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Self-proclaimed 'King of the World' James Cameron directs another film of Titanic proportions, this time creating a blue planet to the tune of $300m (or $400 according to some reports) where a US marine Jake Sully (Terminator 4's Sam Worthington) is adopted by the natives. They look a bit like Blue Man Group on steroids, as does Jake when he assumes their form, or Avatar, through cutting-edge digital technology. The method is so sophisticated, Cameron had to wait over a decade for the science bods to catch up with him. A pity the same can't be said for the script. This could have been Dances With Wolves on acid, but instead it's like a rave with hippies (on acid). Trippy, but not as deep as it thinks it is.

The indigenous people - the Na'vi - are at one with nature on their earth-like moon, Pandora. Cameron flies us in over this lush, tropical paradise - and there's a lot to take in - as Jake ponders the adventure that lies ahead. After his brother's death, Jake is enlisted to replace him in a mission to 'win hearts and minds' on Pandora, only because his DNA closely matches the Avatar that was genetically engineered for this purpose. The perks for Jake include the use of two legs after being rendered paralysed from the waist down. That's just as well because he quite fancies Neytiri, a sort of Amazonian warrior princess played by Zoe Saldana (Uhura from Star Trek). It's a tempestuous and utterly pedestrian romance that flowers between them.

On the downside Jake is torn between the hawkish Colonel Miles Quaritch (a steely-eyed Stephen Lang) and biologist Grace Augustine. Sigourney Weaver takes this role over two decades after working with Cameron on Aliens, only this time she's playing nice with the non-humans; wanting to pool resources as opposed to raping the land for the benefit of a dying Earth. Jake gradually becomes more sympathetic to her point-of-view as he learns the ways of the Na'vi. But this film is just as much about Cameron falling in love with the world he has created with its floating mountains and neon-bright pterodactyls. It is especially beautiful at night when the flora and fauna catch the light of a nearby gas planet and the rainforest glows like a giant lava lamp.

All this gorgeous scenery is realised with a maniacal attention to detail, right down to the dandelion-like seed pods that are almost constantly floating between the trees. However, the 3D effect is totally superfluous and the performance capture technology - intended to distil the humanity of the actors - still falls short. Cameron and the folks at Weta Digital have managed to get away from that eerie zombie effect (as seen in The Polar Express) and, in close-ups, are able to convey the delicate movement of the eye. Still, no technology exists to capture what is going on behind there. In short: soul. This film, for all its New Age philosophy, is distinctly lacking in that department. And it isn't just about the eyes...

The script is 2D. Quaritch could've marched off the pages of a Marvel comic-book as he salivates over impending war; stopping just short of whipping out a cigar and blowing smoke in the faces of the 'tree-hugging' natives. Weaver lends Grace some backbone, but in smaller roles Michelle Rodriguez and Giovanni Ribisi are also playing stereotypes (GI Jane and Creepy Corporate Guy). The dialogue stinks like the backwaters of Chernobyl and the eco-friendly badge that Cameron so proudly wears feels like a token gesture when Jake turns into Braveheart (no makeup required) and assures the Na'vi that the best way to stay green is to KILL-KILL-KILL! Cue the explosions, because who cares about carbon emissions?! Not only is the film intellectually numbing, but your backside will feel it as well. It is far too long and the romance is half-hearted. Still, you'd have to travel very far to feel so fully immersed in another world.


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