OBJECTIVE: Watch Avatar once per every week of 2014.

WHEN: August 13, 2014, 2:29 pm. (Week 33, Aug 10-16.)

WHERE: In my apartment in Portland, ME.

FORMAT: Blu-ray on a Vizio 47″ LCD HDTV.

COMPANY: My friend, and Cinema 52 Lab-Rat, Phil Hobby.


I very much cannot stand Avatar. It’s kind of the point of this entire year of the Cinema 52 experiment. I dislike the film so much that it’s sometimes hard for me to remember that people I like and respect actually enjoy the experience of watching it. Enter Phil Hobby.


Here he is, pretending to be some guy, from some movie.

You may know him as one of the two guys who write Half Flick, that monthly column where they guess how a movie ends after watching it till it’s mid-point. Anyhow, Phil and I have been close friends for years. Back in 2010, just after Avatar had first come out, the two of us had quite a few arguments about the film; he rather enjoyed it, while I couldn’t stand it.

For today’s viewing Phil joined me, and to my surprise, despite this being his third time seeing the film, he still likes it. Having burrowed myself into a sad little cave of Avatar hate over the course of this year, I found myself only able to ask, “Why?” And, turns out Phil has an answer:


I consider myself to be a well-watched, sophisticated film-viewer. My favorite films are usually ones like The Third Man, Blow Up, and French New Wave. So for all intents and purposes, I should not like this movie: it is trite and hackneyed, highly derivative, simplistic, lacks depth, has clear, 100% simple villains, etc.; in short, it lacks most things I value in a movie. I like to be engaged, and typically movies of this sort bore me to tears due to how little engagement one can derive.


However, I still enjoy it for some reasons, and I suspect they are these.

One, the world into which I am immersed is both fascinating and intriguing, not to mention “nurturing.”  I say this all the while that I know what the filmmakers are doing. They are drawing me in with flash and no substance; simplistic, heart-wrenching moments, all of which are derivative of something like FernGully. They don’t fool me—however, they do do this with incredible style, and I appreciate the aesthetic. There are enough “cool” switches, that I go with it—the hexaped “mammals” or the bioluminescent creatures, for example. There was also something that grabbed me about a forest that acts as a giant mind, filled with symbiotic links. Something interesting as well as “comforting” and nurturing about it.


Furthermore, they do a decent job of immersing the viewer in this world. A good hour plus is spent solely doing this, in the Na’vi’s world, their way of life. This is how they got me. After so much time spent in this culture (from movie-time standards), I did feel invested in their well-being, and the forest and the symbiosis present.


Again, they have not fooled me in what they are doing or how they are doing it. But the world is just cool enough that I appreciate the ride. Admittedly, this does not make it a great film, but a great spectacle, with an interesting world into which I am plunged—which is always what I appreciated in the first place. And perhaps it was the expectations I had going in (namely something less than all this), but if one goes in knowing that it is a flashy ride with little substance (this is no Fellini here), I think one can enjoy it a bit more.

Alright, so I still don’t agree with Phil. I probably never will. But I’m glad that I spent this viewing with someone who likes the film, but who I nevertheless greatly respect. It’s served as an important reminder. Everyone’s experience with a given film will be different, and their enjoyment of it is entirely subjective. I may never understand why Phil enjoys Avatar, but that’s alright, and it doesn’t make his enjoyment of the movie any less valid. And hey, given that it’s the highest grossing film of all time, haters like me appear to be the minority.

Jeez, maybe I should stop being so crabby about the movie in general… nope. No, that’s really not going to happen. Sorry, guys.