"Avatar" won’t come out for another week, but advance screenings have already taken place on both sides of the Atlantic and early reviews are streaming in. The consensus is staggering, from near-universal praise from bloggers on Twitter to a 100 percent approval rating on the movie aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes as of Friday morning (December 11). Yup, the Web has a lot of love for James Cameron’s big blue alien love story. Taking place about 140 years in the future, the film follows crippled ex-Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) as he lands in a mining colony on the planet of Pandora, populated by a race of aliens called the Na’vi. Given the opportunity to scout the land via a mind-controlled Na’vi avatar, Sully ends up falling for a native named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). Here’s what early critics are saying. The Brave New World of Pandora Cameron invented a new type of motion-capture technology called e-motion capture for the film, and the results have everyone blown away. " ‘Avatar’ employs technology necessary to render its largely computer-generated, 3D world that will give directors, including but not limited to Cameron, one heck of a sandbox to play in over the next few years," writes Chris Hewitt of Empire. " ‘Avatar’ is an astonishing feast for the eyes and ears, with shots and sequences that boggle the mind, from the epic — a floating mountain range in the sky, waterfalls cascading into nothingness — to the tiny details, such as a paraplegic sinking his new, blue and fully operational toes into the sand. The level of immersive detail here is simply amazing." Three Dimensions of Alien Adventure Cameron also revolutionized the use of digital 3D technology for "Avatar," and the critics are impressed. "[T]he 3D is agreeably unemphatic, drawing the viewer into the action without calling attention to itself," says Variety’s Todd McCarthy. "The third dimension functions as an enhancement, not a raison d’être, so the film will look perfectly fine without it. (When it opens domestically on Dec. 15, approximately 2,100 screens will feature 3D, with another 1,200 in 2D.)" And … Action! Sure, the movie can look beautiful, but who cares if that beauty isn’t put to good, adrenaline-pumping use? Early reviews confirm Cameron has delivered a seriously entertaining action flick. /Film’s Brendon Connelly calls the action sequences as "inventive as those in ‘True Lies’ and as well executed as any Cameron has created before. "Best of all, ‘Avatar’ sees James Cameron’s world-beating skills with action staging and editing expanded through the use of the virtual camera," he continues. "And, yes, the action sequences benefit from the 3D but, no, not in a dullard stunt-stereo fashion." Capture Performers in Performance-Capture Worthington, Saldana and the rest of the cast spent month after month on a soundstage with wires strapped to them, jumping around a barren set that would eventually be transformed into the lush CG environment of Pandora. How did that affect their performances? Is the acting any good? Yes, argues TotalFilm’s Andy Lowe. "[T]he success of the human/ Na’vi love-story thread is mostly down to Saldana," he writes. "Her subtle, spiky performance is a delicious foil to Worthington’s wide-eyed neophyte. She might have played it haughty and aloof — and annoying. Instead, she makes Neytiri untamable and irresistible, brimming with spirit and soul — and making her, and the other CG characters, feel more weighted and real." How Long Can You Spend on Pandora? And Will You Return? No getting around it: The movie is long. And to make serious box-office cash, "Avatar" is going to have to bring moviegoers back to the theater again and again. It might just be able to pull off that feat. "The movie is 161 minutes and flies by in a rush," says Kirk Honeycutt from The Hollywood Reporter. "Repeat business? You bet. ‘Titanic’-level business? That level may never be reached again, but Fox will see more than enough grosses worldwide to cover its bet on Cameron."
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