It's an experience.
This was on the big, big screen, with the full 3d effects. And it really felt different. The whole movie was built to make people feel immersed into the world of Pandora. I enjoyed it. Over two and a half hours, no breaks, and action, stereotypes, action, wonderful effects, fine actors, action, and action.
Blunt spoilers ahead after the jump...
My first impression at the start of the movie when we see the space ship with Jake Sully arrive at Pandora was a feeling of losing my innocence. What I saw there did not need any suspension of disbelief - it was out there, and it was real, even though I knew it was just a better model than many others I had seen before.
I was ten when Star Trek aired here first, followed by Space 1999, saw Kubrick's 2001, then Star Wars, Alien, and Blade Runner. Star Trek focused on the people, the story and the concepts, effects took the place of props and sets, because they were less expensive. Space 1999 was another space opera, with even more footage being reused from one episode to another. The original Star Wars trilogy tried to tell an old story with innovative design and effects, and probably was the first SF/Fantasy movie trying to create a different world, the next attempt that I remember well must have been Brian Froud and Jim Henson's World of the Dark Crystal.
Alien and Blade Runner created a credible picture of the future, not by presenting vast landscapes and beautiful vistas, but by going the 'noir' way - focusing on the inevitable grittiness of basic human life, and thereby avoiding any speculation about the advanced technology we are supposed to have created in the far future.
Avatar perhaps uses the same trick of spending more screen time on things we're not supposed to know or understand:
- We see the corporation's headquarters and the labs with the 3d high-resolution screens - so the viewer can gape and wonder how we will be doing that in tens of years time, but it's all there - obviously created by people, and we see people using it.
- We see a strange world with a strange biology - and nothing is explained - even the 'science crew' knows almost nothing - we can only watch and wonder.
And we're given plenty of time to enjoy the sights.
There are silly and annoying bits, and I'm not talking about Sigourney Weaver smoking inside. That's just a good joke on us. Smoking in the 22nd century apparently is a rare luxury (and is done inside - outside will kill you).
No, I'm talking about other things. The things that threw me out of Pandora back into my seat were things like:
"The Avatars are hybrids created out of human and Na'vi DNA"
Advise to future moviemakers - dont even hint at an explanation, unless you lampshade it. "Of course Pandora has a different genetic code, so we can't just mix our DNA with theirs..." Don't make up some fake concept that's completely off the mark (midi-chlorians?)
Either avoid the issue entirely, or make it part of the plot and give it real screentime.
The close up of a blue hand - with a human thumb
Ok, the Na'vi are obviously graceful, very humanlike, bipedal mammals, or we would not be able to establish them as in our mind as 'people'. So they have only 4 digits instead of five. They've got blue skin - which numbs our mind's eye - we don't look for detail in blue (Ever watched the sky up close?), and Cameron deftly avoids the uncanny valley, by making the Na'Vi both sufficiently different and similar to us as required for the story.
But that thumb somehow put me off.
Fortunately, these moments were few, and the movie pulled me back in quickly enough.
I'll probably want to see it again soon.
[edited to repair a broken line - Jan 11]