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Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Once in a blue moon a film comes along to chase away the Blues with such stunning technological advances that it will change the art of movie-making forever. First came sound with The Jazz Singer, then Technicolor™ with The Wizard of Oz, followed by the wide screen format of Cinemascope™ with The Robe and now the next step in 3D and motion capture photography is here with the opening of Avatar.

Avatar is an extraordinary piece of art with something for all ages, from teens in blue jeans to blue-haired old ladies. It is an action flick, a love story, a social allegory about the treatment of Native Americans, and an elaborate science fiction spectacle all wrapped up in one. The story concerns a mining operation and military intervention by humans on a moon called Pandora located in the proverbial galaxy far, far away. Also sharing the premises of the company compound is scientist Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver; The Tale of Despereaux), who is leading a team dedicated to studying and establishing diplomatic relations with the indigenous people of the moon, a race of ten-foot tall blue-skinned people called the Na’vi. To make this a reality, Dr. Augustine has recruited a small cadre of experts whose job is to have their consciousness transferred into the cloned bodies of the Na’vi, grown within the company’s laboratory. By fate, one of Augustine’s team has been killed before the movie begins, and it is his twin brother, Jake (Sam Worthington; Terminator Salvation), who is brought in as a replacement because of the genetic similarity to his brother, which is necessary for the success of the connection between human mind and Na’vi body.

Jake is a marine that has been rendered a paraplegic during a previous mission, so the idea of regaining the use of his legs through an Avatar, i.e., a representative body that will replace his own while he remains in stasis back at the lab, is an exciting possibility. His lack of training or knowledge of biological sciences is of great concern to Augustine, but after a harrowing introduction to native life, Jake proves a natural in adapting to Na’vi culture. His first contact, with Na’vi beauty Neytiri (Zöe Saldana; Star Trek), turns to love despite the tribe’s well-deserved suspicion of the newcomer.

As you can imagine, the story builds to an inevitable climax that will challenge Jake’s loyalties to his human beginnings when he finds himself questioning the validity of the mining project that will end with the decimation of the Na’vi’s home world. The passive, pastoral lifestyle of the Na’vi, who live in concert with nature and with a belief system that all beings on Pandora are connected as one, is shown through a few pivotal scenes where we glimpse the Na’vi at their most spiritual ~ swaying in syncopated rhythms with one another like the Blue Man Group times a thousand.

The real Blue Meanie of the movie is Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang; The Men Who Stare at Goats), a bad-ass, by-the-book marine who looks forward to nothing more than eradicating the Na’vi for the thrill of the fight. He doesn’t care about the blue skies, blue lagoons, or Blue Hawaii (sans Elvis) gorgeousness of the scenery. All he cares about is annihilation. That tends to leave everyone else singing the Blues, Na’vi or not.

The conflict that results makes for striking visuals, shown in Real 3D, but done with subtlety and the restraint necessary to make the battles and the environment feel authentic rather than exaggerated with the usual “gags” jumping off the screen that one associates with tradition 3D from the 1950s and ‘60s. Director James Cameron (Titanic) packs very frame with blue ribbon-caliber effects and details that will guarantee you’ll forget that the world you are watching is all computer generated.

Avatar is an epic adventure that will leave you wondering how its two hours and forty minutes flashed by quickly enough so that you never took a moment to look at your watch. There isn’t a moment that isn’t entertaining, fascinating, and thought-provoking. If you are looking for the movie of 2009, just slip on your blue suede shoes and boogie on down to the Essex Cinemas or Cumberland 12 to check out these Smurfs on steroids. Avatar rocks!                                

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