Blu-ray Review: Avatar (2009)

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Why walk when you can run? It's this basic idea that proves to be fundamental both for our affable hero in James Cameron's record breaking Avatar as well as the Titanic and Terminator filmmaker's approach to the moviemaking process as well.

In the case of Marine amputee Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), wanting to run is a literal desire since this exhilarating adventure finds the wounded in battle soldier being given a second chance to do just that through a scientific process co-designed by and intended for his deceased twin brother -- a scientist who'd been working on the nearby planet of Pandora as part of the Avatar program.

While Pandora has been occupied primarily for the Earth's gain to mine enough of a precious material to solve our energy crisis with or without the permission of Pandora's residents -- the Na'vi -- the scientific community (headed up by Sigourney Weaver) are fascinated by the peaceful people and the plant, animal and sediment life on the land.

Since the air is toxic to humans, the answer to our problems has been solved in 2154 by the employment of “drivers” like Jake to inhabit giant blue living Avatars, formed from human and Na'vi DNA that are designed to blend in with the locals. And although the scientists fear that it'll take Jake some getting used to when it comes to adapting to his Avatar, as soon as he's able to embody a half-human, half-Na'vi hybrid fortunate enough to possess two legs, he's off and running as quickly as he can “drive” his new body.

While Jake's adventures lead him – just like Dorothy in Oz and Neo in The Matrix – further into Pandora where he becomes close with a Na'vi clan and falls in love with the beautiful Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) who saves his life, the audience is also equally aware of the historic nature of what they're watching and the man behind it as well.

And for James Cameron, why walk when you can run means wanting to do everything faster, bigger, bolder and better than the rest of the lot. In Cameron's case this has manifested into inventing new technology and asking “what if?” like the boy he admits he was dreaming about creatures when he should've been focusing on his math homework.

While the ego ran amok infamously during his “King of the World” speech at the Oscars during the year of Titanic, this time, he's managed to outdo himself with a movie that works on a vast number of levels. On the surface, it's workable as a hero's journey expedition in the vein of say Dances With Wolves and/or the legend of Pocahontas -- while at the same time the film is also quite a fascinating work of political allegory entwined with the reminder to go green.

Avatar is a wonderful blend of past, present and future, whether it's equating the Na'vi people to the innocent citizens caught in the crossfire in our pursuit for more oil, questioning the treatment of our disabled vets who can't afford surgeries that could greatly improve their quality of life, or calling up the Blackwater scandal of corporate greed during wartime and so on.

As such, it would make an excellent prospect for a Contemporary Film Studies classroom assignment by asking students to view the film and analyze what they think it means, thereby opening up cinema and bringing it into the realm of humanities where it should be.

Yet despite its strengths, again Cameron's weakness is in his dialogue and in building a successful love story since – just as in Titanic -- we're more caught up in the visual splendor than we are in the actual chemistry of the two leads since it's lost by the writer/director's decision to make them run through the courtship at times when walking would've been appropriate.

Still overall, it's a more wholly successful work than his previous masterpiece that dazzles you completely on Blu-ray disc. And even if viewers may feel slightly shortchanged by the decision not to release the movie in 3-D (at this time, of course as no doubt various editions of Avatar will arrive in the future from 20th Century Fox), it's easily the most immersive high definition experience I've had in a long while. Fortunately, the picture's heightened colors darn near pop off the screen without the extra dimension and you'll hear James Horner's score pouring into your media room from speakers all around you.

It's a reminder of the golden age of Hollywood when it was film's job to provide an escape for viewer's from their daily lives –by allowing us act as “drivers” in our own right – all the while embracing where filmmaking is headed with virtual cameras and the seamless combination of live action with animation.

Furthermore, Avatar is a true marvel in that it's one of the few big budget blockbusters to come out of the studio system in the past few years that not only lives up to the hype but manages to make you feel as though you're running even when you're sitting still. Or in other words, why walk when you can run indeed.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.