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The family went to see Avatar last night, the mega-expensive fantasy epic just released by Mr. Epic Producer, James Cameron (Titanic).  Reading about the crowds, we bought tickets online, only to find out upon arrival that the show time we selected was not 3D.  A fairly easy trade-in and two killed hours later, we were seated for our little adventure.

I think it's fair to say that we really had no idea what the movie was about, and I had only read the first paragraph in a review by someone saying that due to the hype, they were prepared to call Avatar "the worst movie of the year" but instead walked away concedingAvatar that it was "the best movie of the year."   I don't have that struggle as I haven't seen that many movies this year.

To get to the verdict, it's definitely a movie worth seeing, and I would think especially so in 3D. 

First, the basics.  A soldier is sent to learn the ways of another culture who are themselves an obstacle to progress.  The soldier gradually becomes immersed in the ways of the people with whom he lives and comes to the awakening that his own people are in the wrong.

Sound familiar?  It should.  It won 7 Academy Awards in 1990, including Best Picture.  That movie was Dances with Wolves, a lengthy exploration of Indian culture and the challenges they faced as America expanded west.

The same notion is presented in Avatar, though more thoughtful speculation in motivations, causes, and effects are rendered pointless as good and evil are presented in paint-by-the-numbers cliches. 

Bad: corporate greed, the military, technology, the neighborhood bully.

Good: environmentalism, racial openness, naturalism, the 70 lb. weakling.

At its worst, it could be seen as a testimony of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants' guilt for all bad things.  It doesn't set out to make that case, of course, but it sets up an easily identified straw man to play against the better aspirations of the writers, that being a completely different race of people, the Nu'vi. 


Sound American Indian?  It's not, but they could be were they not located on another planet.  Location, location, location... is what makes this movie different.  Cameron admitted that the movie had to wait for the technology to make it possible, which would not be the case if the movie was situated in the desert, the plains, or even the standard southeastern pine forest.

Instead, take a jungle, color it with What Dreams May Come, fill it with slightly mutated but familiar beasts (hammerhead rhinos, for example), plant fantastical suspended islands above the forest, add wyverns for getting things off the ground, and you got yourself a highly capable, computer generated Roger Deanenvironment just begging for 3D release.  Or, the equivalent of a Roger Dean album cover that moves.

The 3D effects are not "punch you in the face" variety thea-tricks, but instead they are mostly used to provide depth of field.  Some uses, such as holographic display screens, are stunning.  But not everything is fully realized, and my son was correct in pointing out that the characters' faces didn't have the same depth effect as the environment around them. 

Still, it's a worthwhile movie if only for the next generation appreciation of what is possible from computer generated effects.  The plot, while not up to the task of moving this to a masterpiece level, remains enjoyable even if entirely predictable.  It's obviously good enough to make a 141 minute movie "breezy."

Now, if only ensuing efforts will provide 3D glasses that are designed to fit over those of us who are already spectacled.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars.  Plus a 0.1 maybe.

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