Review (2009): Dances With Avatar … in 3D!

Jake Sully is the reincarnation of ‘Dance With Wolves’ Lt. John Dunbar,
helping the natives beat back the expansionists.

Avatar (PG-13, 178 minutes): Full disclosure: I’m of Native American descent. Bonus disclosure: I’m also a geek.

That explains why I loved Avatar.

The plot line sounded familiar: Heavily-armed imperialists in search of natural resources displace an indigenous people on a new frontier.

Then, when Cherokee actor Wes Studi was cast as an indigenous leader, well, that confirmed it all: Avatar is Dances With Wolves, the intergalactic edition. In 3D!

Avatar works on many levels, but let’s start with the elephant in the room. The special effects that James Cameron paid dearly for are magnificent and should emerge as a new standard (although I’m surprised that 22nd-century gunships still use analog devices to fire weapons, but that’s being picky and the geek showing.)

You can get overwhelmed by special effects, witness 2012. Avatar is a full assault on your senses and can stir motion sickness (so don’t get butter on your popcorn), but the message that Kevin Costner first came up with in Dances With Wolves keeps the near-three-hour story going.

Like Costner’s movie, it’s a story of a soldier on a new frontier learning from the natives, who becomes so immersed in their culture that he realizes the error of his expansionist ways. Yes, it’s an old story, but works when told with compassion and in the context of both sides.

Studi, who played the brutish Pawnee warrior in Dances With Wolves and was Magua in Last of the Mohicans, is the voice of the Na’vi chief, reinforcing the cowboys-and-Indians touch.

It’s a bit cartoonish, so that’s why I didn’t mind the scene-stealing Col. Miles Quaritch, the action-figure-like security leader played by Stephen Lang. His dialogue is a bit campy, but that’s what makes him such a great villian.

Here’s a weird criticism: The biggest problem I had was with the color of the Na’vi people. Blue? Really? One of my sons said he was skipping Avatar because it looked like some kind of Smurf movie.

C’mon, man. It’s a lot more fun than Smurfs.

BEST TIME FOR A BATHROOM BREAK: As if. Do your business before you settle in.

SUITABLE FOR KIDS? A little cussing, but no really bad words they won’t hear from fellow patrons in the concession line.

AVAILABILITY TODAY: Of course, it’s in all media (DVD/Blu-Ray, etc.). You also might catch it on cable.

PAST REVIEWS: Lincoln | Skyfall | Lawless | The Possession | The Hunger Games | The Campaign | Total Recall | Up | Slumdog Millionaire | Star Trek | The Day the Earth Stood Still | The Wrestler | Inglourious Basterds | Dark Knight Arises | The Green Hornet | Watchmen | The Social Network | Battle: LA | The Dark Knight | Savages | Piranha 3D | Rise of the Planet of the Apes | The Amazing Spider-Man


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