Our First Avatar Review

Jake Sully is a wounded marine with a spinal injury that leaves him paralyzed and wheelchair bound. He’s recruited to take the place of his deceased twin brother who was working on Pandora, a moon of Polyphemis in the Alpha Centauri star system. Jake welcomes this opportunity as it will allow him to walk again.

Pandora is a beautiful, lush planet that is the only place in the universe that has Unobtanium, an extremely rare mineral worth millions. Unfortunately, it’s right under the home of the indigenous people - the Na’vi. A Na’vi is ten feet tall, has sparkly blue skin, a long tail, and is stronger and faster than humans. Scientists have created an “avatar,” a genetically created Na’vi using the DNA of a specific person or “driver.” That was why they needed Jake. His brother’s avatar was already created and he was a genetic match. The drivers lay in these enclosed pods called link machines while their brains are synchronized with their Na’vi body. The avatar body allows them to breathe the toxic to human atmosphere and allows the scientists to closely study the people and plants in hopes of moving the Na’vi so that their planet can be mined.

Jake is not a scientist like his brother. He didn’t have the years of training for this project. His immediate reaction to his new avatar body is filled with excitement that he can stand erect and run through the jungle. On one of his first forays into the wilderness, he is separated from his team after an encounter with some of the more terrifying animal inhabitants. The team is not allowed to stay on the planet after nightfall, so Jake is left to fend for himself. A female Na’vi, Neytiri, is about to put an arrow into him, until some fluffy white floating thing stays her arrow. After saving him from a pack of wild dog-like creatures, the fluffy white seeds of their sacred tree light upon Jake to her surprise. This sign must be reported to her clan leaders. Her mother, the spiritual head of the clan, sees this as an omen that Jake should be allowed to learn their ways. He immerses himself into their lives, language, and culture winning their respect to become accepted as a member of their clan.

Jake is unwittingly reporting back to the military on base everything he discovers. As he becomes more involved, he realizes that he’s happier with the Na’vi and his human life is like a dream. Even the promise of fixing his broken body is not enough incentive to sell out. The company chalks up Jake’s reluctance as “going native” and decides to bulldoze the Na’vi off their land. When they destroy their Hometree, Jake with a small group of scientists and soldiers decide to help the Na’vi fight and defend their planet.

Writer/director James Cameron wrote the first script of Avatar in 1994. In 2006, he enlisted linguist and Director of the Center for Management Communication at USC, Paul Frommer, to create a language and a culture for the Na’vi. The language is complete and usable like Klingon. Cameron had to wait through the 1990’s until technology could advance to the point where he could do everything he needed. This included creating his own Reality Camera System to film in 3-D and a performance-capture stage, called The Volume, which resulted in a movie composed of 60% computer-generated elements and 40% live action as well as miniatures. More than 1,000 people worked on this project. The principal cast members were sent to jungle boot camp to learn to walk in thick vegetation so they could simulate those movements realistically on the green screen.

The story itself is simplistic and not wholly original. It will easily be dismissed as another tale of corporate interest usurping national sovereignty. There’s a little bit of Dances with Wolves using the space marine hardware of Aliens. The heart is the love story of Jake, Neytiri, and Pandora.

The characters are fairly standard. Jake (Sam Worthington) is the everyman without an agenda who ends up saving the world. Sigourney Weaver is Dr. Grace Augustine, the botanist and the developer of the Avatar program. She realizes too late the significance of the key to the life force on Pandora. Michelle Rodriguez as Trudy Chacon takes on the tough soldier role like Vasquez in Aliens. Giovanni Ribisi is corporate lackey Parker Selfridge, who has no respect for anything but the shareholder’s dollar. A buffed hard core Stephen Lang is Colonel Miles Quaritch, who wants to use brute force to win. The beautiful Zoe Saldana is Neytiri the Na’vi princess. You will also recognize Wes Studi’s voice as Neytiri’s leader father, Eytukan, and CCH Pounder as her mother Moat of Omaticaya Clan.

The visuals and the technical wizardry are completely mesmerizing. The colors of the luminescent plants, the details of the six-legged creatures, and the features of the Na’vi are fascinating and fantastic. It will just blow you away on a true IMAX 3D screen (the review screening was just 3D). You can see the years of work and attention to the smallest detail evident in each frame. The musical score by James Horner enhances the beauty of Pandora. Even with its 2 ½ hour running time, it will keep you wanting more. (Review by Reesa Cruz-Hawkins)