Having read a few reviews, I expected Avatar to be both formulaic and predictable. Reassuringly, Avatar was indeed both formulaic and predictable. The story is essentially, as many have already pointed out, Dances With Wolves: technologically advanced invaders are seizing the lands of a pantheistic people who live symbiotic lives with their natural surroundings. One man, a warrior, finds himself living among the natives, he learns their ways and traditions and is eventually, after he survives their trials, accepted as one of their own.

This time, rather than native American tribes, we have the Na’vi – 10-ft tall blue humanoids who can hardwire themselves into the planet’s ecosystem (and other creatures) using a creepy USB cable that protrudes from the back of their head. They’re as mean as fuck with a bow, fly around on dragons, and have a monkey like ability to navigate the forest canopy. In other words: pretty damn bastard cool.

I knew exactly what was going to happen, but in a way I didn’t mind. Pandora, the alien moon on which the Na’vi live, is beautifully realised in 3D. You’re really sucked into the colourful forest, and the freaky creatures look close and real enough to touch. Not that you would choose to handle any of them, as they tend to be as lethal as a leper’s turd.

Anyway, the marine dude who falls in with the locals is a cripple whose mind is fused with a test-tube bred Na’vi host body. After a scrap with some of the forest’s nasties, he’s separated from his team, blessed by some spooky whirlybirds, and is subsequently taken in by the Na’vi. The rest, as they say, is Dances With Wolves. But with cool giant Mech-suits, leathery-black killer dogs, and glow in the dark fauna.

The film is long, but there is plenty going on. Cameron’s lavish 3-D environment looks brilliant, but he doesn’t go for cheap tricks. There is a shot where a golfball approaches the screen, and a pretty jumpy scene with a very pissed off monster, but otherwise he doesn’t abuse the technology.

The film really needs to be seen at the cinema in 3D. The story is painfully familiar, but is saved by the colossal ambition of Cameron’s aesthetic skill. There is nothing wrong with the acting, but there are no knock-out performances. You really only need to see this movie in order to get your retinas liquified by the optical amphetamine that is Pandora. The final visceral showdown between the humans and Na’vi is a monster dose of CGI goodness delivered straight to the brain. It’s exciting, perilous and ultimately rewarding.

Avatar is not a great movie, but it’s certainly an experience. ***


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