Film: Avatar

Cast includes: Sam Worthington (Macbeth 2006), Zoe Saldana (Vantage Point), Sigourney Weaver (Aliens), Stephen Lang (Gods and Generals)
Screenplay/direction: James Cameron (The Terminator, Titanic)
Genre: Action/Sci-fi/Thriller

In brief: Pandora is an exquisitely beautiful planet that has something we earthlings need… a mineral called unobtainium. The year is 2154, and we’ve just about used up our own planet and now need to mine the universe. Pandora is populated with large, athletic blue “people” called Na’vi. The Na’vi believe that it’s their duty to protect the “balance of life” on Pandora… which includes the most amazing assortment of animal and plant life. It’s not likely that the Na’vi will simply turn over the mineral rights for the unobtainium… especially since it’s located right under their most sacred site. The “sky people” (the Na’vi name for humans) see that they have two possible ways to obtain the unobtainium… through diplomacy or by force. Force is more sure-fire, but not good for company PR. Dr. Augustine heads up the diplomatic efforts, while Colonel Quaritch heads up the military. And the colonel is losing patience with diplomacy. (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?)

That’s where Jack Sully comes in. Jack’s recently killed twin brother was part of a high-science diplomatic effort using avatars. The avatars were created using Na’vi DNA with the DNA of a human… one avatar per human. There’s an almost-ready avatar using Jack’s brother’s DNA, but it needs a matching human. As it turns out Jack is a perfect DNA match, so the project can be salvaged if Jack will agree to fill in. But Jack doesn’t have the right training. In fact, Jack’s a war-wounded Marine… not at all what Dr. Augustine needs for this mission, although the colonel is happy to get some military macho on the team. Now here’s an important point… in order to inhabit his Na’vi body, Jack has to go into a high-tech cocoon, where he is transported by brain waves into the body of his avatar. As an avatar-Na’vi, Jack is supposed to learn the ways of the Na’vi people and figure out how to use diplomacy to get the goods.

But nothing goes as planned. First off, Jack has a little unexpected adventure, which causes him to be left on Pandora overnight. Pandora’s a dangerous place when you don’t know the ropes. When the young princess Neytiri sees him, she intends to put an arrow through his heart. But mysteriously, a spirit dances on the end of her arrow, causing her to reconsider. Against her better judgment, Neytiri becomes Jack’s teacher… training him in the Na’vi ways. The more Jack learns… the less Jack believes in the mission he was sent to do. But here’s the real problem… Jack can only inhabit his avatar from inside the high-tech cocoon, controlled by the earthlings. So Jack had better not get too attached to his new Na’vi family because his old human family can pull the plug any time they want.

For sci-fi fans, Avatar is a must-see movie. The 3-D special effects and animation are everything they’re cracked up to be… if not more. Non-sci-fi fans may wonder if there’s something in this movie for them. I would say there’s an interesting and engaging plot… with a touch of social relevance. The main characters are interesting and developed well enough, considering it’s not a character study. There isn’t a lot of dialogue, but what’s there isn’t bad, and there’re some clever parts. The story development is excellent, and the visual effects are awesome. It’s almost 3 hours long, but you’re totally transported. When it ends, you’ll wonder how you’re going to go back to life as you knew it.

popcorn rating

4 popped kernels

Popped kernels for everything... script, effects, artistry... but mostly for not letting the special effects overshadow the story

Popcorn Profile

Primary Audience: Teens and Young adults
Gender Appeal: Any audience 
Distribution: Mainstream wide release
Mood:  Both upbeat and somber
Tempo: Pure adrenalin rush
Visual Style: Animated/computer  
Character Development: Engaging  
Language: True to life  
Social Significance: Pure entertainment 



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The 3-D experience

Techno-junkies have been anticipating Avatar for months. With a budget of $230 million and 4 years in the making, Avatar is more than just super techno-glitz. There are some very specific challenges that James Cameron set out to conquer.


For starters, previous CGI characters never had facial expressions that could capture human emotion. CGI could get facial expressions that worked for non-human characters. But if the character was supposed to be human, the expressions had a creepy quality. Cameron’s team spent the first year and a half perfecting their facial-performance-capture system. They used special head rigs, fitted with many tiny cameras that captured every subtle muscular movement on the actor’s faces… including changes in their pupil sizes. The data from these cameras was used for creating the CGI images. They had similar challenges in getting natural body movements. Avatar is about ⅓ live action and ⅔ animation, but the blending is seamless.


There are many new innovations in the 3-D technology, as well. For example, miniature 3-D cameras attached to the actors enable us to see from their point of view. Avatar doesn’t feel overly gimmicky. It feels more like you’re actually part of another reality. If you can, see this one in 3-D.



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