Watching AVATAR

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Image © 20th Century Fox.

Well behind most of the world, I had a chance to see this Wednesday, and loved it. In the pros and cons I’ve read about the film from the comics message boards I read, everyone seems to love the visuals and special effects, and I did, too. Computer Graphics have evolved further in this film, getting ever closer to that goal of becoming perfectly integrated with live action footage. We’ve come a long way from “Tron.” Even the facial expressions and body language of the aliens have become so realistic I often forgot they weren’t living actors. And, for a long-time science fiction fan, this film is like decades of science fiction magazine and book covers come to life. I noticed a familiar name in the credits as character designer, Wayne Barlowe. He’s been visualizing the aliens, fauna and flora of science fiction for many years, and has a number of books on the subject, beginning with this one:

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And the visual effects were mainly by WETA, who did such a wonderful job on Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings.” The pioneering work they did there on such characters as Gollum are expanded in “Avatar” to include dozens of distinct characters all interacting in the same frame, pretty amazing.

As for the story, that’s gotten some criticism for being predictable and with little memorable dialogue. That may be so — the story follows a predictable arc, and can be compared in theme to “Dances with Wolves” and “Pocahontas” as well as “Star Wars.” Kind of a mix of those three, perhaps. But it moves right along, I was never bored for a minute, and in my book, any film that can keep me so engaged for two and a half hours is a winner. It was great seeing Sigourney Weaver as the chief scientist, not as central a role as in “Alien,” perhaps, but important all the same. Michelle Rodriguez, who I enjoyed in the TV show “Lost” has a small but well-done part as a helicopter pilot. The rest of the cast were new to me, but all were fine.

It’s a wonderful film. Perhaps not a classic story-wise, but certainly a benchmark visually, and a delight for any science fiction or fantasy fan. Usually we must rely on our own imaginations to bring alien worlds and beings to life, here James Cameron and his crew have done so much excellent work, the necessary suspension of disbelief is easy, and one can just sit back and enjoy the ride.

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