Dream of the Blue People

A helpful hint: if you’re going to try and see an IMAX film on the one true IMAX screen in town, you might want to get there a little earlier than 45 minutes before showtime.

We made that mistake on Saturday trying to see Avatar. Got to the theater at 2:30 to get tickets for the 3:20 show, only to find out the IMAX shows were sold out until I think New Year’s. Okay, hyperbole, but they were sold out until some completely impractical time, so we went with the regular old 3-D non-IMAX show.

If you’re looking for a deep exploration of the human condition filled with sharp incisive dialog, Avatar is not the movie for you. Then again, if you went into a movie about blue cat people on an alien planet hoping to see a deep exploration of the human condition filled with sharp incisive dialog, I have to question your motives.

Avatar is a big, sweeping, modern version of an old pulp novel. It’s Edgar Rice Burroughs meets Astounding Science Fiction meets cutting edge visual effects. In a lot of ways, it’s like Star Wars — it takes old, time-worn tropes, mixes them together, slaps a fresh coat of paint on them, and puts it all together for a fun time at the movies. I’m not saying Avatar will have the financial or cultural impact Star Wars did, but it’s definitely in the same vein.

And it pushes the effects envelope the same way Star Wars did. The facial animations of the Na’vi are downright astounding, and the look of the film is simply spectacular — this is definitely a film that needs to be seen on the big screen to get the full effect. And while it’s not the most original story in the world, well, meatloaf ain’t the most complicated dish on the menu, but when it’s done well, it’s delicious, and that’s the case here. Cameron hits all the emotional beats of the film right where he needs to, and you get swept up in the story. There’s a pretty stereotypical rallying speech that takes us into the big third act finale, and even though we’ve seen these kind of speeches dozens of times, Cameron makes it work.

It doesn’t hurt that all the actors — even the ones whose actual faces we never see — totally buy into everything. You can sell the weakest dialog in the world if you’re committed to it, and that’s the case here. Everyone has just the right mix of pulp seriousness to keep things from getting too solemn but to keep things from getting too silly either.

And Cameron makes a great choice for his final shot, eschewing what could have been a cliched reunion scene and instead giving the film a great final exclamation point and letting us fill in the blanks.

With a trip to the movies becoming more and more expensive, it’s great to see a film that justifies that expense. Avatar is definitely worth heading out and putting your hard-earned money down on. Just get there really early if you want to see it in IMAX. Like go back in time and get tickets in August or something.

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