I loved Avatar.
I really did. I loved the thing. It hit so many of my sweet spots that I found myself utterly involved in it barely fifteen minutes in. Even with its dialogue that often barely manages to rise above the level of "serviceable"; even with its Cameron-style foreshadowing delivered with all the subtlety of a ball-peen hammer to the forehead; even with its cardboard cut-out villains who have almost no depth, no characterization, and no complexity to their motivations other than money-making and gratuitous warmongering.
I loved it despite those flaws, because Cameron is just such a damned good storyteller that he can usually make big flaws disappear into the background and yes, because the visuals amazed me.
I was going to write a long piece about the movie, but then I decided to just go the "randomly unconnected thought" route. So here are random thoughts about Avatar:
:: Yes, I lost myself in the visuals. The movie was just beautiful to look at. I was awestruck by one shot after another. Especially the tree that has the spores that bob in the air like jellyfish, and the way the ground lights up when the Na'vi walk on it.
:: No, I wasn't bothered by the word "Unobtanium". Sure, maybe they should have come up with a name of their own, but really -- if they'd done that, no one would remember it as soon as the lights came back on at the end of the movie. And besides, if you look at the names of some of the lab-created elements on the periodic table, some of them are just as goofy: "Californium", anyone?
:: The movie seems to paint the military with a pretty broad brush, but I think Cameron was trying not to do this, although not terribly successfully. He does make clear that these aren't actual US military (a point Gregg Easterbrook missed completely when he bitched about the movie on his Tuesday Morning Quarterback column, but I'm not looking for the link right now), by pointing out that they're hired by whatever corporation hired them and by showing them, in a briefing scene toward the end, as being not all guys in fatigues but also fat guys in crappy T-shirts. But Cameron didn't do enough to draw this distinction, so his depiction of military, seems kind of damning. (Of course, I'm not sure how fair this perception is, since in the course of the film we only really get to know two military people other than our hero, Jake Sully: the helicopter pilot with a conscience, and the lunatic "Roger Ramjet" who is the main baddie anyway.)
:: The movie is not original in the least degree, except for one idea that never really gets any kind of great SFnal treatment: the notion of the movie's biosphere as being an enormous information transfer thing. Cameron flirted with a really nifty idea there, in positing that the spiritual "We're all connected!" thing common to "savages" is an actual physical reality on this planet, but he didn't take it far enough. That should have been the starting point for an amazing movie, not the ending point. It really is "Dances With Wolves In Space", but I was fine with that.
:: In talking about the movie in his football columns, Easterbrook (again no links, because I'm lazy) kept referring to the movie as a "cartoon", thus displaying the commonly held belief that animated movies are inherently lesser works than live-action movies. Easterbrook can suck it.
:: James Horner's score is OK. There are a couple of big moments when the score takes flight, but for the most part, if you've heard Horner a few times, you know what to expect here.
:: Sometimes I really wish James Cameron would hand his script to someone and say, "Can you make this a little more subtle, please?" The movie was awash in the occasional foray into dialogue so clunky it made me laugh (a lot of the warmongering military talk fell in this vein), and as usual, Cameron sure likes to beat us over the head with foreshadowing. "Wow, that body-suit weapon thing looks cool! I sure hope someone goes mano a mano with that guy in that suit!" "So, you say that there's this one flying beastie whom nobody's ever been able to ride? Interesting...." "You can theoretically transfer everything from one brain to another? That may come in useful...."
:: SamuraiFrog hated the movie. I understand most of his criticisms, even if I don't share them.
:: For the most part, Avatar is...well, it's a movie. I liked it a lot. I had a great time watching it. It entertained me. I don't see it as some kind of magnificent game-changer, though. Visually it raises the bar. Story-wise, it's just good.