Avatar (PG-13)

Action/Adventure 160 December 18, 2009
By J.hoberman
The money is on the screen in James Cameron's mega-3-D, mondo-CGI, more-than-a-quarter-billion-dollar baby, and the bling is almost blinding. For the first 45 minutes, I'm thinking: Metropolis! Then the 3-D wears off and the long second act kicks in. The movie opens brilliantly with an assembly line of weightless mercenaries disembarking at planet Pandora's earthling (that is, American) base—a fantastic military hustle, with the paraplegic volunteer Jake (Sam Worthington) wheeling through a sea of Jeeps, trucks, and robots. Every shot is a fascinating study, thanks to the plethora of depth-complicated transparent monitors, Kindle-like devices, and rearview mirrors that Cameron has positioned throughout the frame. The Sky People, as the native Pandorans or Na'vis call them, are on a mission to strip-mine this lushly verdant planet to save their own despoiled world. As preparation, they are attempting to infiltrate the Na'vis by linking human consciousness to Pandoran avatars. Thus Jake finds himself inside a 12-foot-tall, blue-striped, yellow-eyed, flat-nosed humanoid—and he can walk! When, waking up back in the lab, Jake realizes that "out there is the true world and in here is the dream," you know that it's time for him to go native, complete with tender blue-monkey sex. Avatar seamlessly synthesizes live action, animation, performance-capture, and CGI to create what is essentially a non-participatory computer game. But the muscular visuals can only trump the movie's camp dialogue and corny conception up to a point.
James Cameron Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi, CCH Pounder, Joel Moore, Laz Alonso, Wes Studi James Cameron James Cameron, Jon Landau 20th Century Fox

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