Comments on watching and making films.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


It was supposed to change cinema. James Cameron said this would be the movie that would turn the tide towards a whole new cinema going experience. Avatar would be what would, single handedly, bring people back into the theaters. Well, it definitely did that. Tickets were almost impossible to get for the IMAX screenings for the first couple of weeks its been out. I finally managed to get a single seat on New Years day to see the film that everyone was raving about. And, like I suspected, there was little way for it to live up to all of the hype.

Avatar stars Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, a paralyzed from the waste down Marine, who takes his dead twin brother's place in an experimental program that will transfer his consciousness into the body of an alien being. The people in these bodies then infiltrate the alien's community to learn more about them. Jake, however, is not being sent to do scientific study. He's being sent to find out what it will take to move the alien's away from their settlement, because the corporation that is funding the project, along with the military, has discovered the largest deposit of the ore that they are mining on the planet directly under that settlement. Jake follows orders at first, reporting things back constantly, and doing his best to learn as much as he can about the aliens, but when he begins to become one of them, and fall in love with a female alien named Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldana), his loyalty to the corporation and to the military, and in turn, to the human race, becomes questionable.

Avatar has AMAZING visual effects. There is absolutely no doubt of that. The mixing of live action and CGI, the interplay of the characters, the detail on the CGI... It is leaps and bounds beyond anything that has been done before. The story, though, is pretty much the same old, same old for Cameron. Some nameless, heartless corporation is trying to exploit something or someone, or both, and will do so at any cost, until a hero steps in. In fact, it was hard not to see shades of Ellen Ripley in Sigourney Weaver's scientist Dr. Grace Augustine. You half expected her to take over for Jake at some point and win the show.

And then there's the 3D. This was supposed to be the movie that proved that 3D was here to stay. That this wasn't your parents 3D anymore, and, to some extent, I'll agree with that. It isn't our parents 3D anymore. It also isn't the "game changer" Cameron and the theater chains so desperately want it to be. Pandora, the planet this film takes place on, was beautiful, and the 3D gave it exactly what it promised - a third dimension. But, one has to wonder - Does it matter? I took my glasses off several times during the film, and didn't feel any less "into it" because it was in 2D (except for the fact that the image was slightly strange because of the effect they have to put on it to make it 3D). So Pandora has a little more depth. Okay. That's great. But, really, isn't that what 3D has always done? Added depth to shots? What was the difference between, say, one of the crazy Pandora animals charging at you on the screen in 3D, versus Jaws charging at you in 3D (other than the fact that its, probably, better rendered in Avatar)? The point I'm trying to make here is this - 3D is still a simple "That thing appears much closer to me than that other thing" technology. Ultimately, until they figure out how to do 360 degree 3D, where the image enraptures you in all directions, it will only and always be what it has always been. Your imagination will only ever go so far as the screen, because, as the camera moves, or an object moves, before it can escape your peripheral vision, it is disintegrated upon impact with the side of the screen, and no matter how 3D everything is, you are constantly reminded how 3D it is not.

Now, I'm not trying to be a party pooper. Avatar was fun (though it would have been more fun had it not been two and a half hours long). The story wasn't that great, but the final battle sequence was AMAZING, and it did have its little moments. That being said, I left the theater knowing that I didn't ever, particularly need to see this movie again. I may go see it one more time, in the non-IMAX theater, just to see if it's any different on a normal screen, but I don't think I'll ever touch it on DVD.

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