Avatar

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An all new world awaits.

2009

Genres:
Sci-Fi, Action, Fantasy, Computer Animation

Starring:
Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez, Stephen Lang

Summary:
In the 22nd century on a remote planet called Pandora, a paraplegic marine named Jake Sully (Worthington) gets a chance to participate in a pioneering research experiment after his twin brother unexpectedly dies. Led by Dr Grace Augustine (Weaver), the project involves the use of avatars, lab-grown bodies of the indigenous cat-like Na'vi. Jake, Augustine, and several other trained researchers are able to transfer their minds to their avatars and control the bodies as they would their own.

Their mission is to convince a forest tribe of the Na'vi to relocate away from Home Tree, a massive tree which represents a spiritual and cultural hub. Home Tree is also home to rich deposits of unobtainium, a rare mineral desperately wanted by big offworld corporations. Although the head of the corporation (Ribisi) would rather avoid bloodshed for publicity reasons, his head of security Colonel Quaritch (Lang) is all too eager to use deadly force to eliminate the Na'vi.

During a routine scouting mission in his avatar, Sully gets separated from his group and meets Neytiri (Saldana), the princess of the local tribe. After intial resistance, Sully is taught the Na'vi culture and is embraced by the tribe, eventually culminating in a choice between loyalty to his military human heritage or his adopted mystical Na'vi life.

Response:
Avatar is without a doubt the most visually stunning movie I've ever seen. I saw it in 3-D in the cinema and was absolutely blown away. I was initially hesitant about the 3-D aspect because my previous experiences (the most recent almost 10 years ago) had not been great, but the technology has come such a long way since then. And you couldn't ask for a better movie to showcase it.

Visually, Avatar has two sides to it, the monochromatic and almost dreary human base and Pandora, the colourful and vibrant world outside the base. For most of the movie, live actors only appear in the former, while Pandora is populated with the digitally rendered blue Na'vi. Pandora is the epitomy of the organic, filled with every colour, shape, and texture imaginable - wispy clouds, rugged mountains, neon flowers, moonlit swamps, and gnarled branches. An equally rich flora and fauna live in Pandora - six-legged horses, multi-coloured dragons, deadly carnivores, and even glowing trees. The advanced computer animation makes all this believable, and the motion-capture technology pioneered with such films as Lord of the Rings makes for seamless integrations between Pandora and the human base and the Na'vi and live actors. The motion capture also allows the Na'vi to be truly expressive. In fact, this is the first time I can remember seeing an onscreen kiss between animated characters that didn't seem absurdly awkward (e.g. Final Fantasy). The advanced digital animation also allowed the filmakers to bring the storyline into the treetops and clouds. There are some jaw-dropping scenes in which the Na'vi fly on their symbiotic dragons or soar through the forest canopy.

Avatar is primarily a visual action movie, but the acting is quite good as well. Although many of the characters are digitally rendered, their voices and facial expressions were still based on live actors, lending a very realistic and organic feel to characterisation. Worthington performs his military-man-who-grows-a-heart role perfectly, and Weaver is (as always) a class act as the tough but caring research leader. Interestingly, Saldana never appears as a live actor in the film, and yet her voice and expressions give Neytiri an impressive intensity that surpasses all the other characters.

The only limitation of Avatar is its plotline. The story is quite simple and predictable, with good and evil clearly defined. The plot borrows heavily from several other science fiction and fantasy works. For example, the battle between the natural (good) and the technological (evil) has been played out in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and many other series, and the symbiotic relationship with the Na'vi and their dragons is quite similar to Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series. The relationship of the Na'vi with their environment borrows heavily from indigenous mythos of nature worship, but successfully avoids becoming painfully mystical by using a biological explanation of global symbiosis. Despite the predictable and sometimes cliche plot, the story is still very enjoyable allows the filmakers to focus on what this movie is all about - the amazing special effects and visual wonder.

Point Blank:
More than eye candy - it's like an all-you-can-eat buffet for your eyes. Don't miss it.