Avatar – part 1: seeing the film

Yes, Part 1, because I have several things I want to say about this film and breaking it up seems like a good way to do it. This one will be about my reactions and opinion of the film, which I finally saw January 15.

Getting in.

I don’t go to the movies very often. I don’t especially like the environment, less so if it’s pretty full. I have concerns with people talking and making noise during the film, the prices are silly high, the sound is often deafening, which, if you think about it, is not what sound is supposed to be. Somewhere along the line the theater people got it into their heads that walls of sound enhance the experience. They don’t understand that being surrounded by sound is one thing, being blasted with it is another. Plus, I don’t like the smell of popcorn.

Still this is a movie that has to be seen on the biggest screen possible. We went to the IMAX theater to see Avatar in 3-D, which I imagine is the best way to see it. After several weeks, I was surprised to encounter a line, but we shuffled forward until allowed to pay our $30 for two tickets, daytime matinee senior rate. I don’t know how people can afford to see many films in the theater. Once inside we were handed our 3-D glasses. We had brought the ones we got when we saw Up, but these were different. Inside, it was almost full and we had to sit in the lower right area, which meant looking up and to the left for the whole film. This was for an 11:30 a.m. showing!

I was worried about the four guys sitting behind us who said, before the movie began, that they’d seen it a couple of times already. My experience with Star Wars films was that repeat viewers tend to shout out “Yeah!” and “Oh this part is cool” and such comments during the film. I was pleased that the audience was very quiet, and no cell phones went off.

The film

It caught our interest immediately, and unlike some other viewers, I didn’t think it dragged in the second half. I admit my focus was as much – or more – on the created geology, botany and biology as it was on the ongoing plot, which was pretty predictable. So what? I knew I was going to a science fiction film, so there would science fiction-y stuff. The trailers had already given away enough to eliminate most surprises, but there were a few.

This movie looks GOOD. There’s no question that Cameron and all the people who worked on the special effects, cinematography and editing succeeded in their efforts to create a believable world. This is the best world building I’ve ever seen in a film. Still, I have a few quibbles.

We are told, near the beginning of the film, that “everything that flies, walks or squats in the mud wants to kill you”. There were some pretty scary, frightening beasts in the film, but there was a big hole, I thought. Where were the dangerous insects? The snakes? The poisonous plants, thorn-throwing bushes, the leeches? Also, this is a wet, wet world, yet it didn’t seem to rain very much.

Some people have criticized the floating mountains. I’ll address that in Part 2.

And yet, and yet… this is a wonderful film. It does just what I want a SF film to do: catch me up and make me believe, take me for a journey that’s fun and exciting, let me care about what happens, even if I can see it coming, and give me a satisfying ending, whether I believe it or not.

There are plenty of plot holes, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to criticize something someone else has done than to do it yourself, and I’m not writing this so I can find fault, I’m sharing my reaction, and the main one I have is that there is a lot to like about this, it’s a lot of fun and worth seeing, and especially worth seeing on the big screen and I’ll be going to see it again.

Next: Avatar – part 2: sources (probably Thursday)

About Rick Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
This entry was posted in Personal Opinion, Review and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Avatar – part 1: seeing the film

  1. Scott Cupp says:

    Rick – I saw this just the other day and my experience is like yours. What I like most is that now the gloves are off. there is not a science fiction concept that cannot be addressed now in a very comptent way. We can now see Deathworld as Harry Harrison intended it. Or Hyperion. Or even the RiverWorld (I discount the SciFy channels version). Anything we can now imagine, Hollywood and CGI can make. The plot is trite and derivative. But it did not matter.

  2. patti Abbott says:

    You have to see it. Visually it is the most impressive movie I’ve ever seen. It was hard to concentrate on plot with what was going on before your eyes. I would give it A++ on looks, B on plot-which still averages out to a pretty high score. I liked the paraplegic hero-that raised its plot score considerably.
    Anyone who decides to wait and see it at home, might as well forget it. They will not get the true experience. We only paid $10 at our theater.

  3. Richard says:

    Scott, when I first heard about this film, it commented that it sounded like a version of Deathworld, a novel (okay, a long story-novelette later turned into a novel) I really like. I’d skip Riverworld, I just couldn’t get behind Farmer’s efforts to make a series of novels out of an interesting idea. I hadn’t thought about Hyperion, and boy, does that sound like a good idea!

    As I say in Part 2, most science fiction plots are trite and derivative, it’s the nature of the genre.

  4. Richard says:

    Yes, you have to see it, on the big screen, preferably in 3-D, even better in IMAX.

    Maybe movies just cost more out here.

  5. Jeff S. says:

    I also would prefer to see movies in less than full theaters but even when my family went to an 11:30 am showing this past Monday morning it ended up selling out. I suppose it being a holiday helped. We also went to a Imax 3D showing. Only cost us $ 9 in Kansas City. Anyway onto to the show!

    We loved it for all the reasons you stated above. The world building was on the greatest scale I had ever experienced at the movies in my 40 years. I was totally sucked into the world of Pandora and the time flew by. The plot was weak but most films are if people really want to admit it to themselves. The bottom line is I cared about the characters and what happened to them even if I could guess the outcome. The journey was the reward not the ending with this film and what a magical journey it was.

    I’m praying this ushers us into a new age of SciFi films. Wouldn’t that be something. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Richard says:

    Yes, Jeff, it would indeed.

  7. Bill Crider says:

    Maybe not a great film, but great film making. I really enjoyed it.

  8. Carl V. says:

    You don’t like the smell of popcorn?!?! Is that even allowed on planet Earth?!?! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I am the opposite in the I love the theater experience. In our early married years we went to movies constantly. These days we are trying to be more fiscally responsible and with age comes an equally strong desire to veg at home after a long day of work, so we don’t go nearly as often as we would like to. But the large screen and the loud surround sound and even the (dreaded) smell of popcorn is what I go for as much as the movie itself.

    Everyone is correct in saying that this is a big screen, 3D event, not a wait until it comes out on DVD event. I cannot imagine why anyone would want to watch this on DVD unless you have an amazing entertainment center with top of the line Blu-ray and even then it won’t deliver like it does in the theater.

    I cannot believe you had to pay $30 to see this. Wow, is that steep.

    I didn’t enjoy the story as much as some people did, but I certainly don’t feel the need to be super judgmental about it either because, among my favorites, are many films that it could be argued have the same plot holes and writing/editing issues that I feel Avatar has. At least this is one film where I can see how it can become beloved, as opposed to something like, say, Battlefield Earth.

    I look forward to the continuation of your review.

  9. Scott Cupp says:

    Rick – The IMAX in San Antonio does not believe in bargain pricing. The tickets were $14 a piece for 12:15 pm on a Sunday. I paid it, grudgingly, but after the show did not begrudge them a dime. I felt like when there used to be Road Engagements of BIG shows like Lawrence of Arabia and Mary Poppins, I should have gotten dressed up to go to the show.

  10. Richard says:

    Carl – it’s a long story, or at least I have been known to make it one. Short version: during a Saturday triple feature long ago a kid sitting behind me got sick and threw up onto my neck and into my big bucket ‘o’ popcorn. I haven’t been able to stand the smell of popcorn since.

    As for watching Avatat at home, a HD 50 inch or better LCD / plasma, and good surround system would make it interesting, but not enveloping. Though there are supposed to be 3-D TV sets on the way, I can’t see waiting when it’s available now.

  11. Richard says:

    Scott – I guess the price we paid, for what should have been the lowest priced tickets (matinee, senior) are as good as it’ll get here for IMAX. In fairness to them, they have the one large screen instead of three smaller ones, but as long as the film is a near sellout, they’re making their money. When we came out of the 11:45 a.m. showing, there was a Very Long line for the next one.

    And yes, Avatar is a BIG film. I saw Lawrence of Arabia when it first came out, at Grumman’s Chinese in Hollywood. That was he first time I ever experienced an intermission in a movie.

  12. Carl V. says:

    Okay Richard, that makes perfect sense! I’ve had similar experiences with being sick myself as a kid and throwing up certain items and even thinking about those things (strawberry cereal being one of them) starts to make me feel nauseous.

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