which every cent of its $250 million + budget sparkles on screen. Nearly every frame is a flawless spectacle of jaw-dropping jolts that makes last summer's STAR TREK reboot already look dated.
AVATAR is set in 2051 on a the distant moon Pandora which is inhabited by large blue humanoid life forms named the Na'vi. Human colonization of Pandora is underway with scientific studies clashing with military might over the Na'vi because they just happen to have a valuable commodity, a mineral called "Unobtainium", which is vital to the survival of Earth, of which the protagonist says "there's no green there, they killed their mother."
That protagonist is paraplegic marine (Sam Worthington) who is recruited to attempt to connect to the natives through "Avatars" - genetically engineered hybrid bodies that allow humans to breathe and co-exist in the Na'vi environment.
Worthington loves being reborn as a CGI creation that can run, jump, and engage in fighting off the crazy alien creatures of the lush but creepy forest. Telling the Na'vi leader that he is a warrior from the "Jarhead" clan, Worthington is allowed in to their culture based on the spiritual energy of the woods around them. He falls in love with the tribe chieftain's daughter (Zoë Saldana) as he learns their ways and comes to believe that he should join them in fighting the humans who are coming to destroy their sacred Hometree for the "Unobtainium" underneath.
"Just relax and let your mind go blank" says Sigourney Weaver as a sneering scientist also Avataring it up. Though she adds: "That shouldn't be too hard for you" to Worthington, that's good advice for the audience.
If it isn't hard to turn one's brain off, an exhilarating visual experience can definitely be had, but if that switch remains in the "on" position, stiff dialogue, simplistic politics (army bad, nature good) and a predictable formula thread may get in the way of total transcendence.
As a hard assed army Colonel looking to annihilate the Na'vi, Steven Lang comes off as such a standard issue war monger that I almost expected him to blast "Ride Of The Valkries" when flying in to attack on the speaker system of his highly robotized helicopter.
Also during the ginormous concluding battle sequence I got lost in the explosions and so tired out from the bloated running time (161 minutes) that I was looking for dead Ewoks in the brush. In the end though, critical jabs at the film and Cameron's expense will do little to undermine the overwhelming technical achievement he's created.
AVATAR's amazing aesthetics make it one of the tastiest pieces of cinematic eye candy ever. So much so, that I could even let the sucky song ("I See You" by Leona Lewis) that plays over the end credits slide.