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Reviewed by Alan J. Porter, © 2009

Format: Movie
By:   James Cameron
Genre:   Sci-fi / fantasy
Review Date:   December 16, 2009
Audience Rating:   PG-13
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

It has become increasingly apparent over the last couple of years that the movie industry is frantically searching for the magic ingredient to get people back into theaters again. In short they needed a way to present movies in a way that couldn’t be duplicated at home with blu-ray players, HD flat screen TVs, and surround sound systems.

In a flashback to the days when the mass acceptance of TV first threatened the movie business, the answer appeared to be 3D. But the truth is that the approach was also straight out of the fifties playbook: take a movie that could have been shot in the conventional way and throw in a couple of 3D Poke Something Out of the Screen scenes.

With Avatar, James Cameron succeeded where everyone else failed.

This is the movie that must be seen in theaters. It isn’t a movie with 3D bits added, it is the consummate 3D movie, an immersive experience from the opening seconds to the rolling of the end credits. It informs every scene of the movie, from the subtle details to the most jaw dropping vistas (of which there are numerous examples.)

But it isn’t just the use of 3D. Every detail of this visually stunning extravaganza that keeps you enthralled. Cameron has produced probably the most lovingly rendered and detailed movie to date. This is as close as any of us are going to get to walking on a truly alien world. The flora and fauna of Pandora, where all the action takes place,, seems probable, also they feel alive and part of a fully functioning ecosystem.

Ecosystems are the predominant theme of Avatar and Cameron’s views on ecology and the negative impact of man on nature are driven home with a sledgehammer. Unlike the visuals there is no subtly to the plot or the politics.

The basic plot of a military observer going native and turning on those who gave him is orders, is an old generic one. It’s clear from the first scene what is going to happen and as a consequence there are no surprises or twists. The dialog is fairly flat, although with a few great character moments thrown in. The one possible subplot that may have lead to some complex confrontation is quickly glossed over and forgotten.

It could be argued that a simple plot is just what this movie needed. There is so much going on on-screen that the broad brush storytelling was a good complement that avoided overloading the audience and detracting from the on screen spectacle.

That’s what this movie was all about, what you were experiencing on screen. I used the word experiencing deliberately as Avatar is not a movie you watch, it’s a movie that you become part of.

Alan J. Porter writes about James Bond and Star Trek here and here. He'll thank you kindly.

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