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REVIEW: Avatar

Our "cheapskate" reviewer may pay three times to see this blockbuster in a theater

Sam Worthington as Jake Sully in "Avatar."

Sam Worthington as Jake Sully in "Avatar."

  • Sam Worthington as Jake Sully in "Avatar."
  • (L-R) Sam Worthington as Jake Sully and Zo Saldana as Neytiri in "Avatar."
  • Sam Worthington as Jake Sully in "Avatar."
  • Sam Worthington as Jake Sully in "Avatar."
  • Avatar
  • (L-R) Sam Worthington as Jake Sully and Laz Alonso as Tsu'tey in "Avatar."
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I was at a party at James Cameron’s mansion in Malibu a few years ago. Oops…something fell off my desk. Oh. It’s just a name I dropped.

It's one of the perks of having a stepfather that was in a Cameron picture and, hey, I want to brag about sneaking into a party at his place.

At one point Cameron took a handful of us into his private movie theatre and showed clips of 3D films he made. I yelled out, "Let’s see some Avatar.” He laughed and said it was top secret.

A few of his close friends told me, as we waited for our burgers to be cooked, that this would be the biggest movie ever. I laughed. They didn’t. They tried explaining all the new technology and how amazing it would look visually. I sarcastically said, “Spending over $250 million to make a movie--and the biggest star is Sigourney Weaver--it’ll be lucky to make that money back.”

Boy, was I wrong.

And I was really hoping it would be awful. After all, he said something rude to my mom. But that’s another story for another day.

Yes, the movie was predictable. Yes, it was derivative of so many other films. There’s a little Jurassic Park in some places, District 9 in others. A love story that’s Pocahontas and Dances With Wolves. And some Battle for Terra as well (the last film being the only picture on that list that people aren’t familiar with).

Avatar is worth every penny.

It pained me to see Michelle Rodriquez and her squinty face (she’s replaced Renee Zellweger with that annoying I-smell-something-bad facial expression department for me), but she played her part well.

My favorite performance was from an actor I know nothing about – Stephen Lang – who played the war-happy Colonel and commanded the screen.

Giovanni Ribisi, who I enjoyed so much in Boiler Room a decade ago, played the bad guy well enough. At times though, it sounded like he was talking with a mouth full of marbles.

Sure, the story is a bit cheesy at times. The script could’ve been tightened up.

But this is the best experience I’ve had at a movie in years. It reminded me of being a kid and seeing Star Wars in the theater. And probably what it was like years earlier when people saw 2001: A Space Odyssey in a dark theatre (or Clash of the Titans in the '80s; King Kong in the '30s).

So…I can deal with one dimensional characters when I’m seeing this 3D stuff that is so dazzling. And, I would’ve been the guy working on the film who bugged everyone with small details. I would’ve said to Cameron, “Can’t we have one of the arrows come at the screen to make the audience flinch?”

I would’ve asked Cameron why, early in the movie, the arrows hit the helicopters and merely bounce off the window, but hours later, in a battle scene, they break through and pierce the humans.

I might also ask why the thing the humans are after is called, “unobtainium.” That might’ve been cute during rehearsals or a table reading of the script, but it distracts while you watch the film (much the way it does when a character in some film yells out, “Call me. I’m at 555-5555”).

Your jaw will drop to the floor at the visuals you see (or should I say “probably dropped” since within the first few weeks of its release, most people who wanted to see it probably already have).

It baffles me that Hellboy II, which was awful, got better reviews than Avatar. The stories didn't seem preachy about the environment, and they worked for me. I was into the romance (rumor has it, a graphic love scene between the Na’vi was edited). Another story dealt with a Marine that lost his legs and has to decide which of the three sides he’s on.

“Magical” is the best adjective I could think to describe Avatar. I’m sure the critics who didn’t like it will talk about how formula and pedestrian a few aspects of the script are. And I immediately think about how Forrest Gump only got about 75 percent of good reviews from critics across the country.

I sometimes offer to pay for my friends movie tickets if they go see a film I recommended and they don’t like it. I saw Avatar for free in Clairemont the first time, and the following week, my girlfriend and I paid $19 a ticket to see it in 3D at the Imax screen in Mira Mesa.

And we’ve talked about seeing it one more time before it leaves theaters. For someone that’s used to getting free concert and movie tickets (and is a cheapskate), that’s saying something.