“Avatar”: When looks matter

You know that "Chorus Line" song "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three"?

After seeing "Avatar," I thought of a version of that title that'd apply to the movie: "Looks: Ten; Plot: Three."

Blockbuster status be damned, "Avatar" is a glass half-full enterprise — or, depending on your perspective, a glass half-empty one. It looks like a dream. Its story, though, hits every plot-point you'd expect, and in simplistic fashion at that.

You might say, the visuals may be 3D, but the writing is purely two-dimensional.

The world Cameron created on the planet of Pandora is stunning.

The landscape, with its rain-forest lushness and its otherworldly color and light, pops, particularly compared to the barren, dusty human world.

The planet's flying dinosaur-like beasts, the rainbow-hued hammerhead rhino-lites, the feathery creatures that float through the air — all impressive.

One of the things Cameron has done that is so smart is not to focus on 3D to the detriment of the rest of the movie. The 3D informs the story but doesn't take you out of it with any vertiginous drops or weapons hurtling at you. And I got a kick out of the fact that the subtitles floated in three dimensions.

As for the script, Cameron writes in black-and-white, not shades of gray. In this tale of humans trying to harvest precious material from another planet, it's all: natives good, military evil.

The dialogue sometimes sounds like a parody of the kind of wooden dialogue often found in fantasy and sci-fi movies.

But, hey, maybe expecting a complex narrative with clever dialogue in a sci-fi film is like expecting cool special effects in a romantic comedy.

Kudos to Cameron for hiring actresses who are strong (Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez) instead of your average starlet who then tries to act tough. He's done that for much of his career — Weaver before, Linda Hamilton in the "Terminators," Kate Winslet in "Titanic" — and we love him for that.

What did you like and dislike about "Avatar"?

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