Once upon a time I got into lots of movie screenings so I could talk about movies before they came out. Now I'm lucky if I see them when they've only been out two weeks.
When I first Avatar trailer came out it was accompanied by a chorus of people proclaiming that it's the greatest movie ever, a masterpiece, a revolution in technology and storytelling, etc. etc. etc.
When the second trailer came out and we actually got a hint to what the story would be, the chorus became subdued. "Oh, well, it should still be a good movie."
My attitude was the opposite. I saw the first trailer and wasn't at all impressed. It looked to be "CGI - The Movie". The second trailer made it look worth seeing, but not overly excited.
Now, I've seen the movie. Now, I can make a proper judgement. Now, I have a mental image of Sigourney Weaver lying naked, except for some vines, on a blue mat so they can drop millions of dollars of CGI behind her.
We saw the 3D version. I can take or leave 3D movies. They don't excite me. But I'll grant them a few points in this movie. The bugs and the rear view mirror in the battlemech were kinda cool.
If you've seen "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" or "Final Flight of the Osiris" (from The Animatrix) you've seen how far we've come in creating CGI people. In "Final Fantasy" they did a good job, but they're still clearly computer generated. In "Final Flight of the Osiris" there are points where you'd believe they were real and other points where they clearly aren't. People are hard. This movie tries really hard and then makes them non-human enough that you can forget the aliens are digital.
Comparisons to Star Wars refer to the leap in special effects that movie created for others to try to match. And, possibly, the belief that once we have good CGI people Lucas will make Episodes 7, 8, & 9 with digital Luke, Leia, and Han.
The storyline isn't terribly original. It feels like Dune, Braveheart, and Dances With Wolves.
What we have is a native people sitting on a valuable mineral deposit that people with access to a large military force wish to take. Researchers have created replicas of the natives that certain people can take control of and use to visit the natives. There's an interesting parallel where the natives can attach a tendril of their own brain to some native fauna and take control of them.
After one of the researchers dies his crippled, ex-military, brother is picked to replace him. The alien avatar body is tuned to specific genomes and the military brother is close enough for government work.
Of course, he meets the natives, gains their trust, becomes one of them, and leads a revolt to fight back the military forces.
What impressed me the most was the mechwarrior bay. It looks like a machine shop and parking garage for mechs. People are walking all over the place on foot and in mechs. I just saw it and knew it was done right. That's how it should look and previous sci-fi shows never really pulled off.
I do recommend seeing this movie. Not sure if I'll actually get it on DVD, but I'm leaning towards not.