There's a moment in Avatar when the film's hero, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) finally decides that he's on the side of the Na'vi, but is spurned by his giant blue love interest for announcing his previous intentions. It's one of the most cliched scenes in modern day cinema. But for the entire scene, I dared not blink, for fear that I'd miss a moment of what is undoubtedly one of the most breathtakingly beautiful films ever made.
And that's essentially the dichotomy of Avatar. On the one hand you have a fairly generic plot (although, admittedly, not a bad plot). Someone descibed it to me as Dances With Wolves meets the Smurfs, which isn't exactly inaccurate (although smurfs are small, while the Na'vi are large). There's no revolutionary new storytelling techniques here. The script alternates from "fine" to "cringe" ("You're not in Kansas anymore" - really? They're still using that line in the 22nd century?) while the characters are exactly what you expect them to be.
Yet everything about the film is gripping. Even though the film is two hours and 40 minutes long, you don't feel like it's dragging on. And the reason that you don't notice is that every second you spend on Pandora is like an ejaculation of beauty. There is so much colour, so much life packed into every frame that you can't even begin to notice the intense level of detail. And that just keeps you captivated.
The 3D element might help, too. Despite the fact that I walked out of the cinema with a throbbing headache again, I have to admit that Avatar did seem to be a much more immersive film than many of the other Hollywood blockbusters I've seen of late. It is frustrating to have your eyes tricked into believe your watching three dimensions, yet not be able to focus on objects that are deliberately out of focus. And I'll never be a fan of wearing glasses...
The CGI is also on another level altogether. If you thought what Peter Jackson did in The Return of the King was good, you'll be blown away by Avatar. Despite the fact that the Na'vi are CGI, they've completely jumped the uncanny valley. Like Gollum in Lord of the Rings, you actually care about them as characters, suspending your disbelief for long enough to trust that they're actually real beings. The same goes for all the fantastic creatures in the film, as well as the vehicles and battlemechs. There's attention paid to every aspect of every pixel of every frame, and you believe every moment of it.
And overall, that makes it a film worth watching. Probably twice.