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Avatar Special Edition (3D)


Stars: Sam Huntingdon, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi

Director: James Cameron

Cameron's wondrous sci-fi adventure movie returns with an additional eight minutes of footage involving extended action scenes and creatures not seen before. It is, says the director, more of a 'fans' cut' than a director's cut.

Everywhere you look, there are marvels to behold in Cameron's wonder-filled, action-packed saga of strife on a faraway planet's moon some time in the distant future. You can't take your gaze off the screen for a second for fear of missing some new marvel, as amazing plants, insects and animals spring to life before your eyes.

The plot is pure Dances With Dragons as, on the moon Pandora, the US military seeks to move a local tribe - blue-skinned humanoids, with tails, blunt noses, big yellow eyes and pointy ears - to another part of the forest, as they happen to be sitting on a massive supply of a rare mineral, Unobtainium (the name is one of the film's rare clunky missteps) that can help alleviate Earth's energy crisis.

Gung-ho colonel Quaritch (fiercely played by Lang) is all for blasting the critters off the face of the planet, but lead scientist Weaver persuades him to give diplomacy a try. Because the atmosphere is toxic, the scientists have devised a method whereby Americans can sleep and become native Na'vi, or avatars of themselves - or, as the Na'vi put it, alien dreamwalkers. Latest volunteer is ex-Marine Jake (Huntingdon), who has been disabled in battle and lost the use of his legs.

Jake is much taken with the wonders of the Pandoran rainforest (where he can walk) - shimmering plants that shrink to nothing at a touch; rhino-like beasts with horizontal battering rams for tusks; a swarm of purple dragonets; 'hanging mountains'; and bird-like dragons that can only be ridden by one owner. Less impressed with him is Neytiri (Saldana), the local chieftain's daughter, who reluctantly agrees to school him in the ways of the jungle, much like a blue Tarzan.

Despite the hostility of her brother (Laz Alonso), Jake inevitably becomes drawn to the tribe and their way of worship. His mission is to win their confidence and persuade them to move on, but Quaritch gives him little time before moving into action with heavily-armed roto-tilt aircraft and exeskeletal fighting suits.

It's cowboys and Indians in sci-fi form, of course, but then the Indians didn't have dragons to ride on. Hugely imaginative, the sheer scale and spectacle of all this takes the breath away, up to the prolonged final battle, with Quaritch exo-suited up as a kind of Terminator. Cameron deserves much praise for conceiving the idea and bringing it to fruition with a mixture of live-action and animation based on the movements of the actors. The quieter moments are on the whole of lesser quality, but they're not what this film is about. Aficionados of fantasy novels will love this new version even more than the original.

David Quinlan

USA 2009. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox. Colour by deluxe.
171 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 21 Aug 2010