Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rango (2011)

We live in the era of the mash-up, where the act of combining old content into something new is considered just as artistic as creating the content in the first place. If that's what passes for originality these days, then Rango is a creative tour de force. The new animated film from Nickelodeon incorporates not just the tropes of the Western genre, but also allusions to specific films like Chinatown, The Three Amigos, Star Wars and, most meta of all, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Rango sports a Hawaiian shirt and at one point is nearly run over by a car like the one driven by Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo). There's a fine line between homage and all-out stealing; Rango comes close at times, but wisely avoids crossing over into blatant rip-off territory.

Johnny Depp reunites with Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski in this tale of a chameleon with an identity crisis (get it?) who discovers the hero inside of him thanks to the residents of a little town in the Mojave Desert called Dirt. Depp plays Rango with all the range and gusto he usually devotes to his characters. The urge to cast A-list actors to voice animated projects is understandable – there's a certain cachet associated with big names above titles – but it's not always the best idea (I'm looking at you Brad and Angelina). Depp has always relied on more than his good looks, though (and, in fact, often consciously works against them) to convey expression and emotional depth. He's the total package, and he elevates any project he's attached to, including this one.

- Paramount

Depp's Rango is a cipher, motivated not by a sense of justice or morality, but by an existential search for himself. He's thrown into the role of sheriff by the desperate citizens of a drought-plagued town filled with stock (some might say cliche) Western characters, but the part of hero is just something he's trying on for size, like the boots coveted by young Priscilla, a plucky mouse voiced by Abigail Beslin. The town's real champion is Beans (Isla Fisher), a self-determined iguana who is skeptical of Rango at first, but eventually develops an affection towards him.

The film opens in a contemporary setting, revealing Rango as a house pet who is lost along the highway during a cross-country trip. When he eventually stumbles into Dirt, it feels like a theme park-version of an old west town, complete with all the expected establishments and architectural features – saloon, bank, jailhouse, boot hill. Writer John Logan uses the conventions of the genre as a kind of shorthand for the audience. You know instantly what to expect from a character like gunslinger Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy), but that predictability also works against the film at times. It's pretty clear from the first time we meet him that Dirt's mayor Tortoise John (Ned Beatty) is not the benevolent civil servant he presents himself to be.

The look of Rango is also rooted in familiar cinematic inspiration, conveyed by some amazing CG animation by Industrial Light & Magic. This is the first animated feature from the special effects studio founded by George Lucas, and they've nailed it right out of the gate. The movie is gorgeous, from the first frame to the last, and the character designs are undeniably endearing (they actually manage to make lizards cute and cuddly). As it's been widely reported, cinematographer Roger Deakins (who really should have won an Oscar this year for his work on True Grit, but that's a gripe for another day) acted as a consultant on the film, and his influence is evident in everything from the vast desert vistas to the sunlight filtering through the trees to a hallucinogenic quest on a bleached-out spirit plane. Pixar still sets the standard when it comes to marrying stunning visuals, compelling characters and fully realized story, but this is the closest an animated feature has come in a long time to that level of quality.

Parents may be bothered by the film's logistical problems – for instance, the villain's insidious plan is never fully explained and the issue of the food chain is barely touched upon – but their kids won't care as they laugh at the slapstick antics of Rango and his pals (they sure did in the screening I attended). This may be an admirable, attractive-looking effort on the part of Verbinski and company, but it ultimately amounts to little more than a postmodern pastiche made up of recycled and remixed elements from other, better, films.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Megamind (2010)

Megamind (Will Ferrell) and his life-long archenemy Metro Man (Brad Pitt) are aliens that were sent away from their respective home planets in time of crisis (much like Superman's origin story). Megamind, taking the role of super villain, tries to conquer Metro City in every imaginable way, each attempt a colossal failure thanks to Metro Man, who becomes the hero of Metro City. It seems that the pattern will never cease until Megamind seemingly defeats Metro Man during one of his many botched hostage plots involving news reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Tina Fey). Now freed from his rival's shadow, Megamind proceeds to take control of Metro City. Over time, Megamind comes to the realization that he no longer has any purpose in life without an enemy. To appease his depression, he turns Roxanne's lonely cameraman Hal (Jonah Hill) into Metro City's next big superhero, the fiery-headed Tighten. Unfortunately for Megamind, Tighten decides to utilize his new power against humanity as revenge for the lifetime of rejection he has endured for years. When Metro Man is discovered alive by Megamind and Roxanne, but uninterested in resuming his superhero duties, Megamind is forced to do the inevitable: become the hero of the crisis. Aided by his childhood sidekick Minion (David Cross), Megamind now sets out to stop Tighten's rampage of destruction, thus beginning a path to redemption.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Repo Men

A Universal release presented in association with Relativity Media of a Stuber Pictures production. Produced by Scott Stuber. Executive producers, Miguel Sapochnik, Jonathan Mone, Mike Drake, Valerie Dean, Andrew Z. Davis. Directed by Miguel Sapochnik. Screenplay, Eric Garcia, Garrett Lerner, based on the novel "The Repossession Mambo" by Garcia.

Remy - Jude Law
Jake - Forest Whitaker
Frank - Liev Schreiber
Beth - Alice Braga
Carol - Carice van Houten

A "Minority Report" for the organ-donor crowd, "Repo Men" rejects thought-provoking science fiction in favor of a giddy futuristic bloodbath. Set in a world where artificial body parts are all the rage and professional goons come knocking to repossess your spleen, this ultra-gory speculative noir is, at its infrequent best, certifiably nuts; the rest of the time, it's one numbingly brutal slog. Starring Jude Law as an organ collector who decides to turn the operating tables, the Universal release should carve out an appreciative audience among action fans, none of whom will require additional brain cells to enjoy it.

Entirely unrelated to the 1984 cult hit "Repo Man," though bearing some story similarities to 2008's "Repo! The Genetic Opera," the picture posits a not-so-distant future in which a corporation called the Union manufactures high-tech artificial organs, or "artiforgs." These are marketed and sold to gullible customers at top prices, then violently (and most of the time, fatally) reclaimed when they can't pay up.

Since Americans are clearly no better at managing their organ debts than their credit-card bills, business is booming for Union repo men Remy (Law) and Jake (Forest Whitaker), who are also lifelong pals. As seen in the pic's first setpiece -- a combat-heavy raid on a ship full of artiforg recipients long past their final notice -- Remy and Jake are very good at what they do.

But when Remy's gloomy wife (Carice van Houten, never cracking a smile) objects to his job and the example it sets for their young son, he decides to move into sales. As fate would have it, Remy sustains a serious injury during his last job, requiring a heart transplant and making him another Union slave. In a very literal reading of the phrase "change of heart," Remy finds he can't do the dirty work anymore -- and, since he works on commission, he's now racking up major debt.

Soon Remy's on the run, along the way picking up the obligatory sexy/battered love interest, Beth (Alice Braga, "I Am Legend"), a drifter who can scarcely call a single body part her own. (Sample pre-seduction dialogue: "What brand are your lips?" "They're all me.") Together, they conspire to bring down the system Remy used to serve, while Jake tries to hunt down his friend-turned-renegade.

As scripted by Eric Garcia and Garrett Lerner (who developed the screenplay alongside Garcia's 2009 novel "The Repossession Mambo"), "Repo Men" could have supported any number of topically resonant spins: a perversely comic portrait of capitalism run amok, or perhaps an extreme argument for health-care reform. Script does throw off the occasional flash of mordant humor, and the climax, with its dismayingly unhygienic mix of sex and scalpels, is in such jaw-dropping bad taste as to be almost admirable.

These potent moments aside, the film has neither the intellectual rigor nor the internal consistency needed to make its vision of the future seem even remotely plausible, and it short-circuits its more provocative implications in a muddle of conflicting moods. Remy (who, wouldn't you know, has literary aspirations) provides a running inner monologue, lending the picture a half-brooding, half-comic tone stranded somewhere between noir and Guy Ritchie; any nuances are ultimately drowned out not only by Marco Beltrami's hemorrhaging score, but by the bone-crunching intensity of the violence.

Earning its R rating and then some, "Repo Men" boasts more closeup stabbings, slashings, guttings, bludgeonings and scenes of unnecessary surgery than any studio actioner in recent memory. Characters get into knife fights so often, it's no wonder they all need new organs; one sequence in particular appears to have been repossessed from Park Chan-wook's notorious "Oldboy," albeit with blades in lieu of hammers.

Slickly choreographed, punchily edited, sexed up with slow-mo, these extended bouts of bloodletting bear out every stereotype of directors who, like first-timer Miguel Sapochnik, come to feature filmmaking from the world of musicvideos. Leaking stylized geysers of red from every orifice, "Repo Men" works hard to put the "art" in arterial splatter. That's hardly a compliment.

Miscast in an admittedly incoherent role (loving father/aspiring novelist/professional disemboweler), Law delivers a physically energetic turn but doesn't supply much of a rooting interest, and his eventual transformation into suspender-clad killing machine plays like a preview of an ill-advised action franchise. Whitaker rings another variation on his familiar persona of cuddly one minute, freakishly murderous the next; the ever-bewitching Braga gives the film some much-needed flickers of vulnerability; and Liev Schreiber is supremely oily as the soulless suit who runs the Union.

Alternating between glittering nighttime cityscapes (with a pronounced Chinese influence) and rundown housing projects, the Toronto-shot pic delivers a future reality that's persuasively low-key but not especially immersive. Juxtaposition of grotesque flesh-cutting sequences with retro tunes like "Sway" quickly grows repetitive.

Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen), Enrique Chediak; editor, Richard Francis-Bruce; music, Marco Beltrami; production designer, David Sandefur; art director, Dan Yarhi; set designers, Russell Moore, James Oswald; set decorator, Clive Thomasson; costume designer, Caroline Harris; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), Glen Gauthier; sound designers, Yann Delpuech, Darren King; re-recording mixers, Jon Taylor, Christian P. Minkler; visual effects supervisor, Aaron Weintraub; digital visual effects, Mr. X; stunt coordinator/fight choreographer, Hiro Koda; assistant director, Joanna Kelly Moore; casting, Mindy Marin. Reviewed at Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, March 15, 2010. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 111 MIN.

With: Liza Lapira, Yvette Nicole Brown, RZA, Chandler Canterbury.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Rated: PG [See Full Rating] for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar.

Runtime: 1 hr 48 mins

Genre: Childrens

Theatrical Release:Mar 5, 2010 Wide
m Burton, once a visionary, can't-miss filmmaker whose quirkiness was consistently matched by his originality and dark style, has in the last decade resorted time and again to adaptations and inferior remakes over innovative ideas. Did he run out of new stories to tell? For every grand success he has more recently had (2007's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"), there seems to also be a cinematic miscalculation (2005's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") or an outright failure (2001's "Planet of the Apes") in his repertoire. Burton's latest, a quasi-sequel revisionist take on Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Alice Through the Looking Glass," is a regretful dud, a fantasy without magic and very little heart and soul. Looking like an overblown cable movie without the money to do the visuals justice, the nonetheless big-budget "Alice in Wonderland" has no excuse for how uninspired and even tacky it looks, throttling live-action with cartoonish CGI effects that never suitably create a specific or believably fantastical world. On top of that, the 3-D added to the picture in post-production for theatrical distribution is useless, the lighting of each frame dimmed by the glasses viewers have to wear. Thus, this causes the technical specs to appear all the more unrefined. The screenplay by Linda Woolverton, full of half-imagined, underdeveloped characters and a dreary plot that drifts far away from what author Carroll must have had in mind, is of no help, either. Too often the proceedings appear to be running on autopilot, at odds with a wraparound story that, despite the torpid eighty minutes in between, is surprisingly emotional and affecting.

As a child of six, Alice Kingsleigh (Mairi Ella Challen) spoke of a recurring dream she kept having, of a world called Wonderland, of talking dogs and dormouses. Thirteen years later, a now-grown Alice (Mia Wasikowska), living in turn-of-the-century England, is a young woman pushing twenty who discovers a party thrown with all of her family and friends present is but a ruse for weak-chinned Lord Hamish (Leo Bill) to propose to her. Alice, still with a lot of life to live before she settles down and resorts to the suffocating conventional social mores of her time and place, dodges the question to run after a waistcoat-wearing, pocketwatch-carrying white rabbit she spots on the property. Following him into a dark hole, Alice loses her grip and ends up in Underland, a foreboding place ruled over by the bulbous-headed Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). Alice's old friends—Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Matt Lucas), the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), and the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Stephen Fry), among others—have intentionally called upon her as their savior to overthrow the monstrous Jabberwocky and, thus, the Red Queen's reign. Alice, however, cannot remember them from childhood, and there is the question of whether or not she is the same girl whose fate it has always been to fight evil in the name of their freedom. Slowly but surely, her destiny—not only in Underland, but in the real world—reveals itself.

The opening scenes of "Alice in Wonderland" set the film up as a British period piece, with the free-thinking Alice standing as the one wayward element with more contemporary ideals. The character, not taking things too seriously even as she realizes she is being pushed into a position she has no interest in, is a breath of fresh air, and her conflicts—both inward and outward—boil down to what those around her expect of a lady of nineteen. The appearance of the white rabbit, urging Alice to follow him as he taps his watch, urgently signifies how Alice's time as a child, unfortunate though it may be, is running out. That Alice stays true to herself at every turn thereafter and doesn't lose the dreamer—or the adventurer—inside her is a message for viewers to savor and take heed of. If director Tim Burton is able to find a certain amount of moralistic pathos in these bookending sequences—upon turning down Hamish's proposal, Alice reassures Lord Ascott (Tim Pigott-Smith) that she will "find something useful" to do with her life—then that is all the better for him. Alas, it also invites comparison to the central chunk of time set in Underland, which is as poorly written and conceived as the prologue and epilogue are poignant.

Alice's first proper glimpse of Underland comes with the opening of a door, recalling a similar scene in 1939's "The Wizard of Oz" when Dorothy steps out from the black-and-white confines of her farmhouse and into the Technicolor-fused Munchkinland. That moment is as enchanting as just about any in film history, and "Alice in Wonderland" should have at least approached that same sense of wonder. Instead, Alice opens the door on garish, fakey surroundings—computer effects lazily replacing a palpable setting that you can feel and touch. Other characters, like the Red Queen's short body and large head, or the Knave of Hearts' (Crispin Glover) elongated, lanky frame, are partially made up on a computer themselves, their jerky movements not once selling them as anything but. Aesthetically cheesy and spatially undefined, a subpar rendering of Middle Earth or Oz, the movie never transcends what it is: spare human beings hanging out in front of a green screen. In today's day and age of technological breakthroughs, there is no rationalization for the $200-million-plus "Alice in Wonderland" resembling Sy-Fy Channel's "Tin Man." Even the 1985 miniseries of "Alice in Wonderland" (featuring an all-star cast) had a superior production design, art direction, and costumes. As for the effects, they may have mostly been practical and low-tech, but they were also more crafty and ingenious.

Mia Wasikowska (2009's "Amelia") is a joy as Alice, effortlessly expressive as she becomes an uncanny representation of what the classic Alice might be like as a late-teenager. She is particularly effervescent during the involving opening and closing segments, while for the rest of it her natural charms get lost in a tornado of weirdoes, scenery-chewers, and oddball creatures. No one Alice meets on her journey is as memorable or charming as director Tim Burton positions them to be. Johnny Depp (2009's "Public Enemies"), wearing a frizzy orange wig and switching accents as fast as a, well, mad hatter, gets too much screen time and hasn't a firm grasp on his wonky role. As the Red Queen, Helena Bonham Carter (2009's "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince") screams a lot and pouts like a toddler while looking like all she would need is Depp's wig to complete her clown costume. Anne Hathaway (2010's "Valentine's Day") literally glides her way through the part of the White Queen, taking her own etherealness to the brink while attaining a certain creepiness in her own right. Crispin Glover (2007's "Epic Movie") shows promise and potential intensity as the Knave of Hearts, the Red Queen's henchman, but not enough development to match the actor's serious approach to the role. Voicing such CG creations as the Cheshire Cat, the Blue Caterpillar, the March Hare, the Dormouse, etc. are a cast of veteran Brit actors who deserve better than they get. Every one of these well-established literary characters has been better used in past iterations of the story; here, they really don't do much or carve out their own individuality.

The third act of "Alice in Wonderland" improves, if only slightly, with the double confrontation between the Red and White Queens, as well as an armor-wearing Alice vs. the Jabberwocky. This is nothing like the Lewis Carroll novels and highly derivative of the "Harry Potter" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" series', but for a few fleeting minutes the fantasy portion of the movie energizes itself and all aspects of production come together as they should have all along. Go figure the one action set-piece works, since the story is paper-thin, the supporting ensemble are disposable, the pacing is slow and turgid, and where there should be whimsy is only indifference.

Empty spectacle that doesn't even work well as spectacle (especially in the low-rent 3-D theatrical version), "Alice in Wonderland" leaves one feeling disappointed at the pilfered opportunity of all involved. Since director Tim Burton is at the helm, he deserves the brunt of the blame. The passion he can be counted on to ignite his projects with—even the lesser ones—is simply not in evidence here, the effort coming off as a halfhearted work-for-hire gig. Furthermore, while it is okay to bring one's own sensibilities to an adaptation, why use such an iconic title as "Alice in Wonderland" if the plan is to twist and change the narrative to the point of almost disrespecting the source material? Beginning and ending with a tart bolt of coming-of-age existentialism the rest of the film is in desperate need of, the picture's bread-and-butter in Underland (why, again, change the name?) is, indeed, but a dream: hazy, rambling, undistinguished, and easily forgotten. Staying awake would be preferable.

Starring: Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham-Carter, Crispin Glover

Starring: Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham-Carter, Crispin Glover, Alan Rickman, Mia Wasilkowska, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall

Director: Tim Burton

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Halo Legends Movie Review

Had a chance to checkout an early copy of Halo Legends and can sum it up in a very brief outline. If you are passionate for Halo you might like this. If you love Japanese anime you might like this. If you have no love for either which is my case you will likely find this cash in on the Halo franchise really really boring.

Halo legends is an 8 episode anthology with each episode running 8 to 10 minutes in length. Its entire focus is on Halo the game but in telling the stories we have not heard yet from playing the games. I see Halo Legend as one of those movies that will truly appeal to the die hard halo gamer or fans of anime. Since I never understood the fascination with Halo ( I am more a Fallout / Gears of War guy ) I was not drawn into Halolegends.

I found it long, tedious and frankly.. quite boring. Admittedly the visual look of each episode of Halo Legends was quite unique and at times the anthology was very creative and entertaining but at other times it bored me to the point where I almost wallpapered my bathroom.

Halo Legends was compared to the Animatrix and Batman Gotham Knight and as somebody who has seen both I unfortunately have to report that HaloLegends is neither as good or as entertaining. Buy it only if your a die hard Halo fan who appreciates the fine art of Japanese Anime otherwise your money is better spent elsewhere.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Watching "Avatar," I felt sort of the same as when I saw "Star Wars" in 1977. That was another movie I walked into with uncertain expectations. James Cameron's film has been the subject of relentlessly dubious advance buzz, just as his "Titanic" was. Once again, he has silenced the doubters by simply delivering an extraordinary film. There is still at least one man in Hollywood who knows how to spend $250 million, or was it $300 million, wisely.

"Avatar" is not simply a sensational entertainment, although it is that. It's a technical breakthrough. It has a flat-out Green and anti-war message. It is predestined to launch a cult. It contains such visual detailing that it would reward repeating viewings. It invents a new language, Na'vi, as "Lord of the Rings" did, although mercifully I doubt this one can be spoken by humans, even teenage humans. It creates new movie stars. It is an Event, one of those films you feel you must see to keep up with the conversation.

The story, set in the year 2154, involves a mission by U. S. Armed Forces to an earth-sized moon in orbit around a massive star. This new world, Pandora, is a rich source of a mineral Earth desperately needs. Pandora represents not even a remote threat to Earth, but we nevertheless send in ex-military mercenaries to attack and conquer them. Gung-ho warriors employ machine guns and pilot armored hover ships on bombing runs. You are free to find this an allegory about contemporary politics. Cameron obviously does.

Pandora harbors a planetary forest inhabited peacefully by the Na'vi, a blue-skinned, golden-eyed race of slender giants, each one perhaps 12 feet tall. The atmosphere is not breathable by humans, and the landscape makes us pygmies. To venture out of our landing craft, we use avatars--Na'vi lookalikes grown organically and mind-controlled by humans who remain wired up in a trance-like state on the ship. While acting as avatars, they see, fear, taste and feel like Na'vi, and have all the same physical adeptness.

This last quality is liberating for the hero, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who is a paraplegic. He's been recruited because he's a genetic match for a dead identical twin, who an expensive avatar was created for. In avatar state he can walk again, and as his payment for this duty he will be given a very expensive operation to restore movement to his legs. In theory he's in no danger, because if his avatar is destroyed, his human form remains untouched. In theory.

On Pandora, Jake begins as a good soldier and then goes native after his life is saved by the lithe and brave Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). He finds it is indeed true, as the aggressive Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) briefed them, that nearly every species of life here wants him for lunch. (Avatars are not be made of Na'vi flesh, but try explaining that to a charging 30-ton rhino with a snout like a hammerhead shark).

The Na'vi survive on this planet by knowing it well, living in harmony with nature, and being wise about the creatures they share with. In this and countless other ways they resemble Native Americans. Like them, they tame another species to carry them around--not horses, but graceful flying dragon-like creatures. The scene involving Jake capturing and taming one of these great beasts is one of the film's greats sequences.

Like "Star Wars" and "LOTR," "Avatar" employs a new generation of special effects. Cameron said it would, and many doubted him. It does. Pandora is very largely CGI. The Na'vi are embodied through motion capture techniques, convincingly. They look like specific, persuasive individuals, yet sidestep the eerie Uncanny Valley effect. And Cameron and his artists succeed at the difficult challenge of making Neytiri a blue-skinned giantess with golden eyes and a long, supple tail, and yet--I'll be damned. Sexy.

At 163 minutes, the film doesn't feel too long. It contains so much. The human stories. The Na'vi stories, for the Na'vi are also developed as individuals. The complexity of the planet, which harbors a global secret. The ultimate warfare, with Jake joining the resistance against his former comrades. Small graceful details like a floating creature that looks like a cross between a blowing dandelion seed and a drifting jellyfish, and embodies goodness. Or astonishing floating cloud-islands.

I've complained that many recent films abandon story telling in their third acts and go for wall-to-wall action. Cameron essentially does that here, but has invested well in establishing his characters so that it matters what they do in battle and how they do it. There are issues at stake greater than simply which side wins.

Cameron promised he'd unveil the next generation of 3-D in "Avatar." I'm a notorious skeptic about this process, a needless distraction from the perfect realism of movies in 2-D. Cameron's iteration is the best I've seen -- and more importantly, one of the most carefully-employed. The film never uses 3-D simply because it has it, and doesn't promiscuously violate the fourth wall. He also seems quite aware of 3-D's weakness for dimming the picture, and even with a film set largely in interiors and a rain forest, there's sufficient light. I saw the film in 3-D on a good screen at the AMC River East and was impressed. I might be awesome in True IMAX. Good luck in getting a ticket before February.

It takes a hell of a lot of nerve for a man to stand up at the Oscarcast and proclaim himself King of the World. James Cameron just got re-elected.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Avatar 2009

Opening scene: a camera sweeps high across the treeline of a lush, green world.

Intercut is a sequence of images of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) waking up in a VA hospital, where he is one of a seemingly endless number of wounded war veterans. Jake awakens inside a pod-like apparatus, where he's comforted by hospital staff. Then, through voiceover and dialogue with both hospital and military officials, we learn that Jake has a recently deceased twin brother -- Tom, a scientist -- who was to be part of a highest-level program overseen by corporate and military strategists. Because Jake and his brother are genetic matches, he's presented with a unique opportunity: take over his brother's contract with with corporate-military entity and travel light years away to an outpost on the previously glimpsed world, Pandora.

Acknowledging the notions of "being free" and having a "fresh start", Jake agrees to the deal as his brother's body is cremated.

Now aboard a human transporter spacecraft, Jake is one of many soldiers and personnel about to touch down on Pandora, actually a moon of the planet of Polyphemus, some 4.3 light years from Earth. We catch views of the base and its construction as Jake ponders his new role. Then, as the other passengers disembark and take their first steps onto the base, we see Jake make his first pushes into this world, for Jake is in a wheelchair. Jake acknowledges through voiceover that he lost the use of his legs during one of his tours of duty on Earth, and while a spine can be fixed, that "takes money," and that is tough to come by in the present economy. To add insult to the situation, Jake is referred to as "Meals on Wheels" by a few of his fellow travelers who are about to begin their careers as for-hire workers on Pandora.

Cut to a military briefing room, where Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) is addressing the assembled soldiers, including Jake. Referencing the fact that they're "not in Kansas anymore," Col. Quaritch educates the soldiers on Pandora's indigenous population, the Na'vi. Quaritch lets it be known that the Na'vi want to kill and, while it's his job to keep soldiers alive, he will not succeed in this task -- "not with all of you," he declares.

Jake is now in a science lab where he meets biologist Norm Spellman (Joel Moore) and Dr. Max Patel (Dileep Rao), two members of the Avatar Program. As Jake gets his first look at his own Avatar, we learn about the program itself.

Humans are unable to breathe Pandora's air, but the Avatar Program enables people to link with their own Avatar, a genetically-bred human-Navi hybrid. Through his Avatar body, Jake will be able to walk again. While Jake says his Avatar "looks like Tom," Norm replies that the being "looks like you".

We learn more about the program as Jake records his experiences onto his videolog (the first of many). During this, Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), the program's science lead, awakens. We learn that she likes "plants better than people," and after speaking in Na'vi with Norm, she informs the assembled group of people that she needs Tom, a Phd.D who trained 3 years for the Pandora mission, and that she has no use for Jake.

Grace is next seen in the base's control room with Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), representative for the Resources Development Administration, an organization that oversees all military and other personnel on the colony. Grace tells Parker she needs a researcher and not a "jarhead dropout" when told that Jake will serve as a security escort on her team while they're on the planet's surface. Grace is doubtful that Jake possesses the skills to meet one of her objectives: to bond with the Na'vi and discern the factors for the breakdown in Na'vi/human relations. Parker has a different goal. After discussing Pandora's much-desired natural resource, the mineral Unobtanium, which can save Earth from its present energy crisis. Parker wants Grace simply to "use what you got and get me some results."

Back in the lab, Jake and Norm are linked to their Avatars for the first time. It's noted that Jake's brain is "gorgeous". Jake, in his Avatar, wakes up in a different room with other Avatars and staff. Within a few moments, Jake is making his handlers nervous because he is moving too quickly and trying to walk. His long tail is knocking over instruments. A staff member informs him that his behavior is dangerous, to which Jake replies, "This is great".

Jake busts out of the recovery room and into the daylight. He finds himself in a recreation area where other Avatars are playing sports and staff, in their protective gear, are performing various duties. Norm is in pursuit of Jake. When Avatar Jake dips his toes into the dirt, we're shown how the feeling registers on the face of human Jake.

In the garden area, Jake meets Grace's Avatar, who, with a slightly more cheery demeanor, accompanies Jake to the barracks where he is eventually encouraged to rest. The link is broken, and human Jake awakens.

Jake next meets Trudy Chacon (Michelle Rodriguez), a retired Marine pilot with whom he'll spent several weeks getting used to his Avatar and exploring Pandora. Jake will also serve as the door gun on her crew.

Jake reunites with Col. Quaritch, who is lifting weights. The Col. Tells Jake about some of his tours, including one in Venezuela, and other aspects of his military history. The Col. re-warns Jake about the dangerous awaiting him on Pandora. His also exerts his belief that the Avatar Program is a joke and that it actually represents an opportunity for a unique reconnaissance mission: Jake can amass knowledge of the "hostiles" and "savages" as a covert military operative. At the end of this scene, the Col. climbs into an AMP Suit -- a bipedal exoskeleton used for missions on Pandora -- and informs Jake that he will help get his real legs back.

Relinked with his Avatar, Jake is flying over Pandora's surface with Trudy, Grace, Norm, and others. The team lands in a forest setting, where Grace and Norm begin to take different samples. Jake is distracted by his surroundings and making Grace nervous. He wanders into a field of Helicoradian flowers, which are quite tall and shrink at Jake's touch. Trouble arrives when a Titanotheres -- a dinosaur-like creature -- confronts Jake. Grace orders him to stand his ground and not shoot, or else the animal will charge. Jake successfully holds his ground, but only because a larger creature, a Thanator, has approached him from behind. Grace tells Jake to run -- definitely run -- and he's pursued by the Thanator in a chase that separates Jake from his crew. Initially, Jake eludes the beast; even when he's lost his gun and then downed by the animal, he releases his pack to escape. Ultimately, the chase leads to waterfalls, where Jake jumps to his safety, leaving the Thanator alone above him.

Now on dry ground, Jake is fashioning a spear and then a torch as we notice he's been watched above, this time from a different being ... a Na'vi? It has to be. The being draws an arrow to a bow and is about to shoot, only to be surprised as seeds (we'll come to know them as the "seeds of Eyra") land on the bow and arrow. The being retreats.

Meanwhile, as Jake's crew searches for him, Trudy says they'll have to return to base since night ops are not allowed. It's acknowledged that Jake likely will not survive until the morning.

As Jake fashions a torch, he's surrounded by a pack of Viperwolfs, who encircle Jake with their teeth bared, jaws gnashing. As their battle begins, the being who was observing Jake joins him in the battle, where she kills many of the animals and causes the rest to flee. Now alone, Jake follows his rescuer to an illuminated pond, where prayers are said for the animals that were killed. Spent arrows are then collected. Jake says thanks for killing those "things" which earns an agitated response from his rescuer, who hits Jake with the arrows and declares that the animals did not need to die. Jake is then told the incident is his fault because he is "like a baby" yet he's also told the reason he was saved was due to his strong heart and lack of fear.

Though no introduction has been made yet, Jake follows his rescuer up into a tree, though he's warned that he, like the other "sky people", should not be on Pandora. Just then, the seeds of Eyra reappear and we learn they are seeds of a sacred tree -- "very pure spirits" -- and Jake is covered by them. "Come," he is told.

In this next scene, we learn the name of Jake's rescuer: Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who is young Na'vi female. Netyiri presents Jake to her people, the Omaticaya, though he is surrounded by Omaticayan warriors and felled by them. Leading this group of men is Tsu'Tey (Laz Alonso), Neytiri's brother and next in line to the throne. Neytiri lets them know that "there has been a sign" and that he should be brought to "tashik" (father, approximate spelling) and "eyra" (mother).

Jake is presented to Neytiri's parents, Eytukan (Wes Studi) and Mo'at (CCH Pounder), who are the king and queen of the tribe, respectively. Jake tells the elders that he is a warrior -- a "dreamwalker" -- and his intention is to learn from the,. Mo'at tastes Jake's blood from a wound on his forehead and decrees it is the will of Eyra for him to live with the Omaticayan, and for Neytiri, however reluctantly, to be his teacher in their ways and customs. After a ritual gathering, Jake is brought to his bed, a leaf high up in the "Hometree" that encircles him like a cocoon. As he falls asleep, human Jake is revived.

At morning chow, all the scientists, including Grace, are focused on every one of Jake's words. Even the military and corporate reps have warmed to him. He lets them know the Hometree rests on Pandora's biggest deposit of Unobtanium. He's informed that he has three months to achieve his objective.

The next series of scenes revolve around Avatar Jake's training with Neytiri and human Jake's reported findings. He bonds with his Direhorse, arguably the most important animal to the Na'vi since Jake must learn to must mount the animal and connect his neural queue to its antennae. Human Jake continues to report on the Hometree's infrastructure and other Na'vi details.

Jake takes his first trip to the Hallelujah Mountains -- a system of remote, floating islands that are sacred to the Na'vi and are also rich in Unobtanium. It's here that Grace's camp is to be set up, away from the RDA officials and military officers alike.

In his next videolog, Jake discusses his language lessons and says his time with the Na'vi is like "field-stripping a weapon". This is intercut with scenes of his continued training with Neytiri, who teaches him about the Na'vi-forest connection. She tells Jake that all energy is borrowed and one day we have to give it back. Jake seems to comprehend this, and as he says a prayer for an animal he successfully hunted, Neytiri says that he is "ready".

We discover that Jake is ready for a Na'vi rite of passage: to connect with a Mountain Banshee, a flying creature, in the same manner he bonded with the Direhorse. Several factors (the height, the ferociousness of the untamed banshees) make this a dangerous lesson, but Jake's lack of fear and successful bond with his Banshee impress the Na'vi warriors present, including Tsu'Tey. Jake, Neytiri, and the others ride together to the Tree of Souls, the most sacred place to the Na'vi.

Human Jake is revived, and Grace calls him a "lucky swine".

Jake next is on an aerial hunting mission. Pursued by a creature known to the Na'vi as Toruk, which is larger than his Banshee. Neytiri says one name the beast has earned is "last shadow" and that her grandfather once rode on of the animals to unite the 5 Na'vi tribes.

When Jake comes back to, it's clear he's been changed by this latest experience, for he says, "out there is the real world ... in here is the dream". He's then confronted by the Colonel to say he's to take a shuttle to get his legs back, but Jake asks to delay the trip, since this evening there is to be a ceremony where he will become a true Na'vi man. The Col. acquiesces when Jake says this will be the perfect opportunity to negotiate the relocation of the Omaticaya so RDA can claim the Unobtanium.

Cut to the ceremony, where Jake learns the Na'vi believe that every person can be born twice. Neytiri leads Jake to a place of prayer, the "tree of voices" where they bond with the tree. Neytiri tells Jake he can made a bow from the tree ... and that he can choose a woman.

Jake says, "she must also choose me".

Neytiri indicates, "she already has".

In the morning, Neytiri awakens to falling tress, then the presence of bulldozers. She cannot wake Jake (back on the base, Jake is having breakfast and is clearly in a clear rush to return to Neytiri). Soldiers are advancing, the forest is falling around Neytiri, who is dragging and carrying Jake to safety. When he finally revives, Jake climbs onto one of the flying craft and tries to stop it, eventually blinding their camera system and initiating some gunfire. Other Na'vi warriors arrive, while the assembled military personnel recognize Jake in his Avatar form as the person who tried to stop their mission.

At Hometree, the Na'vi want war. Grace and Jake say no. There's an intense debate. Tsu'Tey tries to kill Jake. Jake declares he is a Na'vi and deserves the right to speak. Then, suddenly, both Grace and Jake's Avatars are downed.

Grace and Jake face off with RDA and military brass. It's revealed that Pandora has a "network of trees" and that the Omaticaya will never leave Hometree. Parker and the Col. discuss options. Gas out the Na'vi ... turn gunships on Hometree ... Jake lobbies to return to the Omaticaya and negotiate, and he's granted one hour to achieve the objective.

Jake and Grace are not welcomed back. Neytiri rejects Jake. Both are bound and left behind by the Omaticaya, who are preparing to fight against the humans.

Gas canisters are launched into Hometree and the surrounding area. Rockets are fired. The military is advancing on the ground and in the air. As the battle escalates, most of the weaponry is focused on Hometree, which is downed by a series of explosions and heavy artillery. Many Omaticaya are killed. Moat frees Jake and Grace and asks them to save the tribe. We watch a dying Eytukan tell Neytiri to take his bow and protect their people. Jake then arrives and is rejected again by Neytiri when he tries to console her.

The destruction seems endless, and, suddenly, Jake and Grace return to their human bodies and promptly placed under arrest for treason. Norm is also arrested for trying to prevent soldiers from disabling their Avatar forms.

Some time has passed, and the Na'vi exodus continues.

Trudy arrives at the cell which holds Jake, Grace, and Norm. She dupes their guard by saying she wants nothing to do with them, only to knock out the guard an instant later. In the attempt to flee the base in Trudy's ship, Dr. Patel remains behind while Grace is shot by the Colonel, who braves Pandora's atmosphere without protection, hell bent on recapturing Jake and the others. The team flies to the Tree of Souls, where the Omaticaya have relocated.

The hopeful reunion with the Omaticaya is not to be, initially. Jake is outcast, an alien. He does, however, convince Mo'at to try and help a dying Grace. Mo'at agrees and begins the preparations, mostly which involve getting Grace in place at the Tree of Souls.

Ever more determined to make amends with the Omaticaya, Jake arrives from the sky on the back of a Toruk in front of the Tree of Souls. The stunned Omaticaya feel Jake's dedication to them; in an exchange with Neytiri, she says "I see you". Tsu'Tey, who is now king, and Jake also make amends.

Back to Grace's ritual. The attempt is to try and have Grace's consciousness permanently transferred to her Avatar self. We see both human Grace and her Avatar. Mo'at lets it be known that Grace must pass through the eye of Eyra, and that the great mother might choose to let her pass through to her Avatar self, or she might opt to have Grace remain with her. The ritual is not successful, though before she dies, Grace tells Jake that she has seen Eyra. Jake is next seen addressing his chosen people. He says it's time to bring war to the sky people, and to do so, the other Na'vi clans must be brought together to fight as one.

The military, who are about to launch their attack, are focusing most of their efforts on turning a single craft into a massive bomb. Their target is, of course, now the Tree of Souls, and the attack is planned for 0600 the next day.

Jake is busy rallying the Omaticaya. At the Tree of Souls, he looks into Grace's memories, realizing that humankind killed their mother (Earth), the entity that protects the balance of life.

The story quickly jumps to the day of the final battle. The military forces are close and the bombship is hovering toward the Tree of Souls. Because of Pandora's magnetic currents, however, human-made instruments are failing. The united Na'vi force begins to arrive from the sky and on the ground. On his Toruk, Jake, Tsu'Tey, and other warriors engage in battle with the military craft, mainly Scorpion and Dragon assault ships. Casualties are mounting on both sides.

A flurry of main-character action: Jakes locks onto Colonel Quaritch; Trudy arrives and opens fire; Neytiri is separated from her Banshee; Norm's Avatar is mortally wounded and he jumps back to his human form; Tsu'Tey takes on the bombship and is killed in the attempt; Trudy's ship is blown up and she is killed in the process.

On the ground, Neytiri watches this action transpire. Jake attempts to contact Tsu-Tey and is unsuccessful, as is his attempt to reach Neytiri. The bombship closes in on the Tree of Souls.

A reunited Jake and Neytiri opt to stand their ground against the humans but to no longer display aggression. Suddenly, through what's left of the surrounding forest, a battalion of Pandora's animal races arrive. Neytiri tells Jake, who called out to Eyra for help earlier, has been heard as the various animals engage in combat with the humans.

Jake and his Toruk take to the sky to confront the bombship as the military's ground forces begin to scatter. Jake grenades the bombship and it catches fire.

Colonel Quaritch mans an AMP Suit in preparation for battle on the ground. He makes his way to the temporary camp set up by Grace and the others when they escaped from military incarceration. Human Jake, of course, is inside the camp and linked to his Avatar self. Quaritch is set on killing Jake, and Neytiri arrives with seconds to spare and saves Jake, though her Thanator is killed and she is trapped underneath it.

Avatar Jake arrives and engages Colonel Quaritch in a fight, and the Col. is quickly injured, but Jake is caught in the grip of the AMP Suit. Meanwhile, Neytiri has almost freed herself. Out of his AMP Suit, the Colonel dons a breathing device and insults Jake, asking him how it feels to have betrayed his race. The Col. races to the camp and is surprised when he doesn't find Jake in the first pod. Human Jake is starting to unlink with his Avatar self.

With human Jake in the Col.'s clutches, Neytiri draws an arrow and downs her enemy. A second arrow brings him to the ground. However, much damage has been done to the camp, which is leaking oxygen. Human Jake is awake but having difficulty both breathing and trying to get a mask on. Fully in danger, Neytiri arrives to help Jake with his mask. Neytiri, cradling Jake, says, "I see you".

Cut to the former military base, which is now under Na'vi control. Most of the remaining humans are being rounded up to be shipped back to Earth; however, some of the more harmonious people are invited to stay on Pandora. Norm is one of the humans who will remain.

Jake signs off in his final videolog, where we learn that he has chosen to transfer his consciousness to his Avatar self. In a ceremony similar to Grace's, Jake passes through the eye of Eyra ... and wakes up in his Avatar self with Neytiri watching over him.