Halfway through James Cameron's 300 million dollar opus Avatar, two of the major questions I had coming into the film were answered for me.
1. This film was going to indeed be a groundbreaking achievement
2. The story was not doing it for me and I was not feeling very attached at all to the main characters.
There was a lot of hype put into the buildup for this one. I am a huge James Cameron fan (Aliens is my 2nd favorite movie of all-time) and I'd put him on my top 5 list of film directors living today (look for my full top 10 list over the holidays). The first trailer threw me for a loop. I didn't expect the aliens in the movie to look like tall blue fawns with tails. Something about it all didn't seem right. Then I saw the second full trailer a month later. The full spectacle of that trailer left me wanting more and I no longer was affected by the blue creatures (the alien race called the Na'vi in the film). Then the early reviews came and the majority of them were VERY positive. I decided to see the movie as soon as possible, viewing it at 12:01 AM this morning with my friends Jono and Omar.
Overall I'd have to say the midnight screening and the theater experience was worth it. Avatar is an epic film that needs to be seen on the big screen and ONLY in 3D. The sheer depth and detail in the CGI and 3D visuals is literally mind-blowing. My brain and optical nerves hurt a bit on the drive home after the end credits. Cameron sucks you into the crazy world he has imagined and immerses your senses making you feel as if you really are on Pandora (the fictional planet the film takes place on). The characters are really secondary to the spectacle of the alien world. Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana (who now stars in two of the best movies of 2009 - Star Trek being the other) and Sigourney Weaver are all game and give respectable performances but as a viewer, you simply find yourself gazing at the visual body of work put forth by the gods of cinema at Weta Digital. In my review of District 9 (the front runner for the JR Best Picture award of 2009), I mentioned how Weta has completely raised the bar in the visual effects department for all movies. With Avatar they set that bar even higher and manage to make a 3D-phobe (I'm not a big fan of the gimmick) actually enjoy and appreciate 3D technology. Weta makes a fictional planet come to life with a translucent gamma of color and imagery. The 3D is done very subtly too and does not fall victim to the tried and true technique of throwing objects out from the screen at the viewer for the shear shock value of doing so.
Is the film too long? Yes (I had slight moments of nodding off a bit around 2 AM despite downing a 5 Hour Energy). Have elements of the script been borrowed from other films? Sure. Are there cheesy moments throughout the "love story?" You bet. But all of that shouldn't detract from the technical achievement here. I recommend this to everyone who enjoys going to the movies in the theater.
This movie must be seen in 3D and the hook that the industry is going to love (until 3D TVs are mass produced) is that you HAVE to go out to your local theater to experience this type of movie in an optimal environment. Simply waiting for the DVD or Bluray will not cut it. This is not a perfect film and thus I have to give it 4 out of 5 JRs. Star Trek did not have the same whiz-bang effects but did have a very solid and engaging plot that puts it a notch above Avatar.
The mass amount of money that Cameron put into this film is actually justified in my book. He really did take movie making to a whole new level. Hopefully with the right screenplay he (or another capable director) can build upon this technical foundation that Weta Digital has provided and produce some awe inspiring motion pictures in the future. The sky really is the limit now in cinema and even though Avatar has some major flaws, James Cameron has done his job in changing the game once again.