I have never been a regular movie watcher. I've never owned a television, so I only rarely see movies on home video. I used to see movies every now and then in the theater, but my inner cheapskate almost always thought they were too expensive. And then they brought commercials (not trailers for other upcoming movies, but ads for cars, beverages, or whatever) in, and that pissed me off so much that I went from going rarely to just about never going. I think the last thing I saw in the theater was The Two Towers. So the fact that I'd heard enough about James Cameron's Avatar to be seriously interested in going, only through NPR and conversation with friends on line and in person, should be an indication that there's a lot of buzz about this movie.
Part of the reason I wanted to see this film is that I've never seen a modern 3D movie. I've seen a little (I don't think ever a whole movie) with the red and green goggles, and I never had anything good to say about it. But I'd heard that this technology was better. I had some trepidation, because I had heard that a few people have motion sickness problems, and I thought I could be one. I have a little trouble with Imax. And I was worried that the 3D would still be a gimmick, something to try to make you jump. I'm pleased to report that I didn't have either of these problems. The 3D effect was very definitely real for me, and it brought me into the world, but not so far into it that I got sick.
Another part of the reason I wanted to see this movie is that it's almost entirely done in CGI. A very long time ago, I worked professionally on state of the art PC graphics, and I knew something about the more advanced stuff that ran on dedicated systems. I haven't kept up with it, but I like to at least see what people are doing these days. I stand absolutely amazed. All of the rendered scenes, from the whole planet view from space through the scenic panoramas to the background of the close up action to the occasional close shot of an alien jungle plant, were heartbreakingly beautiful and, at least from my perspective just watching the movie, not really trying to see through the illusion, utterly realistic.
I have to divide my feelings about the movie into two parts. The movie gives us a world where the story happens, and a story. The world is incredible. Despite being a long film, there's very little exposition of the (pseudo) science behind it, and we're left just trying to see it. It is a little weak in terms of fundamental believability, but it seems to be fairly consistent given its basic assumptions. I don't think it holds up as hard SF, but as a fantasy with spaceships, I'm not going to complain. The visual realization of the world is so rich, and the animals in it are so beautifully done, that I'm writing this post as therapy because I think it's probably better than crying myself to sleep on the couch because it's so beautiful, and I can't go there because it's just a movie. The story told in that world, the movie at the level of the individual characters, is not so perfect. If you want to dislike it, you'll certainly be able to; it's preachy, it's trite, and a lot of the characters are just too pat to be satisfying. To me, it feels as though somebody put a whole lot of effort into making a really wonderful world, and then Hollywood came along and dumbed down the plot.
( Now for some spoilersCollapse )