From the signage of the Thai restaurants in suburban strip malls across America.

Film logo in a customized font, based on papyrus, in 5 easy photoshop steps!

Yeah, well I always thought Papyrus was forbidden, too.

Just to get it out of the way, and lest I appear ungrateful for all the hard work and groundbreaking innovation of director James Cameron, Avatar is truly an awesome spectacle, definitely worth shelling out the cash to see it in the theater, and in 3-D. I didn’t watch it in IMAX, but I was sitting in the 2nd row, if that can be considered a comparably intense experience. This is definitely not a movie to watch later on DVD. Once it leaves the theater, I don’t think there is really any point to seeing it at all. The story and dialogue were incredibly corny. Make no mistake about it, Cameron doesn’t want anything to take the spotlight away from the special effects he’s developed.

But when it comes to scrimping in other areas, the results can be downright distracting. The glaring example of which was the use of Papyrus in the credits, on the film’s Logo (a bastardized form of it, but still), and all through the film itself as the Na’vi to English subtitles.

Na'vi blue hippie cat people.

Na'vi are GO!

Battlefield Pandora

Na'vi native dress, translated into Burning Man style.

poor hair decisions of the past turned mystical plot device

Another element I found distracting within the film was the character design and the styling of the CGI Na’vi people. Though the figures were rendered beautifully and moved gracefully and elegantly, they looked… well… I’d describe it as “Thundercats go to a Psychlo hairstylist (from Battlefield Earth) and then get (un)dressed for Burning Man”. And while I am all for the idea of neuron tentacles intertwining with one another to form a telepathic and spiritual communion amongst the flora and fauna of the planet, why does it have to occur in a giant braided Rat Tail?

I should take a moment here to mention that my problems with the production design of the film did not extend to the design and landscape of Pandora’s jungle and mountain range. They were beautifully realized, lush and fantastic. Again, definitely worth the trip to the theater to experience it in 3D. During an early scene’s reconnaissance trek through the jungle, I kept hoping the characters put on some kind of insect repellant. I bet those bugbites would itch like a bitch.

*sigh*, c'mon Joss.

James Cameron isn’t the only director to see the wilds of outer space personified in the typeface Papyrus. Joss Whedon (one of my TV-making heroes) used it for the film logo for Serenity. Sure, I was disappointed, but my disappointment with Whedon was more of the sad variety, whereas my disappointment with Cameron was more of the annoyed. I mean, Avatar‘s budget was at least $200,000,000 larger than that of Serenity‘s. Surely some of that could have gone towards production design? And maybe a slightly better screenplay? Whedon’s film was largely unwatched by anyone who wasn’t already a Joss Whedon’s fan, so I was willing to overlook the typeface choice, but I figured it was worth mentioning now that it’s all over Avatar.

Still, though. Go see it. It’s pretty cool.

[some images from Papyrus Watch on Flickr and Jessie Stankey on]