I really thought it would be gimmicky. I really wanted it to be gimmicky, but it wasn’t. True to my nature, I didn’t much want to like the 3D effects in Avatar, but I did.
They were remarkably well done. So well done, in fact, that I forgot all about it within the first five minutes of the movie and got down to the business of enjoying the movie. This has to be the highest praise that any special effects could achieve – the effects were so good that I totally didn’t even register their existence.
And it wasn’t just the 3D effects, it was the actual visuals. The blue characters were so lifelike that I didn’t notice they were motion-captured CG. The flora and fauna of Pandora were just as lifelike. The overall effect was so good that I really truly didn’t register it, and instead found myself drawn into the story.
And the story was pretty good, though not what I would call amazing. It started off with all sorts of promise, all sorts of potential for deep, meaningful character and relationship development, some of which was visible in the relationship between Jake Sully (why are marines always named like this in movies?), a crippled former marine, and Dr. Augustine. Character and relationship development potential skyrocketed when Jake, in Avatar form, meets Neytiri, the princess of the Na’vi.
But then you throw in the obligatory marine colenol, a heartless corporate exec hell bent on obtaining unobtanium, the aforementioned crippled ex-marine starting to go native complete with love story, and a cast of hundreds of alien natives that are almost stereotypical not just in their belief structure, but ceremonies and even speech, and the story starts to feel like a bit of a retread.
When the Na’vi people go to war with the technologically superior ‘sky people’, things go from the sublime to the ridiculous, and I started thinking about the Ewoks in the Return of the Jedi.
Don’t get me wrong, despite the somewhat tired story, I really enjoyed my Avatar experience. It made me aware of what can be done with 3D technology in the hands of a master, though I shudder to think of how badly that could go wrong in the hands of someone else. The story wasn’t bad, it was just a bit tired. And the imagery more than made up for it.
The story was troubling for me, though. Not in and of itself, cos it’s a pretty good story, no matter how many times it’s been told. In the words of my father, there are only seven stories, anyway. The real problem for me was that I had just finished reading this exact same story a few months ago. Except that time it was called The Soldier’s Son Trilogy by Robin Hobb.
Let me include the description from the book’s pubisher:
Nevare Burville has spent some time as a cavalry officer on the kingdom of Gernia’s frontier, engaged in expanding it against the wild nomads of the plains. He has been successful as a soldier, he is happily engaged, and he is the scion of one of the new noble families. Unfortunately, now he has to complete his military education at the King’s Cavalry Academy, which is dominated by scions of the old nobility, who have no use for upstarts like Nevare. Also, it appears that Nevare has been too long within range of the powerful magic of the shamans of the western tribes, and their influence has converted him into a sort of sorcerous Typhoid Mary—and he may not be the only one. The consequences for Nevare personally are grim, and for Gernia potentially grimmer, if a way to fight the “barbarian” magic isn’t extracted from civilized knowledge.
Sounds suspiciously like the movie I just saw, except instead of Nevare it’s ‘Jakesully’, instead of the plains it’s the forest mood of Pandora, and instead of Gernia it’s an evil corporation. The barbarian magic’s still there though.
Regardless, I would recommend you see the movie, but I think it’s probably only watchable in the 3D version. I can’t see it being as immersive and enjoyable on the normal screen, and I doubt much it will translate well to the small screen. And at $615 million worldwide after two weeks in theatres, I doubt anyone else cares.