Avatar (2009, USA) C-162m. *** D: James Cameron. Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel Moore, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi. James Cameron's return to the (movie) director's chair after 12 years is an expectedly overblown science-fiction fantasy set in a distant world, where mankind is hoping to set up a mining operation - despite the resistance of the planet's native population, 10 feet tall humanoid creatures that will do anything to defend their forests. A team of scientists has found a way of entering the bodies of so-called avatars, artificially created aliens, and using them to become friends with the tribe. Wheelchair-bound ex-marine Worthington enters the mission quite unexpectedly for his deceased twin brother and manages to win the aliens' trust. Visually overwhelming film delves us into a magical fantasy world with creatures and places often reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki films (although Cameron also quotes himself throughout). After an intriguing introduction, plot treads a familiar path, however, and Cameron's criticism of the destruction of (rain) forests, exploitation of developing countries and America's affinity to war makes its point again and again. There's too little suspense and too much predictability in the proceedings, right down to the clichéd one-on-one finale. Still, an eye-popping achievement (even more so in 3D), if not the masterpiece expected, at least a movie that one has to have seen. Cameron also wrote, produced and coedited this picture. Sweeping score by James Horner.

© Ron Altman @ www.cultfilmz.com