A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know James Cameron's sci-fi epic, Avatar, may be too intense (and long, at 161 minutes) for some tweens. There are several effects-heavy battle and hunting sequences that include missile-launching military aircraft, nerotoxin-laced arrows, scary Pandora-dwelling fauna and flora, and lots of explosions -- all of which has more impact when the movie is seen in 3-D. Salty wartime language includes many uses of "s--t" and comparable words. As in his previous epics, Cameron infuses the action-driven story with strong female characters and a morality tale centered in a romantic relationship -- though the human-Na'vi relationship in question gets a bit complicated, because the human is actually in his avatar. The romantic leads' chemistry is made more sensual by the barely dressed bodies of the Na'vi. (Note: Fans of the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender should know that this movie is in no way connected to that show or the movie based on it.)
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What's the story?
In the 22nd century, wheelchair-bound Marine Jake Scully (Sam Worthington) embarks on a corporate-run, military-backed experiment in which he and a select group of academics -- led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) -- can fully control avatars that look exactly like the Na'vi: the lean, blue-skinned native population of a distant world called Pandora. On his first outing as his AVATAR, Jake is saved by Na'vi female Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) -- and then captured by her clan. They decide to spare Jake's life as long as he agrees to learn the Na'vi ways from Neytiri. He does; but then he's told by maniacal Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) that he'll be spying on the Na'vi to make it easier to remove them from their home, an ancestral tree that's rooted above a deposit of an unbelievably valuable substance called "Unobtainium" (pun intended). As Jake becomes more and more involved with Neytiri and her people, he's forced to choose between following orders and helping the Na'vi.
Is it any good?
What if the director of the highest-grossing movie ever made (Titanic) spent a rumored $500 million on a spectacular futuristic sci-fi epic and no one other than hardcore fanboys went to see it? Most of Hollywood would probably be secretly gleeful that the self-proclaimed King of the World had flopped. The good news for James Cameron -- and epic movie lovers everywhere -- is that Avatar isn't a flop. It's more like the story of Dances with Wolves crossed with the breathtaking visual effects of Lord of the Rings and the love story of Titanic, with a splash of the "turning native" aspect of Apocalypse Now thrown in to spice things up. Even though Cameron seems to have gone to the same hammy dialogue school of screenwriting as George Lucas, he can certainly immerse an audience in a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle. Every shot of Pandora is amazingly detailed, from floating mountains to flying beasts to the feline-featured, Native American-inspired Na'vi. The movie's scale is undeniably impressive.
Cameron owes a huge debt to his movie's female characters, all of whom are much more interesting than the stereotypical men -- especially the outlandishly evil Quaritch and Giovanni Ribisi's greedy corporate overseer. Weaver and Michele Rodriguez (as soldier Trudy Chacon), like Aliens' Ripley or Terminator's Sarah Connor, could take on anything or any man, and Saldana follows up a memorable turn as Uhura in Star Trek with another strong performance as Neytiri. It's quite a feat to create romantic electricity between fictional alien creatures, but Saldana and Worthington manage it surprisingly well. If you allow yourself to get lost into Cameron's Pandora, it's impossible not to root for the Na'vi (or Neytiri and Jake). Part sci-fi, part romance, all James Cameron, this is the sci-fi epic that women will get sucked into enjoying as much as the guys.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Avatar's revolutionary special effects. Do they overwhelm or support the movie's story? How does the portrayal of the Na'vi affect the movie's emotional impact?
What political messages is Cameron exploring in the movie? How are its themes relevant to what's going on in today's world? Do you think these messages will stand the test of time?
- In theaters: December 18, 2009
- On DVD or streaming: April 20, 2010
- Cast: Michelle Rodriguez, Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana
- Director: James Cameron
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Run time: 161 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.