It takes a really special movie for me to get out of the house and make it to the theater. Having two children under 2 years old will do that to you. It is always hard finding a babysitter, and it is even harder for me to ditch the wife with the two young ones while I run off to see a movie (ESPECIALLY since she is a big movie-watcher herself).
But this weekend I got the "green-light" to go see AVATAR. And it was worth it.
I went with some friends to see it at the local IMAX in 3D. (The ONLY way to see this movie in my opinion). I got the tickets several days in advance because I knew it would be a sell-out. Got there 45 minutes early to make sure I wouldn't be straining my neck in the first row. There was already a line a mile long to get into the theater (I ended up sitting in the back row - still not as bad as the front). I think "blockbuster" is a given on this one.
The film is an amazing achievement technically. The alien world looks completely real, and is a feast of visuals and imagination. It isn't like the forest of Endor - the planet Pandora is completely alien - alien plants, alien trees. And every scene is peppered with alien life - insects, lizards and small animals are injected to add fascinating detail.
AVATAR is the future. Much like TOY STORY ushered in a new standard of animated film, I too believe AVATAR is going to change how fantasy movies are made. The key is in how life-like the aliens (the Na'vi) of Pandora appear. You may only see a movie like AVATAR once a year because it is too expensive, but I can see all special effect films expanding on its motion capture technology - particularly in how it was able to create faces with real expression. Gone are the "clay" and "stiff" emotions of characters in films like BEOWULF. AVATAR is putting actors in real digital "suits". I don't think we'll ever see a puppet again (sorry, Yoda).
The 3D didn't impress me as much as I thought it would. At times I found it a little distracting - so maybe 3D is better when you don't know it is there - when it is "immersive". I can tell you that the best moments of the 3D was when characters found themselves at tremendous heights looking out into empty space. The 3D coupled with the IMAX screen can make someone with a fear of heights a little nervous - it was a spectacular effect.
The greatness of AVATAR is purely within its technical achievement - much like STAR WARS. The story itself was good enough - kind of a space version of DANCES WITH WOLVES - and it kept me interested and entertained. The acting was good, too - and it was nice to see Sigourney Weaver playing a cranky scientist.
I would call this film a must-see "amusement park ride", and probably the closest I'll ever get to actually visiting an alien planet - which is probably exactly what James Cameron was going for.