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The biggest movie of all time returns, but is it any good? 

Photo Credit: Google Open Source

When “Avatar” was released in theaters in late 2009, it became a phenomenon and made more at the box office than any other movie in history. “Avatar” took the theatergoing experience to a whole new level and is seen as the catalyst for the explosion of 3D films in the early 2010s. After 13 years, the sequel “Avatar: The Way of Water” is scheduled for a December 2022 release, and Disney (via their 20th Century Studios subsidiary) has re-released the original “Avatar” in theaters for two weeks in anticipation. 

The re-release of “Avatar” includes a remastered IMAX 3D presentation, and I decided it might be worth experiencing such a cinematically significant movie in its intended format. After all, it has to be more enjoyable than a DVD. Right? 

Not entirely.  

The CGI and unique 3D effects hold up impeccably. The acting is decent, but no specific performance stands out. The sound might be the highlight of the film for me. The surround sound effects during the sequences in the forests of Pandora were extremely immersive, so much so that I often found myself looking over my shoulder thinking there was something wrong in the theater.  

Narrative-wise, the film follows a similar concept to Disney’s “Pocahontas.” While the story develops, a futuristic military organization becomes hell-bent on knocking down native forests in order to access lucrative material they discovered at the base of the Na’vi society’s most sacred tree.  

At the same time, a member of that organization transforms, along with a select few of his co-workers, into an avatar that closely resembles the native Na’vi people. He tries to make a connection with the native people in order to gain their trust on behalf of his military. In the process, he establishes emotional connections and starts to fight back against the military in favor of the preservation of Pandora.  

Writer and director James Cameron clearly created “Avatar” to send a message about environmental conversation and the importance of reducing our human footprint on nature, and the immersive cinematic experience that “Avatar” provides really does drive that message home. However, when you take away a big screen, 3D effects and surround sound, “Avatar’s” ability to connect with its audience disappears.  The story suffers from its lack of originality, and it’s harder to take a movie that feels so derivative as seriously as James Cameron clearly wants his audience to. It relies purely on immersion to gain connection with its audience, and, unfortunately, this doesn’t translate to the wide variety of formats in which films can now be enjoyed.   

“Avatar” is not going anywhere. It is a major cultural milestone, now the highest-grossing film of all time with a box office gross nearing $3 billion. With four sequels scheduled for release through 2028, this franchise has potential to grow and possibly ensure the continued success of movie theaters that found themselves in dire straits as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I think it’s great that there is such a box-office juggernaut that can ensure the continued existence of movie theaters. This film works great in a cinematic setting, and I am sure the sequels will as well, based on the preview of “Avatar: The Way of Water” shown at the end of its predecessor.  

“Avatar” belongs on a big screen with 3D and surround sound. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold up outside of that environment. I only truly enjoyed “Avatar” when I got to see it in a theater, and I do recommend seeing it before the end of its brief theatrical re-release. It’s the only way to have a truly enjoyable and moving experience with this film.  

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