Review: Avatar

 James Cameron's "Avatar" is an amazing look at.

There's no denying this is a pioneering work in terms of filmmaking and computer-generated animation. Cameron's blend of live-action and animated imagery is gorgeous. Watching the film--a mix of heavy hardware sci-fi and Edgar Rice Burroughs-style interplanetary jungle fantasy--is a bit like slipping inside a Frank Frazetta painting. And that's pretty cool.

The downside is the story.  As incredible as this realm is to experience, not much unique or surprising happens there. Cameron may have spent years coming up with the technology for this film's visuals, but he didn't spend nearly enough time on the script.

The rail-thin plot involves human space travelers mining the resources of a beautiful and primitive planet inhabited by nature-worshipping cat people. The catfolks want the earth people to go home, but the humans think maybe they can talk or trick the natives into letting them have their way with the place.

To this end, one of the humans--Jake--is assigned to help spy on the natives by essentially becoming one of them. Using experimental clone technology, he becomes the avatar in the movie's title. But whilst spying, Jake also quickly falls in love with a cute catwoman.

From there on, you know everything's going to go downhill. At least until it goes uphill again.

Jake's employers, naturally, aren't happy about him switching sides. And his new community isn't sure it can trust him. But he does the heroic thing--defending the indigenous culture against the mineral-hungry humans--all of which takes an exceedingly long time.

The movie is 162 minutes long and would've been better at 90 or so. As my 12-year-old son said afterward, "I thought it was almost over when they blew up the big tree, but that was only about halfway through." That latter half is spent watching events unfold, albeit beautifully, pretty much as you'd expect them to.

So, yes, "Avatar" is a deeply flawed enterprise. But if you're curious about the spectacle, go anyway.

Visually, it truly is a remarkable event and should be experienced in 3-D on a big screen. I can't imagine it will be nearly as impressive when viewed at home, although I definitely want to see the making-of featurettes once it appears on DVD.

Vintage comic book ad: King-size Disney balloons