It's not often you land up in the corner seat of the second row for an 11.30 am show on a weekday at a cineplex where you've once been an employee. 'Avatar' is being touted by amateur critics as 'The Matrix of the 2000s' and by acknowleged critics as 'in the league of The Lord of the Rings, with better visual effects'.
The brilliance of JRR Tolkien and the magic of his Middle Earth are such that one cannot write fantasy without being accused of ripping something off the worlds he created. So, of course, there's a Goddess Guardian Spirit, of course there are tall trees, of course there are ugly machines/warriors/Marines fighting long-legged, noble, naked ones and of course there's a twist in the end, and Five Armies come together but are almost screwed over until flying beings intervene.
But what 'The Lord of the Rings' could do with two dimensions, 'Avatar' couldn't do with three...and that is pull people into that world. Pandora didn't have the advantage Lothlorien did, but one wonders, does a three-houe (or nine-hour) movie require a thousand-page masterpiece to draw its script from?
It's sad that the importance of dialogue in cinema has declined to the degree that Batt Daffleck or whatever the duo is called, can boast of an Oscar. Look up the top hundred movie lines and it's likely the latest one you'll find is the speech by Morpheus that no one understood (until they read Sartre, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and thought they all sounded kinda familiar).
What happened to the craft of weaving words into a story? What happened to the impact of a moment of speech or silence? Why does music have to convey an epiphany every time? Foreign-sounding chants have been exhausted in film OSTs to the extent that an aficionado would be hard put to distinguish between any two. They can't induce poignancy any more than "it's not you, it's me" can be construed as a phrase of comfort.
And for some reason, hackneyed phrases that are a callback to the world we live in are thrown in for comic relief - in 'Hellboy 2', it was two mutants getting drunk and "oh, boy"-ing over a sad song, in 'Avatar', it was a Paraplegic-Ex-Marine-Turned-Avatar going, "I was kinda hoping you'd say that".
The 3D makes for a good watch, and the mountains and trees of New Zealand have been used well, but this one fails to capitalise on the scope the third dimension offers. When you watch a film in 3D, you want to be IN it, and you want people and creatures attacking you, while you empathise with whatever character you are at the moment. There ARE a couple of times when that happens in 'Avatar', but there are times when the camera chooses to focus on the fear-filled eyes of the hero or tear-stained cheeks of the heroine, rather than the causes of those.
As for the visual effects, yes, quite obviously, they were great, but we've seen great before.
Watch if: You like looking at big trees, strange creatures, modern-civilisation-destroying-nature's-gifts stories, or nearly-naked Zoe Saldana, or you are wowed by visual effects of any kind.
Do Not Watch if: You want something new.