It was... okay? I was actually really, really bored through the first hour or so, and then intermittently throughout after that. The jellyfish-glowstick jungles of Pandora were gorgeous, and while they looked about as real-to-the-touch as you could ask for... I never entirely bought into the reality of them. (I saw the movie in 3-D, but not IMAX, if that makes a difference.) The Na'vi characters, on the other hand, did pass that barrier at times; sometimes I felt like I was watching animated characters, but other times, particularly in closeup, the hair and skin actually looked photorealistic. And all of them looked startlingly like the actors, to the point where I could actually see Zoe Saldana and imagine what she looked like on an empty set doing a particular scene. In fact, the Sigourney Weaver Na'vi looked disturbingly like the actress.
That said... the acting was bad. Really, really bad--and I can't blame the actors, because I know Sigourney Weaver can act better than that, particularly in her first few scenes. I have to believe that James Cameron, much as George Lucas did with his actors for the Star Wars prequels, encouraged them to play their characters really broadly. But... for real. Billy Zane in Titanic was more subtle than either of our two villains here. Yeah. That bad.
And you know, I don't even mind that the story was clichéd and overly familiar, because there is a fine line between stereotype and archetype, and I'll give Avatar this round. I mean, I understand that this is the kind of movie where the chief's daughter saves Whitebread from the angry natives, and then there is That One Scene Where the Hero Rides Something, and then a giant battle that they lose before an even gianter battle that they win after That One Speech the Hero Always Gives, and that specific major characters will die (and I was able to predict three out of four the moment they came on screen. There was a fifth character who I thought would die, but didn't) while Our Lady of Soundtrack Sorrow keens in the background. Look: I understand this. I'm okay with this. The Hero with a Thousand Faces, so on and so forth. What I'm not okay with is that story being populated with paper-thin characters spouting dumbass dialogue. Oddly? The CGI characters were more interesting than the ones played by physically present actors; generally I got bored whenever we had to go back to the humans' base. In fact, Sam Worthington was more interesting and a better actor when he was blue. Zoe Saldana was great; she was also the only actor who I felt put in a fully realized performance. This might have been, in part, because most of everyone else were relegated to cardboard cutouts: The Indian Chief, the Shaman Lady, the Rival Warrior, the Jealous Coworker, the Heartless Industrialist (Who Is Brought Briefly to Tears Once He Sees What He Has Wrought). And then you had your Big Bad, the smug Marine bastard who said smug Marine bastard things, and for all his screentime was one of the flattest characters of all. Although, it was totally awesome when he strode out in the giant Transformer suit and the ship blew up behind him, I will give you that. I don't know--people told me that they cried not once but at several different points, and... the only time I got the least bit teary was when Neytiri was wailing over her father, because Zoe Saldana brought it in that scene. I mean, throughout the movie, she was not afraid to shriek and howl and make unpretty noises; this is how Neytiri would sound, so those were the sounds she made. But the supporting characters... I don't know how you can have a movie nearly three hours long and yet feel like everyone else had so little to do.
And... I honestly don't know how to feel about the racial elements of the essential premise (When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like "Avatar"?). The movie hits you over the head so hard with the ecological sermon that it's hard to focus on anything else. That said... I mean, again, I understand that this is the kind of story where the hero enters a society with very different values, thereby discovering himself and what's really important. It's essentially the same story as Did You Hear About the Morgans? and fish-out-of-water comedies of that ilk, not to put too fine a point on it--slowing down and learning What Really Matters in Life. Except when it's an adventure story, shit also blows up. However... some people will say that the Na'vi, with their beads and feathers and warpaint and battle cries, embody some really, really unpleasant
(Honestly, I feel like the No One Disabled Can Ever Be Happy angle that's more offensive. Like, I understand where they were going with that, but... the LOOK, IT'S A CRIP! HEY CRIP! stuff from the other soldiers at the beginning, the constant "Meals on Wheels" type jokes, and then the idea that Jake could not be happy unless he abandoned his "useless" human body--just--wow. On one hand, it's actually kind of foreshadowed that he's truly meant to be a Na'vi; the first time we see him, his face is bathed in blue light. So I understand that the movie was trying to give us a "reason" for him to abandon Earth and humanity and his body, but... so much of that made me really uncomfortable. It wasn't enough for the movie to insist that he was Na'vi at heart; it had to actively devalue him as a disabled human. Even though those comments were intended to be cruel or "tough," Jake's actions and choices seem to back them up in spirit. I just... I don't know.)
Anyway. There are some thematic problems here, is what I'm saying. And I have to think that if Avatar really were The Greatest Movie Ever Made, I wouldn't have had brain cells free to ponder any of this. I don't know--I had so many people tell me to just enjoy the beauty of the movie, that the beauty of the effects and the filmmaking is more important than the story or the dialogue or the acting, that it's so incredibly amazing that you either won't or shouldn't notice anything else. Maybe there was no movie in the world that could have lived up to that. The very first people to see Avatar were probably the most fortunate, because they had no idea what they were in for. As for me--Pandora was gorgeous, and I really did get interested once (MASSIVE SPOILER) the Hometree was destroyed and we saw more of the Na'vi culture and rituals as they tried to deal with that. I really felt like the movie only scratched the surface of the world-building that Cameron had put into the whole thing (which is probably why he's threatening to make sequels). Basically, I feel like the Na'vi and the imagery of Pandora deserved a better movie. I think the reason we're seeing so many filmmakers wetting themselves is because they're seeing the possibilities for their own movies, what they can now do with this technology, that their horizons have been broadened. I sat there for three hours and I felt every single minute of it--I was assured that once it got going, it was a rollercoaster that just didn't stop; I ended up checking my watch an hour and a half in wondering if we'd gotten started yet.
So... I guess the ass-kicking starts... now. I'm sure a lot of people will accuse me of having decided to dislike the movie before I even sat down. I'd like to think that pointing out the things I did like would disprove that, but maybe not. I don't want to be a hater, you know? I was a Titanic hater back in the day, and let me tell you, it is really, really not fun to be in the minority when everyone else loves something. I don't want to rain on your parade. But I've heard a lot of people say, "I didn't think it looked good, but I came out a believer." So that says to me that some people did find the movie amazing enough to change their minds. I wasn't one of them. Just... be civil in the comments, to me and each other, that's all I'm asking.
ETA: What the HELL? Hospital: Actress Brittany Murphy dies at age 32.