Synopsis: A reluctant hero. An epic journey. A choice between the life he left behind and the incredible new world he’s learned to call home. Return to James Cameron’s Avatar – the greatest adventure of all time.

Avatar 8.25

Months after everyone else, I finally got around to seeing the motion picture of the decade (oh sure, the decade’s only just begun, but who could argue this? It will probably set the tone for motion pictures for at least the next 5 years, if not more!). So what can one say about a movie that everyone’s already seen, that everyone’s commented upon and that has received so much acclaim (not to mention box office gold!)?

It’s pretty good.

James Cameron came out of retirement with nary a mothball in place: he has brought us a cinematic extravaganza that is larger-than-life – something he’s excelled at for most of his career (I think that, despite the flying fish, we can exclude and ignore ‘Piranha, part 2: The Spawning’, right?). But is that enough? Is “big and loud” enough to justify the movie’s gargantuan success?

Well… yes and no.

On the one hand, the aural experience is absolutely breathtaking. Cameron and his team have developed a detailed CGI environment like none other; the lush jungles and dramatic landscapes are all rendered to a degree that rivals the best of Mother Nature’s own. The animation is as good as it gets thus far – which is not to say that it is perfect, seeing as the CGI and real characters still don’t mix cohesively. But, thanks to some ingenious motion-capture technology, the characters’ motion is as natural as I’ve ever seen it. And they seem to respect the law of gravity – they actually seem to carry around some weight (unlike most CGI characters in any medium, which tend to float around – even when they’re in full action mode!). As for the sound, it was all encompassing – but there’s not much to be said about that, as it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.

The 3D effects were sometimes awe-inspiringly good and I can’t even fathom watching this film in 2D – especially since it was conceived to be seen ion 3D (so it would be akin to watching ‘Fantasia’ in black and white) . Sadly, some of it seemed a bit off – and this might be due to my unbalanced eyesight; I have an old prescription and, consequently, my eyes may not be at the same strength. This means that the 3D effect might not have been properly viewed by me (after all, if you close one eye while wearing the 3D glasses, the effect is completely lost – so if one of the eyes is not as strong as the other, presumably the effects will be skewed. So beware). But when it worked, it was like magic – it wasn’t as jarring as the effect of films that have been processed into 3D (as opposed to actually filmed in 3D, with 3D cameras), such as Tim Burton’s upcoming ‘Alice’ (or most purportedly “3D” movies, for that matter).

However, the dialogue was all-too-familiar. I had heard a large number of these lines countless times before in various movies over the years; it was as if Cameron distilled 30 years of pop culture into one film, picking only the most standard, run-of-the-mill lines. Perhaps he didn’t want to distract from the story by giving us clever morsels to tickle our brains, but I found this very disappointing – all I could think was that he wasn’t even trying. I mean, if you’re going to rip other writers off, you should steal from the best, right?

Speaking of the story, I felt that it was filled with very good ideas that were under-developed – or done so in a low-brow way. Granted, he touched upon very valid themes of spirituality, environmental awareness, social responsibility, prejudice, courage, …etc., but I felt that he was only skimming the surface, preferring instead to focus on the visual smorgasbord that justified the inflated tix price.

Personally, I felt that, considering the film’s almost 3-hour running length, it could have been much more substantial. Having said that, it never hit the lows of a George Lucas’ recent oeuvre: more exposition, but so horrifically cobbled together that it makes the experience nauseating. Maybe less is more, in this situation – but it left me with some serious intellectual hunger pangs.

…and, because of this, it’s not a movie that I will want to see more than 2-3 times in my life; it’s good, but not great. And you know the story pretty much by heart after one viewing (if not before!) – so why see it again, really?

This is why I have to give it an 8.25 – something I never do. If I were giving it a report card, ‘Avatar’ would deserve an 82.5% average: it’s not the best student, and it doesn’t bring you the best results, but dog-gone-it it made some serious efforts along the way and it deserves to be recognized. So, while an 8.0 might be slightly dismissive of all that was put into it, an 8.5 is also a tad too reverential considering the result. 8.25, then, it must be.

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