By Riley Simpson
-Four out of four stars
It was worth the sore rear end after sitting in a theater for two hours and 40 minutes.
It was worth the combined $20 in movie tickets (both regular and IMAX 3D showings).
Heck, it was worth standing outside in the blizzard-like conditions, waiting to purchase the above-mentioned tickets.
“Avatar” is worth it to the infinity power.
You know how I know it was worth it? A little thing I like to call “wow-factor.”
“Wow-factor,” simply put, is a type of euphoria one achieves while plainly watching a movie. It extracts your adrenaline and forces it through your veins, making you experience a movie, rather than just watch it.
My personal high while experiencing — not watching — “Avatar” was like being taken away to the planet of Pandora and running and jumping through the jungles and forests. The high wore off about two hours after I stepped out of the theater at the regular showing at Arlington Theatres, but my high after IMAX lasted for about a week. The whole ordeal was just engrossing, leaving me with such a desire to relive the movie that I’ve never had before.
The IMAX show is also the reason this review is being published a month after “Avatar’s” release, since I wanted to see both sides of legendary director James Cameron’s masterpiece.
Cameron, who also wrote and produced “Avatar,” thoroughly out-does his previous classics like “Titanic,” “Aliens” and “Terminator 2: Judgement Day.”
He does it with spectacular animation. He does it with jaw-dropping action. He does it with seething emotion.
And, of course, the wow factor.
Cameron’s script does get a bit complicated: years from now, humans colonize the distant planet of Pandora in hopes of exploiting it for its rare natural resources, mainly Unobtainium — a fictitious and unexplained substance worth millions. But with rising tensions between the Earthlings and the native people, the Na’vi, the gung-ho military tries a diplomatic solution with avatars — artificially-produced Na’vi driven by human minds. The newest driver, paraplegic Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), gets in over his head while infiltrating the Na’vi civilization, igniting an inner-conflict as well as a looming full-out war between the species.
Saying that “Avatar” is a special effects extravaganza is a severe understatement. Cameron surges past the expectations of any audience member in mere moments by just showing a huge ship descending into Pandora. From Earth’s gas-guzzling and destructive machines and vehicles to the imaginative creatures and awe-inspiring landscapes of Pandora, Cameron does not lay off the eye candy. And the action scenes are so well-crafted, implementing the perfect doses of slow motion and wide-shot explosions.
But Cameron uses his special effects wizardry to not only exhilarate us with breathtaking action, but also to stupefy us with amazing displays of emotion. He uses the same motion-capture technology seen in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “King Kong” and “District 9” – or any other Peter Jackson movie, for that matter – but in “Avatar,” it has a much greater effect. The compassion and feelings he channels from his CGI actors is astonishing, and honestly, it puts Gollum, Kong and the Prawns to shame.
Worthington proves his acting chops for the second time this year — he stole the show from Christian Bale in “Terminator Salvation” — as Sully, both as a human and as an avatar. As the former, his curious and childlike Marine is given even more empathy by his extremely expressive eyes. As the latter, he does the same, but as a braver and more confident Na’vi. Also, any actor who reduces his legs to the size of toothpicks to portray a paraplegic sure shows his commitment and gumption.
Zoe Saldana also shines as the Na’vi warrior princess, Neytiri. With cat-like motions and snarls — yes, she snarls — she puts on a convincing performance, hitting a bullseye yet again (the first one with “Star Trek”).
“Avatar’s” only real shortcoming is its script. First of all, the storyline isn’t all that original — see “Pocahontas” and “Dances With Wolves” if you don’t believe me — but more importantly, the dialogue is pretty cliché and predictable at times, which is surprising coming from Cameron, who won an Oscar for his “Titanic” screenplay. “Thank you for flying Air Pandora!” exclaims Michelle Rodriguez’s pilot Trudy in one scene, although most of the choppy lines come from Quaritch. Better writing was used to create the Na’vi language. Yes, linguist Paul R. Frommer invented the Na’vi language entirely from scratch. Around 500 words were created and it completely stands on its own from any language known to man.
In “Avatar,” Cameron calls an all-out blitz on our senses, which is amplified times 1000 in IMAX format. But even without the special screen or 3D glasses, I fell in love with the movie. It still wowed me on almost every level.
I said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s not just watching a movie.
“Avatar” is an experience.