Avatar ★★★★

"Netyri calls me skxawng. It means moron."

I never related to Jake Sully more than when he said that line. Well, until he became a dad in the sequel. Being a dad means constantly feeling like you're a moron, so it tracks! I love it.

I decided to revisit the original Avatar before heading out to finally catch its fantastic Dad Movie sequel. Turned out to be a great choice, both as a refresher on the story and as a reappraisal of the movie itself. I caught this thing in 3D on the big screen thirteen years ago and had a blast - Pandora really was unlike any other imagined world I'd seen on screen in its scale and fidelity. While it wasn't the evocative mindscape of Moebius' World of Edena or the idiosyncratic post apocalypse of Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, the deep attention to granular detail on this lush imaginary planet helped sell it as a real place to inhabit and willfully invest my feelings. More importantly, Cameron clearly hadn't lost his touch as an action maestro or visual storyteller in the slightest during his transition to all-digital production.

It was no instant favorite alltime banger like Terminator 2, but it was an overwhelming scifi vision that I happily gobbled up. I went back to the theater months later with my mom in tow to see the extended version, also in 3D, and left more satisfied with the narrative even if the wow factor had lessened. I eventually bought the special edition bluray which contained the theatrical cut, the extended version we caught on the big screen, and an even longer cut that added an opening sequence on Earth, where we see Jake's crappy life before leaving for Pandora. Just like with Cameron's own extended takes on Aliens and Terminator 2, the extra footage adds context and worthy character moments, but takes away from the movie experience itself. The guy's had carte blanche to do whatever he wants for almost forty years now, so it's not like the studio is hacking away at his finished products. These movies released in exactly the form he shaped them, and they flow best that way. The director's cut is the original cut. Still, I chose the extended theatrical cut for this revisit because I wanted some of that extra story stuff but without the awkward intro that ruins the visual symmetry of the movie: we open on a vision of flying over treetops before a pair of eyes fill the screen, blinking open, and the movie ends on this exact same image - it's simple but it absolutely slaps.

I guess I just enjoyed the movie more upon this revisit than I did back in 2019, when I noted that it's funny how imagining a big budget movie being *even just this* direct about environmentalism & capitalism seems fucking wild only ten years after its release. Nothing major changed for me; it just kind of hit me in the feels more, returning to that original vibe of being fully swept away in the adventure. Maybe it just helped being even further away from that time when the movie's financial success was so overwhelming that the commensurate backlash seemed all-encompassing. Y'know, the sort of accepted wisdom that this was some giant stinking pile of shit, born simply in response to its astronomical box office dominance. I get it - this happens anytime something gets too popular. But watching this sitting my forty year old ass in my basement in the dark with the sound cranked way up with none of that cultural baggage floating around, I was transported.

It's not just the 3D ("tech demo" is a common term I see thrown at these movies) or the big screen - Avatar is a genuinely well made adventure with a real sense of adventure at its core, something most modern blockbusters completely lack. The characters are in awe of this place and these people and the crazy shit they get to do, and their enthusiasm is infectious. It's a movie that knows full well it fits the definition of a cinematic theme park ride, and it tries damn hard to do the work to get you there in those climactic moments. I'm writing this after I caught the sequel so now I know that even better things would follow, but Avatar is a remarkable foundation for what hopefully ends up a consistently awesome scifi series.

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