Miracle in a Dry Season    Dangerous Passage

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Reviewed by Grace Bridges

"...expresses the very powerful message that exploitation is wrong; and it says so in stark symbols and characters that are way-larger-than-life. Too large? I'm not sure."

Avatar: It's been splashed all over the sci-fi world for months. Reviews have been mixed, so I didn't rush to see it in its first weeks. But then my inner geek won out and it was time to satisfy my curiosity.

The opening sequence is seriously cool. A huge spaceship approaches a vibrant blue-green planet, and the spacefarers are woken from their stasis to fly about in their huge zero-G stackhouse. Sadly, that's all the space travel we get to see.

We're swiftly introduced to all the main players, and soon Jake gets to try out his avatar body. It's a golden moment when he stands for the first time in years. Soon he gets himself lost in the forest and rescued by a local.

Now for those of you seeking family fare, please be aware that the locals pretty much don't wear any clothing. Just something that looks like jewelry, and is sometimes strategic and other times not so much. Sure, these are cartoons in essence, but they're modelled on reality, even if they're blue.

So Jake is accepted by his unwilling hosts at the order of their priestess, and learns their ways. One of the most visually stunning sequences is where a band of warriors climb to the lair of the flying dragons, literally miles high, among mountains that float in the air. The 3D effect on this part was the best in the whole movie, and may make you flinch if you're scared of heights!

Pretty soon it comes to a titanic clash between the human settlers who want to mine under the blue people's home, and said blue people. The destruction and death is immense and graphic and goes on for a long time, leading me to form a first impression of a "fancy war movie". On reflection, there is more to it than that. There's the sci-fi element with the futuristic setting, the space travel, the very nice computer displays in the base, and of course the system that allows a human to fall asleep and wake up in the body of a blue avatar. And there's the fantasy element of the blue people who believe in magic on a global scale - their earth-mother religion has seriously weird stuff wound up in it, but also some cool ideas, like the tips of the hair that "plug in" to animals and trees.

The immediate effect is of a great deal of violence and wrongdoing, and the triumph of good. The violence is not as graphic as other war movies, because lots of the bodies are blue and seem less real. The secondary effect is of the stunning vertical landscapes and their 3D rendering. Now I found the 3D strained my eyes more and more as time went on - and this film is not short. However, to my surprise I found that I could remove the glasses and watch without losing any of the details, which also made the images a good deal brighter. The glasses do darken the image a lot. So I took a few short "breaks" without them. Even so, a light headache pursued me for a couple of days afterwards.

The swearing is nothing more than what one would expect in a war movie. The most disturbing aspects for me were the many horrible deaths. As for sensuality, there is one kiss and implied sex, but not onscreen.

I think this movie expresses the very powerful message that exploitation is wrong; and it says so in stark symbols and characters that are way-larger-than-life. Too large? I'm not sure. Possibly the visuals are so much larger that they crowd out the familiar message we've certainly heard before.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking.

(Editor's Note: Plugged In Online mentions there are about a dozen s-words, 10 misuses of God’s name and three abuses of Jesus’ name, as well as several other milder references. TitleTrakk.com reviews do not necessarily denote an endorsement of a particular movie but are provided so you can make your own educated decision on whether to watch.)

Grace BridgesGrace Bridges is a sci-fi author (Faith Awakened, 2007, and Legendary Space Pilgrims, 2010) and owner of Splashdown Books, an independent publisher of inspirational sci-fi and fantasy. She's a Kiwi of Irish descent living in beautiful New Zealand, and a chocaholic cat-lovin' Trekkie, Jesus freak, web designer, and all-round DIY gal who also takes care of the Lost Genre Guild blog. Tweets: @gracebridges - or visit www.gracebridges.com for more.

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