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James Cameron’s long awaited sci fi epic Avatar has finally been released to the masses.  Does it live up to the hype?  Click through to find out.

Note: There are no plot spoilers within, as this review focuses primarily on Avatar from a technical standpoint rather than the film itself. 

As a film, Avatar is more or less what you would expect from Cameron: an interesting (but simple) storyline that serves as an excuse for grand set pieces.  I know that Cameron was trying to create a living, breathing world by including a story about the struggle of a native population, but I feel that this film would have been just as effective if done in the style of a nature documentary.  While Cameron came up with the idea over a decade ago, he felt that he had to wait for technology to catch up with his vision.  It’s a good thing he did; without making the entire film CGI or animated in some other way, this type of movie would have been impossible on the scale Cameron had envisioned.  Avatar the film isn’t going to change anything.  Yes, the story and presentation would have been impossible without the technological advancements developed by Cameron and his team, but the film ITSELF is not all that remarkable.  Acting is passable, and the script seems to be used as an excuse to get the characters to talk.  The sound design is great, although the music is a bit generic and forgetful.  The storyline is entirely predictable, serving as a combination of Ferngully, The Last Samurai, and Dances with Wolves all mixed together with a science fiction flavor.  What is going to change the world of movies isn’t Avatar, but the world created for Avatar.

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The moon of Pandora feels truly alive, as if this Earth-size planetary body is out there floating in the vastness of space.  This is perhaps one of the most “real” fictional worlds ever presented on film, and watching Avatar gives you the sense that we have barely scratched the surface of this lush world.  Pandora doesn’t feel real because we learn about the tribal ways of the Na’vi, it feels real because it LOOKS real.  The attention to detail paid to the environment is astounding.  Even though the forests are mostly CGI, Cameron and his team created literally hundreds of species of plants and animals to populate this moon.  A scene in a forest looks like it was filmed in an actual forest; the sheer depth and amount of detail seen in a single frame on Pandora is astonishing.  I plan on seeing Avatar a second time so that I can focus on nothing but the backgrounds.

 avatar screencap screenshot still james cameron cgi na'vi realistic humans

The hype surrounding this film (mostly built up by Cameron himself) was that Avatar was to have the most sophisticated, realistic CGI in history.  I am very happy to say that this is completely true; you have never seen anything quite like Avatar.  While all of the CGI in this movie is not photo-realistic, there are numerous closeups of the Na’vi where you could easily mistake what you are seeing for an actor covered in makeup and prosthetics.  Most of the shots of the mobile armor and airships are obviously CGI, however they still far surpass anything you have ever seen on the big screen.  After about 15 minutes or so, my eyes could still tell the difference between what was “real” and what was CGI…but everything was done so well, I found my brain telling my eyes that it didn’t matter.  Because of the style of this film, I often found the CGI portions to look more real than the live actors.

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Beyond looking amazing and having an unparalleled amount of detail, the animation for the the Na’vi is truly groundbreaking as well.  Because of advances in motion capture technology, the Na’vi move with frightening realism.  The slightest movement by the actor with a motion capture rig is used, allowing the Na’vi movements to be indistinguishable from their live counterparts.  Interestingly, I find that the Na’vi look even better in motion than they do in still photos, a rare achievement indeed when it comes to something like this.

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From a technical standpoint, Avatar will indeed change everything about the way movies are created and presented.  The achievements that Cameron and his crew accomplished with this film have far reaching implications.  It doesn’t forward the industry with its storytelling, but the world created within this film matches up with the vision that Cameron has been talking about for so many years.  Avatar lives up to the hype; you have truly never seen anything like this before.