I thought King Kong was amazing in the theatres. When I watched it at home on DVD, I lost interest halfway through. It felt sagging, bloated. Dark Knight blew my mind on Imax, but when I got it home the dialogue felt wooden and speechy, the structure confused.
You see where I’m going with this.
Avatar, in the theatre, in 3D, is an experience I’d recommend to anyone, even though it may well result in headaches and exhaustion. Your optic nerve gets a real workout. The visual richness of every frame is heightened by the 3D in a way that makes my other 3D experiences – Final Destination, Up, Ice Age 3, Dr. Tongue’s 3D House of Slave Chicks) – seem like cheap parlour tricks. It wasn’t just action (although there was plenty of that), there was beauty, wonder. My Avatar-mates and I all admitted to tearing up at some point during the proceedings.
The sheer CGI-ness of the thing is also overwhelming. This film is essentially set in the Uncanny Valley, yet as a tale of exotic adventurism, of failed conquest of the irrational, of getting outside your body and putting on a new skin, it certainly works. By the end of it, the humans were the ones that looked weird. Avatar will be a legendary drug movie for some time to come. (And no, I’m not saying I was high seeing it, although I kind of felt like it after.)
But will it be celebrated as much as some of the more gushing reviews would have you believe?
In order to answer that, we’d have to answer my opening question: which is the true experience, the 3D Imax blowout or watching it at home on DVD or even Blu-Ray? The practical answer is the latter experience, as ever since VHS took root, home theatre revenues have dwarfed theatrical box office. If a movie is the sum of all its viewings, Avatar’s cracks will show up. Its stock, underdeveloped characters, its all-too-angelic indigenous peoples, its blunt allegory, its “Unobtanium”. I’d say it’s the worst Cameron script, which isn’t really much of an insult, but still.
But if we are allowed to be idealists, optimists, to judge a movie in the best possible light in which it can be seen – which for Avatar involves kooky glasses – we might well see it as a glowing blue planetful of awesomeness.