Movie Review: Avatar

I have never written a movie review before, but I think the phenomenon that is Avatar deserves some commentary.  I realize that there are hundreds of reviews of this movie already online, so why not just add my voice to the noise.  After all, isn’t that what a blog is for? I chose to see Avatar in IMAX 3-D.  I did this for a few reasons.  Most significantly, I have never seen an IMAX movie before.  But also because that is apparently the way Cameron intended the movie to be seen.  So I’ll say a few things about the actual viewing experience.  First, it was truly immersive.  Maybe that’s just because the screen is as big as a house, but it did hold my attention completely.  Also the 3-D was impressive.  It really gave a depth of field and it had very few of those tricks designed to make me think how neat that the 3D is. I can only think of a couple.  Although there was one scene where rocks were flying up and out of the screen.  But scenes like that were the exception, not the rule.  So it wasn’t distracting after I adjusted to what I was looking at.  Also, I had no issues with headaches or motion sickness.  For me the screen size and the 3D were enhancements.

Second to the viewing experience, the visuals of the film bear mentioning.

Avatar is visually amazing.  That might be an understatement.  Nearly everything in the movie was computer generated, but almost all of it looked real.  The first movie ever in my life that amazed me visually was Return of the Jedi.  I was amazed by that movie as a kid because it made spaceships and lasers and lightsabers look completely convincing.  The next movie that had that effect on me was Jurassic Park in which dinosaurs looked completely real.  After that technological jump, many movies let me down visually.  The Star Wars prequels were all disappointing to me visually because so many of the effects were cheesy or objects that should be “hard” had an ethereal fake look to them.  But visually, there was nothing disappointing about Avatar.

The animation of the faces was perfect.  There were none of those creepy, dead-eyed, non-emotive faces that have been in similar movies.  Everything was perfectly in sync and believable.  You see the Na’vi and are convinced that they are there.

I was also somewhat awed by the imagination that thought up the plethora of animals, trees, flowers and landscapes that made up the fictional moon.  The movie really is amazing artistically.  It is hard to believe that the artistry came from the same mind that created such gems as “unobtanium”

Now we move on to the plot.  There is absolutely nothing original about the story.  You have seen it all before.  Somewhere I heard it described this way Thundercats + Smurfs + Pantheism = Avatar.  That is a pretty accurate description.  There is also this famous summary where all the nouns from the movie Pocahontas are replaced with ones from Avatar.  That is a good summary.  The message; Don’t destroy the world. I know it is possible to make a movie both visually and dramatically compelling, just see the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

All movies have a worldview and all movies convey some message.  But I have never felt bashed over the head with a message the way I was in AvatarIt is the most overtly religious movie I’ve ever seen. (I’ll grant you the independent church movies like Fireproof) The entire planet has a consciousness and so destroying a tree was tantamount to murder.  There was nothing subtle about it.  The pantheism screams out from this movie.

Overall I enjoyed it, and I’m glad I went to see Avatar.  I am especially glad I saw it in the IMAX 3-D.  However, I’m not going back.  I don’t anticipate ever watching it again.  The visuals are extremely compelling but not the story.