Avatar ★★★½

The visual spectacle of Avatar is so cool that it almost becomes an overload of cool. Every shot in James Cameron’s blue world extravaganza is magnificent from left to right, packing it in, never giving into visual short-shrift. His storytelling efforts are also ambitious and extensive, if not exactly compact.

Two villains exist, Stephen Lang as merciless honcho Colonel Miles Quaritch and Giovanni Ribisi’s wormy mission director Parker Selfridge who is a nod similar to Paul Reiser’s cretin in Cameron’s “Aliens.” Besides being far too single-minded and intractable, these are fairly well-drawn villains.

This is the year 2154 (the human behavior, the technology feels like it), and earthlings have stationed in Pandora where mineral unobtainium can be extracted to save Earth’s energy crisis. The hero of the picture is Sam Worthington as paraplegic Jake Sully, an enlisted Marine, who enters the Avatar program headed by Sigourney Weaver as a Ph.D. In a sensory deprivation tank, human consciousness is linked with a cloned Na’vi, a blue alien species whose characteristics include towering height, green-yellow eyes, and facilitated with spring-powered legs.

As a clone, Jake can now run and climb and do everything he used to be able to do (when he wakes up he’s a paraplegic in a tank again). As an avatar, Jake chooses to assimilate himself with the Na’vi people and learn from them. His first Na’vi he meets is Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who saves his life and then introduces Jake to her people. The Na’vi are knowing that Jake’s appearance is an avatar.

What’s peculiar is that the blue people want Jake around so they can learn as much about him, vice versa, he wants to learn about them. Something that Cameron fails to give us is a sound and convincing motive that both sides are willing for acceptance. The script has references to “schools” where the two species had integrated and failed to come to a satisfying cooperation. But the Na’vi are certain in their perspective that the white man is evil, alas, Jake for some reason is that one exception.

It’s true, though, the white man only wants the Na’vi to relocate so they can drill in their sacred land. This had set up overtones on what our U.S. military has long been doing in sections of the Middle East. Cameron is drawing parallels, he wants you to be aware of the intolerant prejudices happening in our world today by using Pandora as a comparison.

Who is the smartest here? Well, Dr. Grace is the sounding board of reason as she demonstrates arguments with Colonel Quaritch and Parker Selfridge whom are unsympathetic to such Na’vi social traditions and beliefs. They are going to plow the land no matter what, in fact, they decide the blow it up. What unnerved me, taking me out of the story, was that the humans become a wrecking team with no harvesting crew to collect the precious minerals after they have just blown up a Na’vi sanctuary.

For two-thirds of the movie you wonder where are the rest of the Na’vi people (is there only one tribe?), and when they all do come together you fail to get a sense of all their people as once collective force. In all that time however, you are wowed constantly by the green plant life and hybrid animals that pop in and out of the screen in propulsive realistic detail.

Avatar still contains some of the best special effects in recent years with people and landscapes in exceptionally realistic composite shots. The rapid machine gun fire looks more fake, though, doesn’t it? The muzzle flash looks computerized.

Quibbles aside, do we care? I'm not completely bowled over, but sure, there is enough to care about.

Avatar doesn’t always work as a tight-wired story; the action at the end doesn’t always support the story, and the story doesn’t always justify the action. But it works as sheer entertainment and as an easy to digest allegory of industrial-military evils.

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