There will be two Avatar posts. This is a filmgoing experience review. My 2nd will be driving trucks through holes in the movie and critiquing the criticism I have read elsewhere.
The Mrs. and I saw Avatar in a 3D Imax theater tonight. Stadium seating, surround sound and an oversized screen were in this theater. The 3D glass were not the cool wrap around your temples so you have a total 3D experience, they were squared off so the big screen had a few things on the edges not 3D styled unless you moved your head slightly. As far as an experience, I would love to see films release 3D versions like this in the future. I can only imagine how awesome a space battle would look in 3D. The sound was not at an ear splitting level, so you won't walk out deaf. It's a good experience.
Visually this is the most beautiful movie I have seen. This is not beauty in the manner of the transformation and kiss 360 degree spin scene from "Vertigo". This is beauty in imagination of a world, creatures and fauna, and execution of the look to trick you into thinking you are watching live action. The CGI was so amazing that you forget you are watching fricking computer code on the screen. They did a fantastic job making it look good. The plant life was the best visual part of the movie. The different things dreamed up are cool. I can see why Avatards want to die and be reborn on the planet Pandora (realist right, die and be reborn on a world imagined by James Cameron). The aliens are humanoid enough to look interesting but not too freaky. Downside to all of this creativity, they ran out of ideas with animals and just said "think of Earth animals - - - just add extra eyes & legs". Despite the joke alien animals, this is a wonderful playground of a setting. The execution is top notch.
The story is terrible. This is Pocahontas in Space. Please go to that link as it's Avatar in a nutshell. This is a first contact story and told in a horrible fashion. We don't get to see the first contact, we're seeing after the fact but it's still early in the relationship. You can see everything happen a mile away, you need to suspend your disbelief on not just alien contact but human idiocy when first contact happens and we have superior tech & firepower, and you will laugh at some dialogue. I first looked at my watch 1 hour in. It is that bad. I would whisper to my wife that X would happen and looky loo it would. It shocked me to see aliens that plug their tendrils into everything NOT plug their tendrils into each other when they get it on. HELLO?!?!??! These connected people somehow don't connect their tendrils when they perform a beautiful act together, but they do plug in tendrils when riding horses, dragons and listening to trees. The story's corporate part had a purpose & could have been brilliant, but Cameron got lazy with the Giovanni Ribisi character. That could have been a much better character, but instead it seemed like a 2D carboard cut out of a corporate jr exec that someone who never worked in a corporation would imagine. The security forces were cookie cutter stereotypes, the aliens were noble savage stereotypes, and this leads me to my next point.
Why even write humans in at all? An all alien story on an alien world would have been fine. Adding in people actually dragged down the story. Cameron also then just used the aliens to portray the noble savage type rather than flesh them out with an ethic and morality that doesn't feel like the most overromanticized view of American Indians. Oddly, I found myself bored and less interested when I saw the humans. Having the aliens be the home team and the first astronauts being the newbies would have been better. This would have been like carving out the Sigourney Weaver character and her crowd as the only humans, but making them totally ignorant and much more curious. It was a bit odd seeing some humans acting like this was old hat when it is a first contact story for the viewers. This does set up a perfect prequel story though of having a true first contact movie. Rest assured, this will become a franchise.
I would recommend this for the experience, but turn your brain off and just let your eyeballs eat it up.