British Critics Declare Avatar a Non-Trainwreck

Next week the world's critics will have their (completely meaningless) say about whether James Cameron's 3D extravaganza was worth waiting a decade for. But today, a couple British papers are jumping the gun to say it didn't suck.

While the evidence has mounted that Avatar will turn out to be a laughably earnest ham-handed quasi-environmental parable, there remains the question of how much the big pretty forest canvas 3D images and lots of shooting and fighting could drown ridiculous plotting, characterization and dialogue. Well, not that Cameron ever had anything to worry about but judging by the first rapturous reports from the UK, he really has nothing to worry about and the power of his effects will roll easily over whatever opposition there may be.

The world's first full review of Avatar, breaking the official embargo, comes from an anonymous writer calling himself "The Sneak" in The Sun. The review reads like a fanboy write-up on ainitcoolnews, and gushes

It's a 3D movie people will look back on in years to come to comment on how it transformed cinema.

In recent 3D releases such as Beowulf, the effects were impressive but the computer-generated humans looked far from real.

In Avatar, everything feels real - and it's as if you are immersed in the action.

And what action.

The final battle scene is 20 minutes long and absolutely mind-blowing.

Avatar, out next Thursday, is truly an event movie.

As he the review goes on, however, his praise contains many hidden warnings for those not as enamored of Cameronia. A twenty minute battle sequence..."A voiceover from Sam leads the audience through the alien world in a soothing, laid-back way"... an old-fashioned tale of good versus evil. It's unashamedly populist. Just like Titanic."

In Cameron/fan boy'ese, unashamedly populist = we can make the plot as heavy-handed and laughable as we like, because only snooty PhD's care about craftsmanship and competence in those people are talking parts.

However, writing with a somewhat cooler head, The Guardian, while not formally breaking the embargo, files an article, not a review, in which it reports that people present at the screening did not consider it a disaster. They write:

The film does not make you feel sick and it is not a disaster. All journalists watching the movie in Fox's Soho headquarters had to sign a form agreeing not to publish a review or even express a professional opinion online or in print before Monday.

So by saying Avatar was really much, much better than expected, that it looked amazing and that the story was gripping – if cheesy in many places – the Guardian is in technical breach of the agreement. It is not a breach, however, to report that other journalists leaving the screening were also positive: the terrible film that some had been anticipating had not materialised. It was good.

There is, though, a certain amount of suspension of disbelief needed when watching Avatar. Cynics might sneer at the plot. The film, set in 2154, revolves around a paraplegic marine assigned to a planet where brutish humans are forcing the natives from their homes to mine a precious mineral, unobtanium, which is the only thing that will keep Earth going.

So again, not that the reviews mattered, but at least, from Cameron's side, he now can have a sense that laughability index won't be at movie-killing AI levels. And who knows, maybe Cameron will pull the biggest surprise of all and deliver a sensitive and nuanced drama underneath all the pyrotechnics.

But sensitive or not, what there is certain to be in Avatar is a lot more of it. The Guardian quotes Cameron promising "I have a story worked out for a second film and a third film." Let's just hope he had a story worked out for the first one.