Release Date: December 18, 2009

I *want* that video game!

On the Big Board
Position Staff In Brief
1/21 Jason Lee A stunning, captivating movie (though heavy-handed at times). For me, the best movie of the year.
1/20 Les Winan Amazingly realized. Derivative yet wholly original.
18/38 John Seal Visually remarkable, and even the story holds up pretty well
19/169 Max Braden Impressive visuals, but not something I'd call a Best Picture. I was bored for a while, I think because the training portion was too long. The final battle did give me a positive Braveheart vibe.
23/82 Kelly Metz Another version of a familiar story used in countless other movies, only with kick-ass CGI. If Sam Worthington is not a full-fledged star within the next year, something is very wrong.

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It's hard to believe that it's been almost a dozen years since we've had a James Cameron film in theaters. Prior to Titanic, Cameron had written and directed five films in the course of a decade. And since Titanic opened in December 1997 and earned $600 million in the U.S. and over $1.8 billion worldwide, hobbits, wizards, pirates, Jedi, and Batman have all tried but failed to take over the title of box office king of the world. But what's the Oscar winning director been up to all this time? The answer, in short: biding his time, planning for Avatar.

In interviews Cameron has stated that he did not want to try to top himself on his next project, and that the technology was not yet ready for the story he wanted to tell. What the story would be has been shrouded in mystery for a decade and only teased at in the first trailer, released August 20th.

In the trailer we see a futuristic clash of civilizations, between humans from Earth and humanoids on a lush, undeveloped planet. A paraplegic soldier, played by Sam Worthington (the costar of Terminator 4), undergoes a medical procedure that transforms his body into that of the humanoids and is transported to their planet, apparently to infiltrate them. He apparently falls for the local gal and then sides with the natives against the invading mechanized forces of Earth. The movie could otherwise be crudely titled "Pocahontas of Endor." (If the movie's actual title is an indication, it could bear a similarity with the upcoming Bruce Willis film Surrogates.) Stephen Lang (Public Enemies) appears as a human commander, while Zoe Saldana (Uhura in this year's Star Trek revision) voices the alien interest. Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, and Giovanni Ribisi are also among the cast.

As far as the look of the film goes, this is a fantasy gamer's dream. To less eager eyes, the setting's detail looks phenomenal but the aliens look a little Smurfy. Cameron hired Joe Letteri of Weta Digital to create the computer generated aliens in a process that involved pointing nearly 200 cameras at the actors simultaneously. The end result will of course be displayed in 3-D. Letteri has three visual effects Oscars from his work on Peter Jackson's King Kong, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King.

Will Avatar become the new record-holding box office earner? Well, Fox did put nearly a quarter of a billion dollars into producing and marketing the movie, and anticipation has been building for a long, long, long time. But Titanic was a known entity that was inviting for most audiences, while Avatar is by its nature alien to non-sci-fi audiences. And Titanic's box office challengers have all been sequels or adapted from successful literature. Avatar is still a mystery, which is how James Cameron wants it, leaving us only one way to find out. (Max Braden/BOP)

Vital statistics for Avatar
Main Cast Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana
Supporting Cast Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Peter Mensah, Laz Alonso, Wes Studi, Matt Gerald, Stephen Lang
Director James Cameron
Screenwriter James Cameron
Distributor 20th Century Fox
Official Site http://www.avatarmovie.com/
Rating PG-13
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture



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