| Producer, director and screenwriter James Cameron, in his first feature film since “Titanic” in 1997, has the right to reclaim the title of King of the (Cinematic) World with this monumental epic.
This futuristic sci-fi fantasy adventure takes the viewer on a journey beyond your wildest imagination with groundbreaking, never-seen-before technology. This is a moviemaking game-changer that combines the digital format, CGI special effects and motion-capture performance recording.
With a price tag somewhere between $300 million and $400 million, making it the most expensive movie ever made, Cameron puts the whole kit and caboodle up on the screen. The amazing eye candy will initially blow you away, but eventually it borders on sensory overload.
The movie opens in the year 2154 with paraplegic ex-Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington from “Terminator Salvation”) dreaming of flying without boundaries. He then wakes up in a VA hospital with the reality of being paralyzed from the waist down as a result of combat wounds.
After the death of his scientific twin brother and because of his matching genetic makeup, Sully gets chosen to participate in a joint military and scientific expedition funded by an unnamed private corporation. Everyone involved appears to be either hired brains or brawn.
The base of operations is a giant space station. The target is Pandora, a faraway moon that is rich in a precious mineral desperately needed for Earth to survive ecological disaster.
The carrot (education, medicine and clothing) and the stick (military campaign) philosophies are used to get the native people, the Na’vi, to relocate so mining operations can commence. The primitive, forest-dwelling people comprising this sentient humanoid race have their own unique language and culture. They stand nearly 10 feet tall. They have sparkling blue skin, yellow eyes and long, supple tails. Besides their raw physical strength, their weapon of choice is the bow and arrow.
Since humans can’t breathe the toxic air, scientists have created avatars that are genetically bred Na’vi bodies with nervous systems controlled by the brain of human “drivers.” You can think of it as a puppet show of human dream walkers.
Sully, through his avatar body, is able to have a full range of motion in his lower extremities. He is our guide on this foreign turf as he learns the ropes and gets his bearings. He is saved from certain death by a beautiful female hunter named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana from “Star Trek”). She discerns that he has a strong heart and no sense of fear. She is his meal ticket into the inner circle of these nature-loving people. He gains their trust and becomes indoctrinated into their lifestyle.
Sully is ordered by the Earthlings to operate undercover as a spy. His mission is to gather vital information over the course of three months to determine if negotiations rather than violent armed conflict will be successful.
The story arc takes a back seat to the spectacular visual smorgasbord. The hunt for food involves climbing to astounding heights and soaring in the air on the backs of winged dragon-like beasts. The explanations and orientation process are very sketchy. The screenplay essentially combines “Dances with Wolves” with “Battle for Terra.”
The plot revolves around a love story. Sully’s true allegiance is brought into question, forcing him to choose which side to be on when push comes to shove.
The movie’s main drawback is its lengthy running time of two hours, 41 minutes and 34 seconds. It turns into a marathon-like ordeal to sit through.
The movie goes from an awesome, jaw-dropping experience with dangerous discoveries lurking around every corner to a no-holds-barred battle similar to “Transformers.” Huge gaps in logic turn the tide from a sensational, stirring adventure into something silly, ludicrous and preposterous.
The English and Na’vi (with accompanying subtitles) dialogue is corny. The ears of Johnson County residents will perk up when they hear the line,“You’re not in Kansas anymore.”
The characters are one-dimensional. Except for Sigourney Weaver (“Aliens,” “Baby Mama” and “Ghost Busters”) as scientific head honcho Grace, the acting generates very little in the way of warmth and emotion. The movie takes things too seriously with not enough humor and comedic relief. It is hard to develop a rooting interest until the words “shock and awe” pour out of the mouth of Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang from “Public Enemies,” “The Men Who Stare at Goats” and “Gods and Generals”), the gung-ho military commander.
Another familiar face in the cast is Michelle Rodriguez (“Fast & Furious”) playing a chopper pilot named Trudy.
Oscar-winning composer James Horner (“Titanic,” “Braveheart” and “Aliens”) has once again provided a top-drawer musical score that adds immensely to the imaginative wonders displayed on the screen. The sound mixing and sound effects are worthy of year-end awards recognition. Weta Digital, renowned for its work in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “King Kong,” deserves high marks for making photorealistic the characters, creatures, plants and scenic vistas in this exotic alien world.
Overall, the rewards gained from spending your time and money on this destination event outweigh the weaknesses associated with this complex and ambitious undertaking. Since this will undoubtedly be the most talked about movie this holiday season, with record-breaking attendance figures, you must see it in either IMAX 3D (exclusively in Johnson County at AMC Studio 30) or Digital 3D.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"