Holy OMG, Batman!
My mind is completely blown.
Like… it was there, and then Laura Roslin airlocked it.
Except… substitute the prez of The 12 Colonies with James Cameron.
Now, before you even think of saying it, I haven’t bought into the Cameron fanboy hyperbole – I’m really trying to be objective here in my summations.
I’ve just come home from a 7 p.m. 3D screening of AVATAR and these are – what I hope – my clearly understandable insights.
*Thoughts On The Story*
Okay, I’m not going to go into a play-by-play of the movie because I don’t want to spoil the experience for you, but I will give you my artistic observations.
As with all of his films (except for Piranha), Cameron has worked from his own story, which I think is always good when you’re going to blow $300,000,000 of somebody’s money: you need to be familiar with the narrative inside and out, forwards and backwards.
With this movie idea gestating in Jim’s brain since he was a teenager, I don’t think there is anyone else on the planet more equipped to tell the story of Jake Sully: Avatar Driver.
To boil AVATAR to its bare essence, it’s a movie about a boy and a girl – that standard and popcorn-bathed escapist standby that has been the root of most Hollywood blockbusters since God knows when.
Boy And A Girl movies appeal to just about everyone since it connects with the audience on a deep psycho-biologic level: everybody wants to meet that 1 somebody that transforms their life, and the story of AVATAR does that very, very well without being exploitative (a degree upwards from Cameron’s TITANIC – and I’m not hating on TITANIC either… just sayin’).
That’s not to say that the overall story arch of the movie isn’t exploiting anything… no no no.
This movie plays heavily on the guilt we feel about all the crazy, destructive shit we’re doing to Planet Earth – and it grabs that guilt by the spine and gives it a severe thrashing… maybe the most heavy-handed since AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH.
However, it does it in the way STAR TREK has always dealt with real-world situations: via metaphor.
A very connectable metaphor with characters that the audience can identify/identify with – which is kind of the hallmark of Cameron films: characters that represent easily recognizable human traits and foibles i.e. greed, heroism, tenacity, stubbornness, caring, etc.
Speaking of connections, I must say that I love how all the indigenous life on Pandora has built-in biologic USB ports (maybe a bit plot-specific, but it’s one thing that amused/entertained me greatly).
I think one of the best qualities of the story is that you get sucked in and completely forget that you’re looking at something that is A) 3D, and B) 90% CGI – which says a lot because people have been hammering the hard-sell for AVATAR based on those two things alone.
Which brings me to…
*Thoughts On The 3D/Cinematography*
First off, this new wave of 3D is probably here to stay – way beyond a passing gimmick.
Yes, AVATAR is the absolute best showcase for this new technology.
Yes, the story is really sold by the 3D.
Could the story have functioned without it?
Yes. The 3D scope of the movie doesn’t get ‘gimmicky’ at any point, so the footage would translate (and has) quite well – though I haven’t seen the 2D version, and probably won’t until it debuts on DVD in the spring.
What the 3D footage does accomplish is give us a functioning window into things that don’t exist.
Is the 3D perfect?
The current technology probably tops out at 80% perfect – but that failing is purely on the display side of things as far as I can tell.
My most prevalent observation is that movement in the near foreground can’t be tracked properly from eye to eye through the polarization effect that your glasses provide – which results in a blurriness that you could compare to a really low resolution photograph, despite the fact that the image is ultra-crisp.
It can be distracting sometimes in AVATAR and was my only real gripe with my experience (other than having horrible movie watchers scattered around me in the theater).
If there’s moving vegetation in the immediate foreground of the shot, I could never see it clearly.
This could also be an artifact of the digital projection system employed to show the new 3D films – a sort of pixel aliasing maybe.
Or… it could be purely my own eye-to-eye visual acuity.
Feel free to comment below if you experience the same.
Another thing that’s great is Cameron created physical camera moves inside his virtual construct, complete with shaky-cam vibrations to create that visceral action feeling – which really enhanced the experience I think.
The major technical hurdle that Cameron and his Weta Workshop artists completely decimated was the physics problem CGI in movies has always suffered from: 3D versus 4D.
Reality as we perceive it has FOUR dimensions: length, width, height, and time – time being the measurable space between any two points.
Computer generated imagery in movies has never really captured that fourth dimension: things happen too fast or too slow when compared to a similar sequence that was filmed from real life, and the resulting plasticity of the image was always a bit jarring for me if that CGI footage was up close and personal on the big screen.
However, AVATAR displayed not a frame of this problem – and I think that’s a result of James Cameron’s relentless search for perfection.
None of the movement on screen seemed pre-planned – it all feels completely organic.
The action didn’t seem to be animated – which is something incredible considering the amount of animation done – and I’m not even taking into consideration the photo-realistic textures applied to the virtual models.
Yes, AVATAR is photo realistic – to the point where you forget that you’re watching CG.
The only times you remember that you’re watching CG is those moments where the scenes feature flora and fauna that is simply too fantastic to exist – at least to our puny, Earth-bound comprehensions.
You will believe in 9-foot tall blue aliens that run around virtually naked National Geographic-style.
*Thoughts On How AVATAR Fits Into Cinematic History*
Is AVATAR James Cameron’s best movie ever?
So far, he’s topped out with TITANIC.
AVATAR is fantastic popcorn escapism, but it doesn’t really explore the human condition like TITANIC.
Is AVATAR the best movie of the year?
I’ve seen quite a few flicks this year, and there were at least 3 that had a more solid impact… DISTRICT 9 comes to mind immediately.
However, I can say that it can go toe-to-toe with this year’s other sci-fi darling: STAR TREK.
However, AVATAR is probably the flick that kept me on the edge of my seat for the longest – and that’s saying something as I’ve become a bit jaded and analytical when I sit in the theater as of late.
So where does AVATAR sit in the Hollywood pantheon of cinematic history?
Top 3D flick of all time, that’s for sure.
Best December wide-release in more than a decade.
Best movie that takes place in the future and features humans vs. aliens that wasn’t called ALIENS (coincidentally also directed by James Cameron).
Hands down the best flick featuring CGI – sorry, Pixar (but I still love you!).
For sure the best movie featuring new A-List phenomenon Sam Worthington (TERMINATOR SALVATION was tepid at best).
Overall, I think AVATAR is the best way to close out the ‘Mean Decade’ – and yes, I have yet to lay eyes on SHERLOCK HOLMES, but I highly doubt that it will approach AVATAR in enjoyability (even though I like Robert Downey, Jr. – it’s just Guy Ritchie’s style that discounts it even before I see it).
Go see this movie.
See it in 3D while you can for less than $2,500 (starting price for new, top of the line 3D HDTV sets).
You’ll leave the theater feeling good about life – which really is a tangible something.
AVATAR won’t change your life, but it’s definitely the best way to spend your movie bucks right now.
Oh… you’re really saving your dollars to see CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKUEL?
Leave this blog and never come back! You’re banished for having horrendous taste in film.
And no… having kids is NOT a viable excuse, LOL.
If you somehow have missed the trailers for AVATAR and have no idea what the movie looks like, please view the following:
Or view the QuickTime HD version here.
UPDATE: Interesting back-and-forth conversation between James Cameron and Peter Jackson can be found here.