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‘Avatar’ leaves viewers breathless

A third of the way in to James Cameron’s “Avatar,” pilot Trudy Chacon (Michelle Rodriquez) remarks to several new troops, “You should see the looks on your faces.” Such is the impact of Pandora, the alien world at the center of this film on not only new recruits but also the audience as a whole.

Director Cameron helms his first feature since 1997’s “Titanic.” His new work relies on proven plot and many Cameron trademark moments, but what drives it home is Pandora. Perhaps not since Steven Spielberg’s dinos in “Jurassic Park” has a film effect been so overwhelming. While there have been many action sequences, alien beings and true works of art over the years, Cameron’s world is the evolution of film right before our eyes.

“Avatar” stars Sam Worthington as a paraplegic Marine named Jake Sully. Jake has been given the opportunity to embark on a mission originally slated for his brother. Due to his brother’s untimely passing, Jake’s DNA is his ticket to Pandora and to getting his legs back.

The mission is simple in theory. Pandora’s indigenous population, the Navi, are a combination of Native American and African spirituality and lifestyle brought to life in a powerful 10-foot-tall package. Corporate interests on Earth desire Unobtanium, which is plentiful beneath the surface of Pandora. By studying the locals and getting to know them, the hope is that an arrangement can be made to harvest the mineral and not have any bloodshed. Not all members of the team share this hope.

Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) is the token diehard Marine. He wants Jake to report back to him concerning Navi security. The ex-Marine gladly accepts his mission and is introduced to his avatar. Jake will be controlling a human/Navi hybrid originally created for his brother but controllable by the genetically similar Jake. While his body is in the safe confines of a lab, he and several team members will be on Pandora in contact with the Navi attempting to learn their ways and to befriend the population. Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) has been undertaking this mission for sometime and is an accepted outsider. Unlike the corporate interests, she is only concerned with the planet and its population.

What follows is a tale reminiscent of “Dances with Wolves” mated with “Star Wars.” After learning the ways of the Navi and falling in love with a beautiful princess, Neytiri, (Zoe Saldana), Jake must decide between the mission and the people that have opened his eyes to true spirituality.

While the tale may be tired, the visual is not. Pandora is brought to life as an amazing jungle of phosphorescent plant life and wildly imaginative creatures. The Navi and the avatars are the real stars of this production, and they surpass any expectation. The blue humanoids leap off the screen, with the surrounding vibrant colors serving to enhance the experience tenfold. Magical mountains float in the skies, and a fleet of flying, pastel-tinted dragons soar across the landscape all combine to leave the viewer breathless.

Unlike most spectacles, “Avatar” goes beyond it’s billing as a blockbuster. So this holiday season, go to the cinema and see what movies are supposed to be all about. And more importantly, at film’s end, look in the mirror. This way you can be sure to see the look on your face.

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