The second movie in a year that has caused me to write about it, Avatar is fairly straightforward. Dances with Wolves in Space. That’s how I’ve heard it. Dances with Smurfs. What have you.

And yet… it’s so much more than that because most other films about noble savages are not so beautifully done or so scientifically driven.

Sam Worthington (whose American accent slips from time to time–it’s like a drinking game.) plays an ex-marine who goes to Pandora in place of his dead brother. Because of the heavy religious emphasis of the Na’vi, nothing is coincidence by the end of the film.

Sully is the first non-scientist to inhabit an Avatar and, as a result, he is the first to be accepted into the Na’vi clan. He was going to die but Zoe Saldana’s non-Avatar Na’vi was touched by the presence of a seed from the Tree of Souls.

On paper, this is the cheesiest, most hackneyed film you’ll ever see get clearance for a $300 million budget.

But, on screen, it is an experience to be rivaled. And this experience is something that, in the theater, is marveled. However, what I am leary of is this film’s ability to play on, say, my 27″ CRT television with 1″ speakers. Will it carry the same weight? Will it look as cool?

The latter, probably not. There is no way you can take in all the visuals on anything smaller than a theatrical screen. The colors of Pandora, and the way that everything visually interacts with one another is something that should be seen on the biggest screen one can find. The scene that sticks out in my mind, and keeps sticking out, is watching Sully and Saldana’s character run through Pandora at night along a log high above the ground that lights up a neon green with each step like nature’s private disco floor.

Many things have been and will be said about the film’s visuals. And all the praise is absolutely earned. And so has the criticism wrt story. See, in spite of the movie’s awe-inspiring beauty and organic message, there are still several moments that teeter on the edge of pulling one out of the movie in favor of snickers and “zOMG did you see…” twitters.

But it never quite falls out over the edge of unequivocally shitty. It merely peaks at the edge and says something like, “No I mustn’t.” and then goes back to being fairly strong and supported by even better visuals.

Though my favorite part of the film wasn’t the 3d or the story or even the entire ecosystem that Cameron admirably built from the ground up. No, I’m pretty sure my favorite element of the film is James Horner’s score. There is a man who knows the majesty of the french horn and the perfect musical phrase for a scene–without the whimsy of John Williams. Without such a powerful score, some of the emotional impact of the visuals would be immediately lost. His score adds a certain weight to every scene and it’s something that, for me, elevated this film from good to great to greater.

This is not my favorite movie of the year because of the problems stated above–about how all of the experience will be extricated once it eventually falls out of theaters and hits home video. It really seems like this film, unless home 3d technology gets better, will suffer once it hits home video. People will watch it again, with manic dreams of how it was in 3d in the 600 seat, 20-odd speaker theater, and then be completely let down by the flatness.

It’s possible, but maybe not. Only time will tell. For now, I’m pretty sure Up remains at the top of the year for new releases.

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