Review: Avatar

* * * * out of four stars

“Avatar” is visually stunning. It quite possibly replaces the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy in the art department. Writer-director James Cameron (“Terminator 1 & 2,” “Aliens,” “Titanic”) does a beautiful job with the atmosphere, the feel, and the emotion. This is the grand cinematic finale of the decade.

Shot half live-action and half-CGI motion capture animation, “Avatar” takes place in the twenty-second century, where Earth’s resources have been depleted and now man must turn to the stars for other means to survive. They’ve come to the planet Pandora, which contains rich complements of a substance called unobtainium, something the humans can’t do without. Inhabiting the planet are the Na’vi, a blue-skinned, peaceful race who simply wish to live in harmony with their surroundings.

The humans, especially Colonel Quatrich (Stephen Lang, “Gods and Generals”), who is mega-ready to kick some local tail (in a literal sense, as the Na’vi have tails). Opposing Quatrich are our heroes, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington, “Terminator Salvation”), Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver, “Alien,” “Galaxy Quest”), and their special military team that runs the “Avatars.”

An Avatar is a Na’vi body linked to a human computer which is hooked up to another human. When Jake Sully lays down into the Avatar chamber, he becomes one with his Na’vi host, and can see, feel, and sense all the things the Na’vi feels.

Trouble happens when, while on a scouting mission, Jake’s Avatar gets separated from the group and is found, by luck, by one of the Na’vi, a young woman named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, “Vantage Point,” “Star Trek”). Now Jake is in a good position, and his mission is clear. Get inside the Na’vi home and convince them to leave.

The world of Pandora is a beautiful backdrop for the film. Floating mountains, gigantic rock arches, huge trees in endless jungles, plant life that mystifies and animals that dazzle and frighten at the same time. Our hero Jake is crippled in his human body, but when he transforms into his Avatar, he can not only walk, but leap, run, dodge ferocious animals and swing from tree to tree, and that’s just a little of what he can do.

The Na’vi are a beautiful race. Graceful, exotic and gentle. Our heroine of the film, Neytiri, is strong-willed, brave, tough, and sometimes kind, when she’s not being impatient with Jake. She’s also possibly the sexiest animated female lead to grace the screen since Aki Ross in “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.”

Cameron is at his very best here. He’s been wanting to make this film for twenty years, since before “Titanic,” and now that he can, he’s doing so with a vengeance. His vision is brought to life with an elegance seen in only the finest filmmakers. If I haven’t used the word “breathtaking” in this review until now, consider it used. An awesome spectacle, not to be missed.

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