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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 15, 2010

Apocalyptic 'Avatar' a blockbuster event


By Wayne Harada

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Left: Jake (Sam Worthington) meets his avatar, a genetically engineered hybrid of human and Pandora native. Right: With this futuristic fantasy, director James Cameron has a hit likely to outdo his earlier "Titanic," so far the all-time top blockbuster.

20th Century Fox, Associated Press

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Seen "Avatar" yet?

Go! ASAP! You won't be disappointed.

I finally took it in an IMAX 3D screening at Regal Theatres Dole Cannery 18 after a second attempt. One weeknight over the holidays, I went to the theater without a reservation only to discover that all screenings that day were sold out.

I was disappointed, of course, and while the rush may have tapered off a skosh, I ordered advance tickets as insurance.

The sellouts were emphatic evidence that "Avatar" is a bona fide Event Flick that attracts the masses, draws long lines, builds anticipation and creates a buzz. This kind of hubbub has been reserved for precious few films of the past "Jaws," the "Star Wars" franchise, the first two or three "Indiana Jones" episodes, the original "Star Trek" because in the old days, before the emergence of multiplexes, only one theater had the movie of choice in key markets.

James Cameron's futuristic fantasy, an unquestionable epic of remarkable proportions, has been a proverbial hotcake since its release Dec. 18 here and abroad, and Fandango.com is the destination to go to first to board that flight to the mystical and mythical moon Pandora in a planetary system far, far away.

And Regal cinemas, which boasts the only IMAX 3D theater for this spectacle here, is the choice screening place. During the holidays, "Sold Out" postings were normal for four IMAX showings from noon till the 10:30 p.m. nightcap. A second 3-D print screens there, too.

It's been that way since its first midnight showing Dec. 18.

"Avatar" has big buzz going into this year's Oscars, so this is one you oughtta catch.

The Academy Awards unfold March 7, a week or so later than usual, to avoid a schedule clash with the closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

In an era of multi-screens in the 'burbs, "Avatar" has forged out of the pack to amass global sales surpassing $1.34 billion, likely to exceed Cameron's "Titanic," whose global take stands at $1.8 billion.

The higher tariff for 3-D and IMAX is part of the reason for the huge numbers, but this film harkens back to the era of the movie blockbuster that played at an elitist single theater and was a magnet for lines going in and lines coming out.

While in the popcorn line, I heard a fella say this was the third time he was seeing "Avatar."

"The first time was in regular 3-D because IMAX was sold out; the second time was in IMAX 3-D, and no comparison, you gotta view it in IMAX 3-D," said the gent, clearly a movie buff who wants all the bells and whistles.

But technology comes with a price. I qualify for the senior rate now, and for the IMAX 3-D, the admission is $12 for those 65 and older, $15 for general admission. Even the kids' rate took our grandnephew John to see it is a pricey $12.25. (In comparison, digital 3-D prices are$13.50 general, $10.50 for seniors, $10.75 for children; regular 2-D screenings are $10 general, $7 for seniors, $7.25 for kids; matinees are discounted).

Add popcorn and drinks, and you'll pay a ransom to see angular blue people try to ward off an assaultive U.S military in a wave of power and might, with painful echoes of terrorism and warfare.

In Cameron's aspirational sci-fi future, thepeaceful Na'vi paradise is infiltrated by avatars, genetically constructed beings reimagined to look like the native Na'vi population of Pandora; these are entities tied to humans, who "visit" this peaceful new universe while asleep, then become entrenched in the peaceful lifestyle. The Na'vi are tall folks who have ears on their heads, giraffe-like necks and bodies of a shimmering, blue, the lankiness resembling those bendable toys that are all arms and legs. The Na'vi are capable of leaping to and maneuvering the oversized vines, branches, trees and floating mountains to frolic in a tomorrowland that boasts a substance called unobtanium, sought by the U.S. military, which opens up Pandora's box, if you will.

Missiles fired from aircraft, augmented by transformer-type mechanical war-riors activated by humans, destruct the immense and beloved Na'vi hometree in a reenactment of the fall of the Twin Towers that characterized 9/11. Also, the bombings of the citizenry smack ofthe ongoing war in Iraq, so there are implied art-imitates-life elements.

Viewed on the IMAX screen, with 3-D technology bringing in-your-face clarity of falling limbs and cascading sparks every which way, it's unashamedly apocalyptic.

Other franchises, like "Spider-Man" and "Twilight" and even "Harry Potter," may have diehard followers, young and old, who have formed midnight lines to create momentary hubbub, but the viewing synergy and mythic quality of writer-director Cameron's persona are unmatchable.

As the creator of the all-time blockbuster "Titanic," Cameron surely will receive a long rope and ample time to complete "Avatar 2," already flirting with sequelitis.

"Avatar" introduces the young generation to the meaning and presence of an incarnation of a soul existing in a fragile and delicate plane. In the parlance of today's tech savvy, an avatar is somewhat like a Mii when you sign in on Wii, a representation of you in another dimension; you are what you imagine.

If "Avatar 2" emerges, anticipate another Event Flick.