I’m not sure if I’ve ever done a movie review in True before, and I won’t be doing them that often, but I went to see Avatar this weekend, and I was very impressed.
Over the past several weeks I saw a lot of the hype for the movie, including quite a few clips, and frankly none of it attracted me. I was intrigued that several actors who weren’t in the movie were promoting it, apparently not sent by the studio or James Cameron; that said more to me than anything else.
I have to go to Montrose, the biggest town between Durango and Grand Junction, to go to a theater. Unfortunately, they haven’t spent the $150,000 or so to equip their projectors for 3D films, so I saw it in 2D. Still, it was stunning — both the special effects that make the story come alive, and the story itself. If the film was simply a special effects extravaganza, I wouldn’t have sat there mesmerized for 162 minutes. It’s a terrific story.
Ironically, I found the next town north, the much smaller Delta, Colorado, has made the investment in 3D, so I’m going back this week to see it again there. Yeah, I’m paying for a ticket again.
So to begin, I’ll say I wasn’t sent by the studio or James Cameron; I wasn’t asked to talk about it, I paid for my own ticket, and I’ll say what I think about it. Don’t worry: I won’t include any “spoilers,” but yeah: I was part of the film’s $232 million opening weekend.
The first thing I couldn’t figure out before going to see the movie was, why was it called “Avatar”? The word means “embodiment,” and online it means a character that represents you in a virtual world.
The movie is set in the year 2154 on an alien world that’s inhabited by sentient 10-foot-tall humanoids (pictured below). Humans from Earth work there, and even with presumably better spaceflight technology than we have today, nearly 150 years before the story’s setting, it takes a five-year spaceflight to get there; the people traveling there pass the time in suspended animation.
It’s not mentioned in the movie, but the world they’re on, Pandora, is actually a moon of a gas giant (akin to Saturn or Jupiter), which you can see in Pandora’s sky. That’s entirely plausible: it’s thought that there might be life on gas giant moons in our solar system, especially Saturn’s moon Titan (even before last week, when it was announced by my former colleagues at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory that they’ve confirmed liquid there. See JPL’s press release — which includes the photo that clued them in).
The basic premise of the movie is how humans deal with the beings on Pandora. It is, in part, with “avatars”: we have the technology to “grow” bodies using the genome of the sentient beings, and humans can interface with the bodies (the “embodiment” part) and interact with the aliens (the character that represents you in a virtual world part) — hence the title.
Being in an alien body doesn’t mean you know their culture or language, though: and that’s part of the conflict that makes the story.
That’s the Setting: Now What?
I’d like to think humans wouldn’t really do what they do in this film, but history says otherwise. That’s the main crux of the story. It did make me think: would we be so dumb and (dare I use the word?) unenlightened that we’d make the same terrible mistakes again there that we did on our own planet? When I brought that up with my wife, saying I hoped we wouldn’t do that by now, let alone by 2154, she said she didn’t think we were too good at learning from our own mistakes….
There were some little things, too, that made me roll my eyes, like they made something of the Sigourney Weaver character’s addiction to cigarettes. I just don’t find in plausible that there will still be people addicted to smoking in 2154! But hey: if that’s the worst sin in the storytelling, that’s not too terrible.
I also have a problem with the way they chose for sentient beings to connect to each other to communicate. I’ll comment more on that in the Comments below to avoid any hint of a spoiler here.
Bottom line: do I recommend it? It kept me completely entertained and attentive for 162 minutes, I’m going back this week to buy another ticket to see it again, and on top of that, it’s thought provoking. You bet I recommend it!
Rated PG-13 (“for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking.”) I agree with the first part, shrug at the second and third, and roll my eyes at the fourth.
OK, I’ve now also seen it in 3D, and have a few things to add.
The 3D process isn’t the old red-green system, which is not just inferior quality, but would mess with the vivid colors of this movie. Instead, it uses polarization to get its effect (in particular, the RealD system). The theater in tiny (population under 7,000) Delta, Colorado, is actually quite nice: it has clearly been recently renovated, and the bright picture was top notch.
But the important question is, is the movie clearly different in 3D? If you have a choice, yes: it’s better in 3D. It’s more “immersive,” though I sure didn’t have trouble paying attention in 2D. Certain details stand out more, though, and the sweeping panoramas are more impressive. Pandora is a richly detailed imaginative world, and you simply see more of that detail in 3D.
What the 3D doesn’t bring is cheap manipulation. We’ve all probably seen gratuitous 3D effects like weapons coming “off the screen” into the audience’s faces. There’s none of that here. That simply calls attention to the effects, rather than advance the story.
There are a lot of films that are fine to watch at home on DVD. This is one that really benefits from film being projected on a big screen with a good sound system. Don’t wait for this one to come to DVD: it needs the big screen, and no matter how nice your video system is, your setup is no match for a well-equipped theater.
Not for Kids
One thing that I noticed in my second viewing that wasn’t apparent in the first was not on the screen, but in the audience: children. The guy in front of me brought his daughter, who couldn’t have been more than 5. Folks, this is not a children’s movie! It’s PG-13 for a reason: there are intense battle scenes, people being nasty, scary animals attacking people, etc. Kids do not belong in theaters when this is playing.
If I get a chance, I’ll watch it in Imax 3D someday too.
Note: I expect people commenting will have seen the movie, so there will be more story details discussed. So presume there will be spoilers there, and consider waiting to comment until after you’ve seen the film yourself.