Last week, James Cameron's Avatar became the highest grossing movie of all time worldwide; the film has now grossed more than $2 billion worldwide. For the most part, the critics have praised the film's technological merits. But I've been more interested in what my colleagues have to say about the movie that cost $400 million to make. I asked Senior Editors Mark Kaelin and Sonja Thompson if they would be so kind as to share their thoughts about the film, and they both graciously agreed. Here's what they had to say.
Avatar reviews from Mark and SonjaIntroduction Mark: I'm old and set in my ways, and I have never been a big fan of 3D, at least in its current technological incarnation. However, being the cool uncle, I was required to attend the 3D version of Avatar by my nine year-old nephew over the holiday break. I approached the movie with as open a mind as I could muster and sat down looking to be entertained for a couple of hours. Sonja: According to the numbers, I'm officially old as well, but I prefer to call myself "particular" rather than "set in my ways." I've always been a fan of 3D, so I was pretty psyched when a friend asked my son and me to go see Avatar. I filled my lightweight, cloth tote with several boxes of candy (10 for $10 at the local store vs. $3.50 per box at the theater), microwave popcorn in a large Ziplock baggie, and three bottles of flavored water. I threw the bag over my shoulder and walked right in to the theater without any problems, so my movie experience was definitely off to a good start! 3D Mark: First, let me say, the 3D was very well done. I could tell thousands of hours by some very creative people were put into the making of the movie. The artistic ability of those involved was unquestionable. However, with that being said, I found the 3D aspect of Avatar to be a complete and totally unnecessary distraction. From my perspective, the 3D was just plain annoying.
In one scene, there were little firefly-like things floating around, and my reaction was to brush them away — they interfered and obscured what was taking place on the screen. I'm sure the intention was to enhance the "magic" of the scene, but all I remember is wishing the stupid bugs would go away. I actually thought about a steamy summer evening on the patio swatting away the mosquitoes.Sonja: As I stated in my introduction, I've always been a fan of 3D, and so Avatar didn't disappoint in this area; in fact, the 3D experience just keeps getting better and better. For example, we used to have to wear those flimsy glasses with one red and one green lens. The 3D glasses that they now pass out at the movie theater are really sturdy — and while they might not be considered fashionable, they are certainly more comfortable to wear for an extended period of time (or at least for two to three hours).
I still think it's cool when objects appear to come out of the screen. Unlike Mark, I'm not tempted to try to swat them away — but I confess that I did duck a time or two to avoid getting hit by objects that appeared to be closer than they were in real life. The only thing that would make the 3D experience even better is if they incorporated smell and touch, like the 3D movie called It's Tough to be a Bug at Disney's Animal Kingdom. Imagine a few sprinkles of water hitting you while watching it rain in the lush Na'vi forest, being able to smell flowers and other plant life as they appear on the screen, feeling wind in your face as the main character, Jake, rides the Toruk (that's a really big dragon, for those of you who haven't seen the movie), and your seat literally rumbling when missiles hit the Na'vi holy tree. That truly would be an experience for all of the senses.Story Mark: The story was okay, but it was very derivative of many movies that have come before. It was your basic American Western set on an exotic moon with aliens taking the place of Indians, and greedy corporations filling in for greedy ranchers. Other cultures have value; greed blinds one from simple beauty; doing what is right means sacrifice; love conquers all, yada, yada, yada. But, it was not poorly told or plotted, and the basic American Western always makes for a familiar story that everyone can follow.
The major complaint in this department I have is the length. The movie is just plain too long at three hours. My nephew and I had to make several trips to the men's room wearing those crazy 3D glasses. Another annoyance I could have lived without.Sonja: True, the storyline was very similar to other movies I've seen, especially the animated film called FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992). Maybe it was this familiarity that also made it seem fairly predictable. However, I'm rarely disappointed when good conquers evil. This movie was no exception.
I do agree with Mark that the movie could have been a little shorter, but I'm not sure what scenes I would have chopped and left on the editing floor. Remember, I was completely set —lots of candy, popcorn, and a beverage, but yet I never had to make a trip to the ladies room during the entire length of the movie. Guess I was lucky.Technology Mark: From a purely technological perspective, Avatar sets a very high mark. Like Terminator 2, James Cameron has seamlessly integrated CGI into a movie so that where reality begins and ends becomes a moot issue. Everything becomes "real," and a new world is created, and imagination is unleashed. With the techniques pioneered and proven in Avatar, the possibilities of creating new worlds where stories can be told are limited only by the imagination. That is actually an exciting prospect for future movie-making and is probably the real enduring legacy of Avatar. Sonja: I know that this may come as a surprise to some TR folks, but I'm not really up on all of the technology that goes into the making of a film like Avatar — 3D or no 3D. Instead, I'm one of those people who says, "I'm not sure exactly what it is or how they did it, but it's super cool, and I like it!" For a more knowledgeable review, please see Mark Kaelin's response.
An interview with Avatar's director
In this 60 Minutes interview with James Cameron, the director talks about how he got started as a filmmaker and offers some insight into how he created the fantasy flick. (The interview is from November 2009.)
Share your thoughts about Avatar
We'd love to hear what Geekend readers think of Avatar, particularly the technological aspects of the film. Also, if you have no plans to see the film, let us know that too in the discussion.
Mary Weilage is a Senior Editor for CBS Interactive. She has worked for TechRepublic since 1999.