Star Trek Beyond

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2016

Paramount Pictures/Skydance Media/Alibaba Pictures/Bad Robot Productions

Directed by Justin Lin

Produced by J.J. Abrams/Roberto Orci

Written by Simon Pegg/Doug Jung

Based on “Star Trek” created by Gene Roddenberry

They say that the third time’s the charm and in the case of STAR TREK BEYOND I’d have to say that’s a fact. Not that the first two movies were out and out awful. They weren’t. They had the burden of being reboots of the beloved franchise that has lasted for fifty years now. And the news that the reboot would be set in an alternate timeline with new actors playing the classic roles of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov didn’t send fans into the stratosphere with joy. I liked the first “Star Trek” even though I didn’t find the story engaging or particularly thrilling. But I enjoyed seeing new faces playing familiar characters and I think the infusion of new creative blood behind the camera is the best thing that could have happened to “Star Trek” overall.

I even liked “Star Trek Into Darkness” even though it made the mistake of trying to be “The Wrath of Khan” and apparently nobody took a cue from The Next Generation movie “Nemesis” or the three episode arc from Enterprise: “Borderland” “Cold Station 12” and “The Augments.” Because if they had, they’d have known that trick never works.

But thankfully STAR TREK BEYOND has a new director and an original story at last to work with. And the result is a movie and a story that feels like it could have been a movie made back when the original cast was in their prime. Much of that feeling comes from a screenplay that gives every crew member something to do and their chance to shine. The best “Star Trek” movies are the ones where all of the crew members are active in the story. And this one reinforces the concept that the reason Kirk is able to save the universe on a regular basis is that he has the best and brightest in Starfleet at his side and he knows the best way to utilize their skills and talents as a team.

The U.S.S. Enterprise is in the third year of it’s five year mission and Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is feeling the ennui of deep space exploration. He’s increasingly wondering what he’s doing out here and if this is really what he’s supposed to be doing with his life as he only joined Starfleet on a dare. First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) is also having a spiritual crisis of his own. Vulcans are now an endangered species and Spock is beginning to think that he should be on New Vulcan helping his people instead of gallivanting around the galaxy.

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The Enterprise puts in for shore leave at Starbase Yorktown, a ridiculously huge city in space for some much needed R&R but that doesn’t last long. Starbase Yorktown’s commanding officer Commodore Paris (Shohreh Aghdashloo) is soon dispatching Kirk and crew on a rescue mission to the planet Altamid. Turns out that the rescue mission is a trap. The Enterprise is attacked and destroyed by a swarm of spaceships. Krall (Idris Elba) who is looking for an ancient superweapon he insists is in Kirk’s possession captures most of the crew. The bridge crew is separated: Kirk with Chekov (Anton Yelchin) Spock with Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are prisoners of Krall while Lt. Commander Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) comes under the protection of Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) a scavenger whose martial arts abilities are more than considerably dangerous.

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As Kirk puts his crew back together, Krall’s plan is gradually uncovered. Using the ancient superweapon, Krall intends to attack Starbase Yorktown and kill everybody inhabiting it. He will then use the Starbase and it’s considerable resources to attack The Federation. Can Kirk reunite his crew in time to find a way off the planet and stop Krall? Since Paramount has already announced there’s going to be a fourth movie I think that in itself answers that question.

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For the first time, Chris Pine looks comfortable playing James Kirk and I think that’s because he’s become confident enough in his own acting abilities. He’s been in a significant amount of movies other than the “Star Trek” movie where he’s distinguished himself and so I think he’s not fighting so hard to not be William Shatner. Which is what I got from his earlier performances in the previous “Star Trek” movies. In fact, a lot of the fun in watching his performance here is because he is doing Shatner in many of the scenes, especially the opening scene where he’s negotiating a peace treaty. He’s even got his hair cut in a style reminiscent of Shatner’s hair style in The Original Series.

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Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban nailed the essence of their characters right from their first scenes in the first movie and that hasn’t changed. Especially Karl Urban. I say again that I’m halfway convinced he must somehow be related to DeForest Kelly as he channels his spirit to an uncanny degree. The movie’s story wisely puts McCoy and Spock together most of the time and their scenes together are perhaps the best tribute to Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly.

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Simon Pegg’s Scotty gets a nice subplot of his own (hey, if you’re writing the screenplay then why not give yourself a juicy subplot?) as he becomes a sort of mentor/big brother to Jaylah. She herself meshes so well with the crew that I’m hoping they’ll bring her back as a permanent member in the next movie. Idris Elba adds Krall to his already impressive resume of bad guys. The only problem I have with him is his motivation. In all three of these movies revenge has been the motivation for the bad guys and it’s wearying to me. Now that we’re getting more original stories let’s have some original motivations for the bad guys to be carrying on cranky, okay?

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And Starbase Yorktown is astoundingly impressive enough to deserve it’s own movie. I read a review of this movie where the writer said that if there’s ever a “Deep Space Nine” movie then it should look like Starbase Yorktown and I agree wholeheartedly.

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So should you see STAR TREK BEYOND? Chances are you’ve already seen it, especially if you’re a rabid “Star Trek” fan like me. But if you haven’t, by all means go see it. For me this has been a pretty sad movie year and STAR TREK BEYOND is one of the bright spots that reminds me why I go to the movies. Enjoy.

122 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Star Trek Into Darkness

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2013

Paramount Pictures

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Produced by Bryan Burk, Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci

Written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof

Based on “STAR TREK” created by Gene Roddenberry

It was in the theaters 30 years ago and there have been ten Star Trek movies that came after it but none of them have matched the popularity and success of “The Wrath of Khan.” Ask any Star Trek fan what his favorite Star Trek movie is and 9 out of 10 times you’ll probably get “The Wrath of Khan” as an answer. Which kinda explains why Paramount Pictures has been trying their best to remake that particular Star Trek movie. They tried with “Nemesis” which I consider to be the worst Star Trek movie of all. Yes, even worse than “The Final Frontier” which is at least goofy nonsense that plays like the first cousin of “Spock’s Brain” on steroids. And the last Star Trek TV series to date; “Enterprise” tried to pull a “Wrath of Khan” in a three-part episode that guest-starred Brent Spiner as a Khan Lite bad guy.

Almost from the time when 2009’s “Star Trek” reboot hit theaters, fans have been asking if the new Star Trek team was going to remake “The Wrath of Khan.”  J.J. Abrams, the director of that movie and the sequel, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS continually insisted that they were not going to remake “The Wrath of Khan.” And you know what? He’s right. Oh, there are characters in STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS named Khan and Carol Marcus but they bear only a superficial resemblance to the characters in that earlier film. And yes, that scene is recreated and somebody gets to scream “Khaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnn!” but for me, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS isn’t a remake of “Wrath of Khan” at all. That doesn’t mean I’m as giddy about this movie as I was with the first one but my reasons for that have nothing to do with the nods to “The Wrath of Khan”

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A secret Section 31 installation in London is bombed and the bomber is a rogue Starfleet Intelligence agent named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) Turns out that the bombing was a ruse to get as many starship captains and first officers to attend an emergency meeting at Starfleet HQ so that Harrison can attack them with a gunship and eliminate as many as he can. Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) the mentor and surrogate father of Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is killed in the attack.

Kirk gets permission from Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) to pursue Harrison to his hideout on the Klingon homeworld of Kronos. Armed with 72 prototype photon torpedoes, Kirk gets the band back together; Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) Dr.‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) Chief Engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg) Lt. Sulu (John Cho) and Ensign Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and takes the starship Enterprise into forbidden Klingon territory to bring Harrison back to Earth to pay for his crimes. The mission is quickly complicated by the revelation that Harrison is actually Khan, a genetically enhanced superhuman who has been in frozen cryosleep for 300 years. The photon torpedoes actually contain cryogenic pods holding more genetic supermen. Turns out that Marcus had been holding them hostage to get Khan to develop advanced weaponry for him. Beats me why Admiral Marcus is so hell-bent on starting a war with The Klingon Empire. Or how he thinks that a 300 year old man could help develop advanced weapons but STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS isn’t the kind of movie that slows down enough to let you engage your brain long enough to ask pesky questions like that.

Marcus has constructed a sort of super-Enterprise, the USS Vengeance and he goes after the Enterprise himself, determined to eliminate Khan once and for all. And if that means destroying Kirk, his loyal crew and the Enterprise as well, so be it. Strangely enough for a movie that aims to be as loud and

star-trek-into-darkness-cro as punchy punchy run run as it possibly can, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS contains plenty of good, solid performances and some really nice scenes between the principal characters. I got a big chuckle out of a moment on the bridge when Sulu is in command and has to run a really big bluff.  Karl Urban and Simon Pegg I enjoyed the most as they do an amazing job of evoking the essence of DeForest Kelley and James Doohan without imitating them. I’m half convinced that Urban must somehow have been related to Kelley.

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Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison/Khan makes for a formidable bad guy and maybe I’m a little off in my thinking here but for me, Cumberbatch was much more interesting as John Harrison. Once the big reveal that he’s Khan is made, I was actually disappointed. I wanted to know more about Harrison and his deal and when he proclaims that he’s Khan my first thought was; “That’s the best they could come up with?” But it’s just such a pleasure to listen to Cumberbatch and see what fun he’s having double and triple-crossing everybody in sight.

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Peter Weller follows admirably in the tradition of previous Starfleet Admirals who have gone batshit crazy (seriously, doesn’t Starfleet do annual psych evaluations on these guys?) with gusto and it’s always a pleasure to see him on screen. As Dr. Carol Marcus, Alice Eve appears to be on the ship for two reasons and one of them is her already infamous scene where she strips down to her underwear for no apparent reason at all. It didn’t bother me at all but what does bother me is that guys are complaining about it. Really? Since when do guys complain about gratuitous scenes of hot chicks in their underwear in a movie?

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So should you see STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS? It’s a solid action-adventure space opera, full of explosions, chases, fist fights and yelling; “Fire all phasers!” If you’re a long-time Star Trek fan like myself I think that in order to watch it you have to come to terms that this is a Star Trek that is made for the movie audience of today. It’s the overblown spectacle, shouty rapid-fire dialog and CGI extravaganza audiences demand in their science fiction summer blockbusters. Star Trek TV shows are the way to go for allegorical explorations of contemporary culture and to delve into character.

No, it’s not the Star Trek I grew up with but it’s heart is in the right place and that goes a long way with me. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS is an acceptable sequel but now that the five-year mission is underway I’m going to be looking for more from the next one than just a Warp Nine thrill ride.

PG-13

132 minutes

Star Trek

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2009

Paramount Pictures

Directed by J.J. Abrams

Produced by J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof

Written Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman

Based on “Star Trek” created by Gene Roddenberry

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been a fan of Star Trek ever since I can remember. It was a nightly ritual for me that I couldn’t go to bed until I had watched Star Trek on WPIX here in New York where they reran it for years at 11:00PM. And I’ve seen all the movies in the theaters the day they opened. I’ve watched every episode of every Star Trek TV series. Even “Voyager” and “Enterprise” I estimate I’ve read somewhere between fifty and seventy Star Trek books.

I relate all this not to impress upon you how much of a Star Trek geek I am but to let you know that I consider myself pretty well versed in things Trek. So when I tell you that the new STAR TREK movie is 80% on point you’ll have some faith that I know what I’m talking about.

The selling points of the movie are twofold: One: it’s directed by J.J. Abrams who has mostly had success in TV with shows such as “Felicity””Alias””Lost” and “Fringe”. But his motion picture track record hasn’t been too bad either what with his work on “Mission Impossible III” and “Cloverfield” Two: STAR TREK is Paramount’s attempt to reboot/relaunch its primary moneymaking franchise with an all new, younger cast playing the beloved characters of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov as well as giving the Star Trek universe an updated look and feel.

For a long time I’ve felt that Star Trek needed new blood. “Voyager” and “Enterprise” suffered from creative burnout as the producers of those shows had been with the franchise since “The Next Generation” and it showed. Star Trek badly needed someone new to come aboard and bring freshness to the material.

Thankfully, J.J. Abrams and company have done exactly that. STAR TREK isn’t a perfect movie and there are a couple of things that made me groan but there were also plenty of things that made me grin as well.
star-trek-6The movie tells us the story that The Original Series never did: how did the crew of the starship USS Enterprise first meet each other? Well, first of all, through some imaginative time travel futzing involving Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and his pursuit/being pursued by a revenge crazed Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana) we’re informed fairly early on that this is an alternate reality/timeline where things aren’t exactly the same as us old heads remember. Most notable is that without the guiding influence of his father, this James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) is a rebellious, risk-taking malcontent. But Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) the current captain of the Enterprise sees something in the young man and challenges him to join Starfleet. Kirk accepts the challenge and signs up, meeting Nyota Uhura (Zoë Saldana) and Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban)

Three years later, the planet Vulcan is attacked by Nero and his ginormous mining ship. Starfleet heads out to stop him but the ships they send are all destroyed. Except the Enterprise, of course, which is left in the command of Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) a Human/Vulcan hybrid of frightening brilliance and severely disciplined logic who immediately clashes with the hot-headed Cadet Kirk as to the best way to deal with Nero. It soon becomes apparent that the two men have to learn to put aside their differences and work together because Nero also has plans to destroy Earth. All while meeting Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) who along with Uhura and McCoy will become their lifelong companions in adventure and exploration.

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The plot in STAR TREK really isn’t all that important or even interesting, to be honest. This is either the third or fourth STAR TREK movie that has had some huge cosmic whatchamacallit heading toward Earth to destroy it and the Enterprise is the only ship able to stop it. Makes you wonder why The Federation even bothers maintaining a Starfleet when it’s the Enterprise that’s always the only ship available all the time.

No, the real reason this STAR TREK exists is to introduce us to the new cast, the new Enterprise and set up this alternate universe/timeline so that we can go on to other movies that will hopefully have more engaging stories. The special effects are appropriately dazzling and at times even inspired. I’d have liked to have seen more of the interior of the new Enterprise but what we do see is glitzy to the max.

The acting is better than I thought it would be. The new cast wisely doesn’t try to imitate the mannerisms or speech patterns of the original cast. With the exception of Anton Yelchin who deliberately does the Classic Chekov accent. Instead, they channel the essence of what makes those characters work and they pull it off quite well. Especially Karl Urban as Bones McCoy and Zachary Quinto as Spock. Karl Urban has the added fun of throwing off a few of McCoy’s famous lines and he does them excellently. Zoë Saldana doesn’t have as much to do as her co-stars (and dammit, would it have killed them to have her say “hailing frequencies open, Captain” at least once?) A lot of Classic Star Trek fans were upset and confused by the romantic relationship between Spock and Uhura but it didn’t throw me at all. It certainly makes more sense than the revelation in “The Undiscovered Country” that Scotty and Uhura had been having a secret romance for years. Even in The Original Series there were hints that Spock and Uhura were closer than anybody else knew about. There were several episodes where it was shown that in their off hours Spock and Uhura liked singing together, often entertaining other members of the crew.

Eric Bana is one of my favorite actors and he disappointed me as Nero. In fact, Nero’s a pretty poor villain. There’s a reason we remember Ricardo Montalban as Khan and Christopher Plummer as Chang: they were magnificently realized villains of Shakespearian stature. Nobody’s going to remember Nero. Neither are they going to remember Ben Cross as Sarek, Spock’s father. Cross is so bland and dull it’s downright sad.

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The movie is chock full of Easter eggs and winks to the original series and films. I got a big chuckle out of the nod to “The Wrath of Khan” during the scene where Kirk is taking the Kobayashi Maru test. And there’s even a tribble thrown in. Can’t ever have too many tribbles.

That’s not to say I loved everything about the movie. There are way too many scenes where Kirk is hanging off a cliff or on a ledge and if you took coincidence out of this movie then you just wouldn’t have a movie. Too many characters just happen to be in the right place at the right time and there’s a coincidence involving Kirk and Spock Prime (as Leonard Nimoy is billed) that made me want to throw something at the screen. And I never got the sense that anybody was in any real danger. Even though Spock’s mother (Winona Ryder) is killed in the destruction of Vulcan I really didn’t feel any sense of loss since I never got to know this version of the character at all.

And speaking of Nimoy, he meshes so well with Pine, Quinto and Pegg in the scenes he has with them I wished he had had scenes with the other members of the cast. It’s a nice lump in the throat moment when young Kirk and the aged Spock meet and there’s a wonderful nod to “The Voyage Home” involving Spock and Scotty.

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So should you see STAR TREK? If you’re a fan then you’ve no doubt seen it already and have probably seen it a second or even a third time. But this is a movie that accessible to non-fans who just may want to check it out to see what all the fuss is about or who just want a slam-bang space opera. I know, I know…there’s been a lot of debate and argument that this new incarnation of STAR TREK is way too much punchy punchy run run and not enough of the philosophical core at the heart of STAR TREK. And I can see that. But that was tried once in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and even though I enjoyed it a lot there were Trek fans who didn’t, claiming it was too slow moving. Let’s face it, the STAR TREK movies that have garnered the most box office and the favor of fans and critics have been the more action oriented ones.

Hopefully with the next movie we’ll get more into the exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations that is really the meat of what STAR TREK is about. But as a launching point for a new series of STAR TREK movies, this is terrific stuff.

127 minutes

Rated PG-13

Colombiana

2011

TriStar Pictures

Directed by Olivier Megaton

Produced by Luc Besson

Screenplay by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

It occurred to me about forty-five minutes into COLOMBIANA that when it came to casting, Luc Besson might conceivably have said to the casting director; “just find me the skinniest actress you can, doesn’t matter who she is as long as she’s thin as a broom handle.”  Which I don’t mean to disparage Zoë Saldana in any way whatsoever because I like her a lot.  I’ve seen her in “Drumline” “Pirates of The Caribbean: Curse of The Black Pearl” ”Star Trek” “Star Trek Into Darkness” ”The Losers” and “Death at a Funeral” and enjoyed her in all of them.  And I enjoyed her performance in COLOMBIANA.  It’s just that considering that most of her screen time is spent crawling through tight places like air ducts, access tunnels and ventilation systems, if Luc Besson had found an actress a size smaller than her, it’s possible that Zoë Saldana would have been out.

The movie opens in 1992 where a young girl named Cataleya Restrepo (Amandla Stenberg) is witness to the murder of her parents by Marco (Jordi Molla) the right hand man of drug warlord Don Luis (Beto Benites) After a dazzlingly daring escape from the clutches of Marco and his hired guns, the girl makes her way to Chicago and the home of her uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis).  He assures her that he’ll take care of her as if she were his own daughter.  She informs him that the only thing she wants is for her uncle to teach her how to be a killer.

Cut to fifteen years later.  Cataleya (Zoë Saldana) is now a hitwoman working for her uncle.  But unknown to him, she’s been working her own hits on the side, taking out members of Don Luis’ cartel, hoping to draw him out as he’s deep in hiding and that’s the only way she can hope to get to him.  Cataleya’s starting to make mistakes and leave trails behind her.  One of those trails is picked up by FBI Special Agent Ross (Lennie James) who thinks he’s finally found the assassin responsible for twenty-two mysterious killings in which all the victims had a flower drawn on their chests, the Cataleya, which only grows in a certain region of Colombia.  Only thing now is getting his hands on her.  And Cataleya doesn’t intend to get caught until she’s finally had her revenge.

Usually revenge as a motive in a movie bores me a lot of the time because I think that in the past 10, 15 years  it’s a lazy way for screenplay writers to get the story going.  You need a reason for your protagonist to go around slaughtering everybody in sight?  Kill their loved ones and we’re off to the races.  Kill their loved ones in the first ten minutes of the movie and you’ve got eighty more minutes to wallow in the bloody carnage.

To give COLOMBIANA credit it does go a little more into the psychological damage revenge does when someone sacrifices their life to that pursuit.  There isn’t much to the character of Cataleya but that’s because she doesn’t have a character.  Her every waking moment has been dedicated to the pursuit of revenge and nothing else.  She satisfies her basic needs such as eating, sleeping and sex with her artist boyfriend Danny (Michael Vartan) who has no idea of what or who she actually is and that’s it.

I got a good laugh out of watching Zoë Saldana toting around machine guns and rocket launchers three times her size and weight as she’s so skinny and tiny.  But she does it with total seriousness, I give her credit for that.  More interesting is her methods of sneaking in and out of buildings in Old School Ninja style: she uses no kind of hi-tech at all, just her own strength, speed and skill and whatever she can smuggle into her hair.

So should you see COLOMBIANA?  It’s an okay time-waster on a Friday or Saturday night if there’s nothing else available on Netflix that turns your crank.  It’s professionally done and done quite well, in fact.  The acting is professional, the pacing moves along professionally, the production values are professional…see where I’m going with this?  COLOMBIANA is a professionally made thriller but that’s all it is.  It’s not quirky enough, or violent enough, or crazy/wild enough or bizarre enough to elevate it any higher than the level of a professional, competent product.

PG-13

107 minutes

Avatar

2009

20th Century Fox/Lightstorm Entertainment

Written and Directed by James Cameron

Produced by James Cameron and Jon Landau

I have to be honest and confess that I’m biased when it comes to James Cameron because he hasn’t yet made a movie I haven’t liked.  Which compared to a lot of other filmmakers isn’t a lot.  I mean, counting AVATAR he’s directed eight movies in thirty years.  We’ve got directors who have made thirty movies in eight years.  But James Cameron’s movies are all ‘event’ movies and he’s such a meticulous director/writer that he’s in no rush to make a movie just to make a movie.  He makes movies that are entire worlds that draw us in and engage us totally and completely into what is happening on the screen.  Twenty minutes into AVATAR I completely forgot I was looking at SFX and CGI characters and digital sets.  That’s how immersed into the story and characters I was.  And I attribute that to the genius of James Cameron.  Unlike directors like Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich he knows how to spend half a billion bucks on a movie that makes me feel like I haven’t wasted my money or more importantly, my time.

The planet Pandora is extraordinarily hostile to human beings.  Even the air is toxic and it seems like every animal on the planet is out to eat every other animal.  Pandora also is rich with the mineral unobtanium which is being mined by a corporation that is never named but I’d be willing to bet my ‘Alien’ DVD it’s Weyland-Yutani. The use of unobtanium made me laugh as that fictional element has a very long history in science fiction.  Since seeing this movie I’ve heard from so-called science fiction fans complaining about how corny the name unobtanium is and that a name that sounded more realistic should have been used.  Which immediately told me that these ‘fans’ weren’t as knowledgeable about sci-fi as they thought they were.   The corporation has recruited an army of mercenaries as security to protect the workers from the many dangerous life-forms. Pandora is also inhabited by the Na’vi.  An azure-skinned, humanoid race, nine feet tall that live in a quasi-symbiotic relationship with the animals and the land.

Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) has helped develop the Avatar Program. Avatars are Na’vi/Human clones bio-engineered to enable humans to interact with the Na’vi.  Humans are linked to their specific Avatars and control them while their human body sleeps.  This is particularly appealing to paraplegic ex-Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington).  Jake is invited to join The Avatar Program due to his twin brother’s untimely death.  Since his DNA is identical to his brother’s, Jake can link with his Avatar.  This doesn’t sit well with Dr. Augustine but it works out just fine for Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) who sees this as an opportunity to get valuable intelligence on the Na’vi.  Quaritch dangles the promise of surgery that will restore the full use of his legs to Jake.  And naturally Jake accepts the deal

Jake’s first time out in the bush in his Avatar ends up with him lost in the jungle which he is woefully unsuited to survive in, despite his Marine training.  Luckily for him he’s rescued by a Na’vi warrior woman, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) who takes him back to her clan.  There are a couple of her clansmen who aren’t happy with this.  Her father Eytucan (Wes Studi) the leader of the clan and his heir, the clan’s best warrior Tsu’Tey (Laz Alonso) who’d cheerfully cut Jake’s throat if it wasn’t for the clan’s queen and spiritual leader Mo’at (CCH Pounder) who persuades her husband to let Jake stay and learn their ways while they learn more about him.  Neytiri is charged with teaching the outsider how to be a true Na’vi.  And she does a good job of it.  A really good job.  Maybe too good as it turns out.

Okay, let’s get this out of the way right up front. You’ve probably heard that AVATAR is a big budget remake of “Dances With Wolves” in sci-fi drag and to an extent, it’s correct.  But I’ve seen plenty of other westerns about a white man going ‘native’ and adopting another culture.  There’s elements of “Lord Jim” and “The Last Samurai” and “The Mission” in here as well along with half a dozen other movies.

But AVATAR is told so well and the special effects are so magnificent that all that becomes unimportant.  James Cameron spends a considerable amount of time on the Na’vi way of life as seen through the eyes of Jake and we, along with him soon have a respect and fascination for their world and their relationship.  Sam Worthington really sells the movie, along with Sigourney Weaver; whose Avatar is so realistic and looks so much like her it’s almost creepy.

And any director who can make me like Michelle Rodriguez is okay in my book.  For once she’s not playing the perpetually pissed-off Latina and does some real acting here.  Giovanni Ribisi and Stephen Lang aren’t served as well as the other actors by the screenplay.  Their characters are so one dimensional that right from their first scenes they’re gnashing their teeth, yelling “Crush!  Kill!  Destroy!”and planning to wipe out the Na’vi.  And that’s just about the same note they play through the whole movie.

And AVATAR makes the same mistake “Star Trek: Insurrection” made.  Remember how in that movie Starfleet wanted to remove a relatively small group of natives off their own world in order to exploit the anti-aging properties of the planet?  Now the big flaw in that thinking was this: why couldn’t everybody share the planet?  I mean, it’s a pretty big planet.  Lots of room for all, I should think.   In AVATAR, whenever Giovanni Ribisi started in about there being such a rich deposit of unobtanium under the sacred Hometree I asked myself why couldn’t the corporation find another deposit somewhere on the planet and spare everyone a lot of needless bloodshed and violence.  But James Cameron works so hard at making us hate the corporation and the mercenaries that angle is never explored.  And Cameron pounds the pro-environmental angle into our foreheads at every single opportunity in a not very subtle fashion.

Having said all that is AVATAR worth your time?  Sure it is.  It’s a James Cameron movie and once again he’s presented us a movie full of life, meticulous detail, astounding action sequences and exceptional acting.  Sure the story is pure 50’s science fiction pulp adventure but its 50’s science fiction pulp that makes us care about what we’re watching and that makes all the difference.

162 minutes

PG-13