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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
Click poster to enlarge
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
12A
Cast
Sam Worthington
Zoe Saldana
Sigourney Weaver
Lola Herrera
Stephen Lang
Michelle Rodriguez
Matt Gerald
Giovanni Ribisi.
Directors
James Cameron.
Screenwriters
James Cameron.
Running Time
161 minutes

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Avatar
James Cameron's back with another big blue epic...


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Plot
When his twin brother is killed, disabled ex-Marine Jake Sully is recruited to aid a mining expedition on the distant jungle moon of Pandora as only his DNA will bond with the alien hybrid body, known as an Avatar, that allows humans to breathe the toxic air. With orders to infiltrate the Na’vi, Jake finds himself falling in love with native girl, Neytiri, and complications soon ensue…


Review
Avatar
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Avatar is unequivocally, completely, 100% the film that has been percolating in James Cameron’s head for the last fourteen years. It is not, in all probability, the film that you had in yours when you first heard that the man who directed Aliens and The Terminator was returning to sci-fi with a movie so ambitious that he had to build the technology to make it happen. If you can let go of your version and embrace Cameron’s – if you’re not, in other words, one of those splenetic internet fanboy types who’ve apparently made their minds up about Avatar before seeing it – then Avatar is a hugely rewarding experience: rich, soulful and exciting in the way that only comes from seeing a master artist at work.

Let’s address the Big Question first: to use the key phrase so often used in connection with the movie, is it a game-changer? Yes, and no would be the cop-out answer, but it’s also the truth. Avatar employs technology necessary to render its largely computer-generated, 3D world that will give directors, including but not limited to Cameron, one heck of a sandbox to play in over the next few years. That’s how the game has changed off screen.

On it, it may not be a game-changer, but no director to date has built a world of this scale, ambition and complexity before, and Avatar – much as the arrival of Raymond van Barneveld forced Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor to up his game – will have rival directors scrambling to keep up with Cameron. Avatar is an astonishing feast for the eyes and ears, with shots and sequences that boggle the mind, from the epic – a floating mountain range in the sky, waterfalls cascading into nothingness – to the tiny details, such as a paraplegic sinking his new, blue and fully operational toes into the sand. The level of immersive detail here is simply amazing.

And Cameron plunges you straight in, not even giving you time to don water wings. In a dizzyingly fast, almost impressionistic opening ten minutes, we’re introduced, in no short order, to everything you need to know for the next 150: about Pandora’s climate and largely deadly population, about Jake Sully’s situation, about the Avatar programme and the ruthless plans of the human invaders (led by Stephen Lang’s Col. Quaritch and Giovanni Ribisi’s Selfridge, a clear nod to Aliens’ Carter Burke, one of several touches reminiscent of Cameron’s earlier masterpiece). And then we’re off and running, literally, into an action sequence where Jake-Avatar barely survives encounters with unfriendly local wildlife that would make Ray Mears cream his shorts.

And it’s here where Cameron begins the detour from the all-out actionfest that many might have expected, choosing instead to slow things down over a three-month time period in which Jake – hair and beard markedly growing in the live-action sequences – immerses himself in the Na’vi culture, and gradually finds himself losing his heart to their ways and practices, and, in particular, Zoe Saldana’s fierce warrioress, Neytiri.

The lack of a ticking clock plot device here may deprive Avatar of momentum or drive through its middle-section, but it’s also part of Cameron’s agenda. After all, he’s also the guy who directed Titanic, and Avatar isn’t just about spectacle and stupendous action (though we’ll get both in spades), but a love story. We need hardly be surprised by this – every Cameron film, even True Lies, has a love story at its core – but the surprise here is how effective Avatar’s central coupling is, the emotion between Jake and Neytiri earthed by Weta’s astonishing digital effects. You can safely stow away all that spurious crap about videogame-style effects, or blue Jar Jars: this is truly next-level stuff, which doesn't smother Worthington and Saldana under a pile of pixels, but rather teases out and enhances the emotion in their excellent performances.

The Na’vi, each of whom has clearly distinct features (no small feat for a clan of some several hundred creatures) may not always seem photo-real, but they do seem – and this is crucial – alive and extremely expressive, helped by the fact that the dead-eye problem, which has plagued mo-cap movies since their inception, has been well and truly solved.

Worthington, fully justifying all the hullabaloo about him with a controlled, charming and physical performance (both in and out of his Avatar), may have a magnificent Lee Marvin leading man monotone, but an even bigger asset is his soulful eyes, a quality that is retained and magnified in the larger peepers of the Na’vi. Jake and Neytiri’s burgeoning love is contained in the intricacies of detail in the eyes – a flicker of longing here, a widening of the pupils or a rolling tear there, that further aids the illusion that these conglomerations of ones and zeros actually exist. It’s a genuinely engaging relationship – just because they’re aliens doesn’t mean they have to be alienating.

Mind you, despite all the advances and groundwork laid, we might be not quite ready to see two CG characters effectively dry-hump each other. That’s just wrong

But, as much as technology aids and defines Avatar, it’s also a love letter to humanity and the glory of mother nature. The analogy with the Vietnam and Iraq wars is obvious, but Cameron, in siding with the insurgents (hardly an all-American move, but then again he is Canadian), is also asking fairly complex questions about what it means to be human. “How does it feel to betray your race?”, Sully is asked at one point, but by then, Cameron’s point has been made: the humans here, Sully and an assortment of ‘good’ scientists, led by Sigourney Weaver’s Dr. Grace Augustine, aside, are the monsters; avaricious, rapacious, planet-killers. There’s never any doubt that Cameron considers the Na’vi to be more human – freer of spirit and emotion, more connected to the world around them.

At times – and this is perhaps Avatar’s biggest flaw, even beyond that bloody awful Leona Lewis song which mars the end credits – this manifests itself in New Age-y, hippy-dippy language and images that suggest that Cameron is one mung bean away from dropping out, man, and going all Swampy on our asses.

In truth, the big idea here, that Pandora is a giant mass of connected energy and emotional synapses, isn’t really all that far away from Lucas’ The Force, and works just fine in the context of a sci-fi fantasy, which Avatar undoubtedly is, but there’s a fair amount of unintentional laughter to be had from watching hundreds of Na’vi, swaying like extras from the Zion rave scene in The Matrix Reloaded, surrounding something called The Tree Of Souls and banging on about becoming one with Mother Eywo. If there’s one element of Avatar that the made-their-mind-up brigade will use to mercilessly beat the film with, even more so than the somewhat prosaic plot, it’s this.

But it’s hard to imagine even the most jaded and cynical having any issues with the last forty minutes, in which Cameron uncorks the action and shows all the young pretenders – the Bays and the Emmerichs and the Von Triers – how it’s done. The human attack on Pandora and the subsequent fightback, led by Avatar-Jake, is a largely sustained setpiece of quite staggering scale, imagination and emotion that manages to compress both the truly epic – a human attack on a Na’vi landmark that recalls 9/11 in its devastating imagery – and the thrillingly intimate, as Jake finally faces off against the excellent Stephen Lang’s Quaritch, a scenery-chewing bad guy so badass that he can breathe the Pandoran air without a mask.

It’s a relentless sequence which, while not quite matching the emotional punch of Titanic’s three-hanky conclusion, will still leave you dazed, confused but exhilarated, a feeling that will be enhanced further if you can - and we really, really recommend that you should - catch it in 3D, where Cameron’s unparalleled and meticulously constructed use of the technique expertly envelopes you in the beguiling, exotic sights and sounds of Pandora, a planet (or, to be precise, a moon) that throbs and hums and teems with life and energy in three dimensions.

It’s a world, not to give too much away, that Cameron clearly fully intends to return to and further explore. When he does, our bags are already packed.


Verdict
It’s been twelve years since Titanic, but the King of the World has returned with a flawed but fantastic tour de force that, taken on its merits as a film, especially in two dimensions, warrants four stars. However, if you can wrap a pair of 3D glasses round your peepers, this becomes a transcendent, full-on five-star experience that's the closest we'll ever come to setting foot on a strange new world. Just don’t leave it so long next time, eh, Jim?


Reviewed by Chris Hewitt


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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Avatar
Empire Star Rating

RE:

Really loved the film in the cinema, especially how the 3D just made you feel "there"...so i was worried that i had been bowled over by the effects etc and that when i watch on DVD it would be crapola. Thank god i was wrong, still really love the film, looks great on blu-ray...didn't want a blu-ray player til i saw it in HMV...but i'll have to make do with the DVD on my shitty 100 year old TV. The downside to that is that it doesn't do the effects justice, but otherwise i love the story an... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by mystra at 15:29, 16 May 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Avatar

A straightforward and satisfying blockbuster, but one that has a solid script that actually follows through on all its promises as opposed to the half-arsed Summer silliness we're used to. Not wholly original or particularly mind-blowing, but good entertainment nonetheless. ... More

Posted by max314 at 02:06, 09 May 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Avatar

Just watched the blu ray, it's better in 2D but still gets a totally average 3/5 ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by rich at 19:22, 08 May 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Hmm, five stars?

Watched this for the first time since going to the cinema. I still thought it was quite good. I was more impressed with the way it was shot than the actual script or characters, but still - it's an impressive film, it stands up on the small screen. Although, the characters lack detail and look a bit more like computer game characters in a lower resolution, this is one worth watching on Blu Ray, I feel - they went to all that effort after all, it makes sense. Story wise it's still nothing ... More

Posted by maffew at 12:01, 07 May 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Hmm, five stars?

Went into the cinema in December with an open mind, watched the 3D version as the Mrs and I really wanted to see it as Cameron intended.  Have to say I was really blown away by it, yeah it had a few flaws story wise and Worthington didn't quite convince as the hero, but the 3d and specticle as a whole really dragged me in, and I can say with hand on heart that it was the greatest cinema experience since seeing Raiders of the lost Ark as a kid. Bought the DVD last week and we both sat ... More

Posted by gordonsalive at 10:05, 07 May 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Hmm, five stars?

L: luke_flyporker Predictable rating - Not sure how a "flawed" film can get five stars lol....... his film is hollow without the 3d thing, watch District 9 if you want to see a well written and well directed movie ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by flushedgordon at 13:38, 06 May 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Brilliant

Great visuals but a lacking Story needed More quaritch. what a badass ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by livewire at 10:02, 04 May 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Brilliant

I saw this again yesterday in IMAX and it was much better, My view of the story is the same but the 3D is so much better in IMAX. The sound is defeaning and the full screen lets you fully immerse yourself into Pandora. The design of the world is su fecking purb. I enjoyed it so much more than the first time. IMAX at bradford is still showing it for a long time i think, so i would imagine its the same elsewhere- if you can go see it because it is ten times better! ... More

Posted by kumar at 15:30, 03 May 2010 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

its on dvd on the 24th, so we can all squirm as cinema dodgers say "errrr....is that it?" ... More

Posted by empire No. 1 at 23:39, 19 April 2010 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

its on dvd on 24th so we can all squirm as family and friends say "er... is that it!" ... More

Posted by empire No. 1 at 23:35, 19 April 2010 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

I saw the last showing last week (unintentioanally caught it very late!) in 3D and it has grown on me since. My general verdict is "entertaining fluff". I didnt think much of the 3D to be honest and other films have done it better. It took me a good 25 minutes for my eyes to settle and I know ive sorted myself out quicker in other showings. Infact, the 3D was at its worst (and film most boring) when with the human characters, and i will say once in Pandora, the effects were great. I think i ... More

Posted by kumar at 14:34, 12 April 2010 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

I saw the last showing last week (unintentioanally caught it very late!) in 3D and it has grown on me since. My general verdict is "entertaining fluff". I didnt think much of the 3D to be honest and other films have done it better. It took me a good 25 minutes for my eyes to settle and I know ive sorted myself out quicker in other showings. Infact, the 3D was at its worst (and film most boring) when with the human characters, and i will say once in Pandora, the effects were great. I think i ... More

Posted by kumar at 14:33, 12 April 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Oddly Moving

Great Avatar video review http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJarz7BYnHA&feature=rela ted ... More

Posted by Wilbert at 17:54, 04 April 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Oddly Moving

I can watch the first 25 minutes again, and again, and again its a window of what the entire film *could have been* Avatar is not a bad film, I just don't have any feeling for the blue cat people! I have still pre-ordered it on Blu-Ray, so I can watch the first 25 minutes, and some of the final battle scenes, at my leisure! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by hampstead bandit at 20:40, 02 April 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Oddly Moving

Personally, I genuinely enjoyed Avatar and was moved by it (Yes, I cried -_-). And despite all the slating reviews kicking around about it being disappointing in terms of acting and storyline, I was convinced and satisfied with everything I saw. I will be buying it on DVD as it was an experiece I would like to enjoy again and again. ... More

Posted by SudrabaLapsa at 20:51, 01 April 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Camerons back

having given Avatar time to settle and the bizz to pass, it turns out to be forgetable ... More

Posted by RowJ at 21:47, 26 March 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Avatar

Okay, it's not rocket science, but I found it one of the best cinematic experiences I've had in a long time. Entertaining on a massive scale, so much so, I saw it twice like many people. Second time round, popped my Imax cherry, and  it really blew me away. Definately worth the extra few quid. More please Mr Cameron... ... More

Posted by film man aidy at 10:35, 18 March 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Avatar

Avatar is awesome movie & animation is unbelievable. ... More

Posted by sarkark21 at 06:05, 18 March 2010 | Report This Post


RE: RE:

I won't be in a rush to buy it on DVD, but it was good fun. ... More

Posted by max314 at 21:58, 17 March 2010 | Report This Post


RE:

Could't get into this film at all. The whole deal of being transported to another world can't apply to any film with Sam Worthington. He just reminded me constantly it's not another world, it's a blue guy acting badly. The dialogue was really bad, if he's had this idea for so long how about some time wroking on a good script? I'm glad it resonated with alot of people, good for them. Personally i have no desire to watch it ever again. A two star film, three at the very most. ... More

Posted by TheSpleen at 19:27, 16 March 2010 | Report This Post


RE:

For me it was a three star flick. Yeah it looked pretty great but as fro that world we were meant to be transported to, every time Sam Worthington opens his mouth i'm dumped right back into my seat in the cinema. He just constantly reminded me it was a film as did the dialogue. If he really had the idea in his head for so long he had ages to come up with a decent script. I'm glad so many people loved it but i have no wish to buy the DVD or see any of the rumoured sequels. ... More

Posted by TheSpleen at 19:20, 16 March 2010 | Report This Post


Avatar

I have a nostalgic affection for James Cameron’s 80’s output. The Terminator, Aliens and The Abyss have long been amongst my favourite films of the sci-fi genre. I was not impressed by his nineties output. True Lies was more like ‘False Promises’ and Titanic was a poor man’s Moby Dick. A bit like listening to Chris Rea when Mark Knopfler’s just next door. Still, Avatar showed signs of promise. The trailers looked good and I was becoming interested in the new 3D technology. My girlfriend an... More

Posted by Gladstone at 10:08, 13 March 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Avatar is an Elephantine Heap of Excrement

I doubt Tintin will be going for photorealism in character design so that should be a plus. ... More

Posted by Rgirvan44 at 14:06, 01 March 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Avatar is an Elephantine Heap of Excrement

The more I am reminded of Tintin and the technology being used the more depressed I become. ... More

Posted by Deviation at 12:37, 01 March 2010 | Report This Post


RE: Avatar is an Elephantine Heap of Excrement

L: pher.carr1984@gmail.com more: www.theinductive.com/culture/2010/2/12/avatar-is-an-ele phantine-heap-of-excrement.htmlote]   erg and Lucas represent the two poles of thought on this subject.  to side with Speilbergtter how many pixels, no matter how high the resolution, or even if one uses stereoscopic cameras, as in /i], no director will ever be capable of perfectly matching the lighting and textures of scenery with that of deus ex machina CGI.  p; You are awar... More

Posted by grucl at 10:46, 01 March 2010 | Report This Post


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