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*** Official AVATAR Review Thread with a few thoughts from Ron Epstein

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#1 of 33 ONLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 17 2009 - 01:54 AM

Last night Twentieth Century Fox rolled out the blue carpet
in front of Mann's Chinese Theater.  It was the first time that
Adam Gregorich and I had ever been invited or even seen 
a Hollywood movie premier, but if you are going to do it right
then AVATAR is the perfect opportunity to see Hollywood at
its finest.

Prior to the screening I wasn't overly excited about seeing
Avatar.  Ever since George Lucas ruined the Star Wars series
with putting live action against an animated world, the last
thing I wanted to do was sit and watch a movie that replicated
a video game.

Fortunately, the sheer success of AVATAR  is its groundbreaking
technology.  James Cameron' s imaginary world of PANDORA
is completely computer generated, yet it doesn't take long for
the viewer to totally accept its realism.  The CGI is incredibly
lifelike to the point where every blade of grass moves in its
own individual direction as his creatures (human and Na'Vi)
move through it.

I am not going to talk about the story itself so much as I
wanted to keep this review short.  I will say that James
Cameron has written a powerful story that emotionally
connects with the audience on several levels.  Without
that connection, the best CGI could not survive on its own.

The film will satisfy those looking for a love story and
action film.  Watching AVATAR will no doubt remind you
of ALIENS with its group of gung-ho marines who ultimately
become the invaders of Pandora's peaceful world.  I particularly
enjoyed watching Stephen Lang, the tough Marine colonel
who fits the part like a glove.

Filled mostly with a cast of newcomers, I am pleased 
to say that the acting was top-notch, particularly from its
lead, Sam Worthington who plays a crippled marine sent
in to infiltrate the Na'Vi tribe.  Of course, it doesn't hurt a
film to cast Sigourney Weaver who plays a no-nonsense
scientist.  A very welcomed presence here.

For its 150 minute length, the film moves along at a
fairly good pace  There are moments halfway through where
the pace lags somewhat.  However, the action sequences
are extremely well staged,  The 3D is quite good, and
thankfully never gimmicky.  Instead of blatantly throwing
objects to the audience, the 3D wonderfully enhances 
Cameron's real and CGI created worlds.  

AVATAR is a huge success.  It's not perfect, but it 
is unlike anything you have seen before it and a huge
accomplishment for James Cameron.  Not to be missed!


#2 of 33 OFFLINE   Sam Davatchi

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Posted December 17 2009 - 06:46 AM

I saw it today in Digital 3D. I give it 9/10. It is groundbreaking and truly immersive. I was surprised how seamless the effects were and note to special effects directors, you don't have to sacrifice story and acting because there are a lot of complicated effects, that's just an excuse. A movie could have both tones of effects from start to finish and good story/acting.

I was surprised how I didn't get tired of the 3D effects and no need to remove the glass for a few moments. The other 3D feature I saw this year was Pixar's UP and I got tired several times even that it's a short movie (maybe I was tired that day I don't know).

#3 of 33 OFFLINE   Sam Davatchi

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Posted December 17 2009 - 06:54 AM

I saw it today in digital 3D and I agree with everything Ron said. 9/10

#4 of 33 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted December 17 2009 - 07:36 AM

This thread is now the Official Review Thread for "Avatar". Please post all HTF member reviews in this thread.

Any other comments, links to other reviews, or discussion items will be deleted from this thread without warning!

If you need to discuss those type of issues then I have designated an
Official Discussion Thread.


#5 of 33 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted December 17 2009 - 07:42 AM

This thread is now the Official Review Thread for "Avatar". Please post all HTF member reviews in this thread.

Any other comments, links to other reviews, or discussion items will be deleted from this thread without warning!

If you need to discuss those type of issues then I have designated an
Official Discussion Thread.


#6 of 33 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted December 17 2009 - 06:30 PM

Ron's thoughts echo mine exactly.  I also agree with Sam about the 3D.  I get motion sick on a merry-go-round but had no problems with the 3D effects or the glasses.

#7 of 33 OFFLINE   TravisR


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Posted December 18 2009 - 07:44 AM

I saw it this morning and thought it was excellent. I think the movie is a little disorienting at first (maybe it was all the info being delivered or maybe I was just trying to adjust to all the amazing looking environments) but once I got pulled in, I thought it was great. I guess everyone's mileage will vary but the familiar story didn't really bother me much because of what Cameron was putting up on the screen. After a year of big budget movies that ranged from very, very good (Star Trek) to just OK or bland (Wolverine) to terrible (Transformers 2), James Cameron has come back in and showed everyone how to do it.

I'm definitely going back a second time to see it.

#8 of 33 OFFLINE   Larry Sutliff

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Posted December 18 2009 - 11:49 AM

I thought the movie had a cliche a minute, and was a bit preachy at times. But, for its visual beauty alone, I would recommend AVATAR. The CGI was nearly flawless, and the 3-D was great. I didn't see the film in IMAX, but in a regular digital 3-D screening, and I was very pleased with the brightness and clarity of the image. Definitely the best 3-D I've ever seen, theatrically or otherwise. I didn't think the script was great(or even good), but this is a visual feast that I think all film buffs should see on the big screen.

#9 of 33 OFFLINE   Chuck Mayer

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Posted December 18 2009 - 11:59 AM

Love at second sight.

I've viewed the film twice (in 3D on a fauMAX screen) in the last 18 hours.  I did notice some eye-strain on the second go-around, but I was working on 3 hours of sleep, and I was twelve hours between wearing the glasses.

My initial viewing was a good one, but not a great one.  I was awed by the visuals and the concepts, but somewhat let down by the story.  I even had a bit of cognitive dissonance trying to reconcile the sheer pleasure the film gave me with certain misgivings.  That said, after a few hours of sleep, I got more and more excited to see the film again as the second showing got closer.  Without having to live up to "Chuck Mayer" anticipation and hype, the story played much better (though my criticisms of Avatar's reliance upon cliches and types remain), and boy was the film fun to just luxuriate in.

As I mentioned in the discussion thread, I think the story was kept simple (and even somewhat familiar) because the visual density is so great.  They shifted the risk over to the technology and process and final look, letting the story always be comprehensible and somewhat comfortable.  In retrospect, I think that was a wise decision.  I merely believe there was some more room for narrative heft.  FWIW, my favorite scene from the script was left on the floor.  That is OK.  The film pushes you into Pandora as fast as possible while still ensuring the audience is on firm footing.

On to the actors: Sam Worthington has "it".  He's not the greatest actor, he's pretty good.  He looks good and he has a lot of charisma.  His strong turn in T4 is legit.  He's the heart and soul of the film, and he works it through his dialogue delivery for the most part.  I won't say he is a cipher, but he is not highly characterized.  Again, I think this is intentional.  Jake Sully is the audience's Avatar.  Zoe Saldana has the hardest task.  She's the lead that never gets to be seen.  And she delivers the most emotional performance.  I was impressed with her work here.  It wasn't emotionally complex, but I'm sure she delivered all that was asked of her and more.  Sigourney is as reliable as ever.  She still looks good, she still is a very strong screen presence, and she still delivers.  The real find is Stephen Lang.  Most familiar as Ike Clanton in Tombstone (a weasley punk who never gets what he deserves), this role is a far cry from that...a continuation of what (some) audience members saw in Public Enemies.  He is playing a type, but he does it marvelously.  He is the villain of the piece, but he's hard to hate (the film tries and succeeds to do so, but it takes some work).  He has the best lines, the best delivery, and he's given as many kick-ass scenes as the protagonists.  I'm willing to bet Big Jim uses him again.  The rest of the players do well with what they have.  Which typically isn't much.  They exist to push a quick beat or plot development, that's it.  None of them are exceptional, but they are all decent.

It's hard to call the effects EFFECTS for Avatar.  They permeate the film so deeply, I have no idea where they stop and other disciplines begin.  I'm not sure if the game has been changed, but the bar has been set rather high.  I actually forgot about them pretty early on and just watched (or experienced) the film.  They are so good, I was seeing shit that floored me and I didn't think about visual effects.  We could discuss these at length, but why bother?  Something will come along to challenge Avatar and I can't wait to see it.

I liked the score.  Sometimes it was VERY good, and sometimes it was a bit reminiscent of The New World or other previous scores.  The New World makes sense, since that movie barely used it, and the themes are nearly identical.  Still, I was impressed, and Horner has some truly great action material in this soundtrack.  All of the technical disciplines are exceptional in this film.  That is a given for a Cameron film.  Special notice to Mauro Fiore, who shoots a stunning film.  The art direction and design for this film is also a real treat.  From the awesome military toys to the creatures and landscapes of Pandora, it's a dream come true for conceptual artists to look at.

But the rubber meets the road with Big Jim.  No director is more involved with as many aspects of his film as Jim (for good and bad).  The direction is itself is rigorous and polished, with some extraordinary shots (not all of them actions beats either).  Those are spoiler material, so I'm sure we'll discuss them in the discussion thread.

This is not the greatest film in the world.  Nor is it one Cameron's very best.  But it gets the highest marks for degree of difficulty and achievement,  It is truly a movie experience, and a reason to absolutely NOT wait for the DVD.  Or Blu-Ray.  I had a complete blast on my second viewing, and I can't wait for a third.

9/10 but my highest recommendation.

Hey buddy...did you just see a real bright light?

#10 of 33 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted December 18 2009 - 12:41 PM

Sounds like you and Adam picked a good time for your business trip!

Seeing it in a couple hours, but only the 2D. If it's as good as everyone has been saying, I will go back for the 3D version.

#11 of 33 OFFLINE   Patrick Sun

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Posted December 18 2009 - 01:50 PM

This is a review of the IMAX-3D film (not digital projection) presentation of "Avatar":

Where to start?  I was totally wowed by not only the visuals, but the use of the visuals to tell the journey that marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) takes as he, through unfortunate happenstance, ends up being the perfect candidate to replace his identical twin brother as an Avatar operator on Pandora, home world of the Na'vi, 10 foot tall blue-skinned humanoid creatures reminiscent of Mayans. 

This means Jake's mind is able to "jack" into a body that looks like one of the Na'vi, as it is a mixture of human and Na'vi DNA, but this Avatar body has 5 fingers/hand, while native Na'vi have 4 fingers/hand (perhaps the same goes for their toes/feet ).  Jake's brother was supposed to operate this Avatar body for a corporate mission, but with him out of the picture, Jake's DNA allows him the same level of neural sync with the Avatar body without hiccups and neural misfirings in terms of body control.

The film followed the well-trodden path of the Hero's journey.  Jake is literally a stranger in a strange land in a stranger body.  We swiftly find out why humans are on Pandora, and Jake's quick thinking on his feet enables him to be granted access to the Na'vi, with the help of Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), where Jake learns of many wonderous aspects of Na'vi life, milestones, attainment of tribal-like citizenship and of belonging. 

Overall, I found the story to be overshadowed by the execution of the amazing visual effects, but I think for a big budget film, it's intentional to not get too bogged down in the details, but rather settle for archetypes between sympathetic and not-so-sympathetic sides in the inevitable confrontation between corporate ambitions by the humans and the Na'vi.  I don't think I'm revealing too much considering that angle is in the promotional trailers and commercial spots.

I will offer that for a film with a 150+ minute running time, it flew by, I think mainly because the visuals are so well done that you can't help but savor the attention to detail and it adds to the immersion into the world of Pandora, with the lush and bountiful new palette of alien animal and plant life on display. The IMAX-3D was very comfortable on the eyes, and in no way called attention to itself with silly 3D poke-the-audience schtick, the 3D simply provided a beautiful extra (almost essential) layer of visual depth to the film's presentation.

Director/Writer James Cameron provides the viewer with interesting "camerawork" in this adventure that takes place on Pandora, some of it is thrilling, exhilarating, capturing the wide gamut of emotions from fear to joy through Jake's unintentional journey towards becoming Na'vi.  The care in its CGI "cinematography" has this way of selling this world to my eyes, and it's a testament to the care in getting it mostly right.  Every now and then, you still get a bit of that inertial lightness in the weight of the Na'vi character movements in action, but the motion-captured performances on the faces of the the Na'vi characters is a delight to behold, primarly because they get the eyes right, they move naturally and are never off-putting like previous efforts in this area of CGI character work.

In summary, I give the story a grade of B, while the visuals get a solid A+++, so that's an overall 3.75 stars or a grade of A-. 

If you're a fan of fantastical sci/fi cinema, you owe it to yourself to see this film on the big screen, and in 3D if possible.

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#12 of 33 ONLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 19 2009 - 04:49 AM

Great reviews. Very positive.

If interested, I have posted some photos I took of the
Hollywood Premier in my original post.  Unfortunately,
by the time the celebrities arrived (and we had a great view)
we were no longer allowed to have cameras.

The celebrities I recognized were Sigourney Weaver,
Michelle Rodriquez (very hot!), James Cameron, Jason
Alexander, Cuba Gooding Jr., CCH Pounder, Jamie Lee
Curtis and Tom Arnold. 


Ronald J Epstein
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#13 of 33 OFFLINE   dpippel


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Posted December 19 2009 - 06:23 AM

I caught Avatar yesterday afternoon at a 2D non-digital showing. Loved it! The creativity and sheer imagination on display was very impressive. Did I feel that I was experiencing "reality" when the narrative was taking place on Pandora? No, but the CGI *was* extremely immersive and realistic. In particular, the motion-capture technology developed for the film is simply amazing! The nuance of performance that Cameron was able to translate from his live actors to their computer-generated counterparts is astounding, almost jaw-dropping. The faces, the eyes, the skin texture. Actual emotion! Truly. Wow is all that I can say, but having said that I never lost sight of the fact that I was watching CGI up there on the screen. Characters? Zoe Saldana was a complete and total standout for me. Her portryal of Neytiri was absolutely wonderful, full of depth, and the beating heart of the film IMO. Avatar revolved around her. It was Neytiri who led me grinning and laughing into overlooking the films flaws and buying the whole thing hook, line and sinker. She was marvelous! The other standout for me was Stephen Lang as Colonel Quaritch. What a great badass! While his character was definitely two-dimensional, he projected a languid menace that made you believe every cliche that came out of his square-jawed mouth. Who would have thought that this is the same actor who played squirrelly little Ike Clanton 17 years ago in Tombstone? Great performance. Sam Worthington was also good, but his character didn't completely resonate with me for some reason. Obviously he was integral to the core of the story and in that capacity he did a great job, but his Jake Sully felt a little more like a contrived plot device at times than a human being. But that's a nitpick. He had a lot to stand up to in his costars Saldana and Lang and he held his own. Certainly there were flaws. One of them that seems to be what a lot of people are focusing on is the simplicity and familiarity of the story. While that may be true I don't fault the film for it. There's nothing at all wrong with a familiar story that's WELL TOLD, and IMO Avatar succeeds in that department quite admirably. All in all I thoroughly enjoyed it, and the movie affected me on an emotional level much more than I would have thought going in. One reviewer that I read stated that after seeing Avatar he knew what audiences must have felt like after viewing the original King Kong for the first time back in 1933. Did it seem that revolutionary to me? Did it live up to all of the hype about changing the way we see movies forever? No, it didn't. I feel that the film is more evolutionary than it is a quantum leap, but it WAS an amazing experience and very solid entertainment. I think that Cameron hit a pretty solid home run. And hey, lucky me has a 3D Digital IMAX theater showing the film just 10 miles up the road. Guess where I'm going to be on Monday to try and avoid the crowds? Can't wait to see it a second time!

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#14 of 33 OFFLINE   Chris Atkins

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Posted December 20 2009 - 12:30 AM


Amazing spectacle but the story never grabbed me emotionally. That's because it was too derivative of other films/stories, and because the story was unsophisticated philosophically and the characters were very 1D (particularly the villains). So while I did enjoy myself, I can't see myself revisiting the film too often in the future, particularly since the eye candy (which is spectacular!) won't play nearly as well at home in 2D.

#15 of 33 OFFLINE   Bill Cowmeadow

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Posted December 20 2009 - 06:47 AM

Saw the Film Sat 19 Dec at the Burbank IMAX in 3D.  Went with the Wife and another couple. Movie was fantastic, and the audience was Awestruck, never heard as much as a whisper from anyone in the theater.  Best time I have had at the movies in my life.  Oh, I was sitting next to Kevin Pereira from G4's Attack Of The Show. Everyone was blown away. Bill

#16 of 33 OFFLINE   MattFini


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Posted December 20 2009 - 08:40 AM

I guess I'll be the counter-point to all of the positive reviews, but I absolutely hated this film.

The FX didn't wow me like the should've, although I'll admit the IMAX 3D version does a very nice job at providing an immersive experience.  You really DID go to Pandora and follow alongside the action.

But the story was a total bore.  From the second it started I figured I knew how it was going to turn out, only I'd hoped I was wrong.  Sadly, there was not a single surprise in store.  Really couldn't have cared less about the Na'vi, the culture and customs just bored me to tears from the get go.  

The dialogue was cringe-inducing and, with the exception of Zoe Saldana and Stephen Lang, everyone was a bore. 

I am honestly staggered by all of the goodwill this one is getting.  I think it's one of the worst, overbaked blockbusters I've seen.  A lifeless, cliched bore - through and through.  

Universal, please release Streets of Fire on Blu-ray.

#17 of 33 OFFLINE   dpippel


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Posted December 20 2009 - 09:29 AM

Tell us how you REALLY feel Matt!

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#18 of 33 OFFLINE   Todd H

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Posted December 20 2009 - 10:08 AM

I saw this today in 3D and besides having a splitting headache afterward I had a good time. I enjoyed the effects and the world Cameron created but the story was lacking. It felt like watching Dances With Wolves mixed with the Ewok battle at the end of Return of the Jedi. The subtext of the movie has the subtlety of a bulldozer. Overall a solid 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

#19 of 33 OFFLINE   Tino



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Posted December 20 2009 - 11:19 AM

Stunning That's the first word that comes to mind after seeing AVATAR. It was a completely satisfying moviegoing experience. I was totally immersed in the film. The world that James Cameron has created in Avatar is nothing short of amazing. The attention to detail is astonishing. It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful films ever made. The story services the film perfectly. And the visuals service the story spectacularly. I saw it in a baby IMAX 3D theater and the presenation was flawless. The 3D was the best I have ever seen. The CGI has set the bar now for what is possible. Sure the dialog is a bit weak and the story somewhat familiar and derivative but no matter. The film delivers in spades what I wanted. I was never bored and always interested in what was going on. The action scenes were jaw dropping. It never felt preachy to me as it's message is more relevant now than ever. AVATAR is a film that is not only meant to be seen but to be EXPERIENCED. See it on a BIG screen if possible. I LOVED it! FOUR STARS

It's gonna be a hell of a ride. I'm ready. .

#20 of 33 OFFLINE   DaveF



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Posted December 20 2009 - 01:41 PM

"Avatar" is visually exciting film-making. The 3D is awesome at times. Cameron's fingerprint is clear: anti-corporatism element from Aliens and T2 (and even Titanic) is foundational, and his typical motif of weak-against-the-strong carries it along. Not "dangerous" like past action movies, but the action, when it it gets going, is breathtaking. Not Cameron's best work, but it's great, big-screen cinema.
(Or, as I said to my wife afterwards, it's a super sci-fi version of "Dancing With The Wolves". A gigantic, crazy high-tech, Cowboys and Indians movie)

Avatar is not life-changing. It's not the best movie ever. It's not the best movie this year. I don't even think it's the best 3D movie this year. But it's a must see. Because it's a visual and cinematic feast.

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