AVATAR - 16 minutes of 'Hiawatha Meets Starship Troopers'



Well, I did get in to see 20th Century Fox's preview of Avatar which seems to have caused mass hyper-ventilation across the world's geek community.

I don't know if I'm in a minority here but I left the IMAX in Manchester all rather nonplussed by it all. OK, we know it's a big deal when director James Cameron trundles out his latest opus cos honestly he's one of the few, along with Robert Zemeckis and Peter Jackson, who stretch the capabilities of cinema technology. But you know, I don't think 3D is yet quite the holy grail film directors and production companies actually believe it to be.



Don't get me wrong, what I saw promises to be an interesting and spectacular James Cameron film. Just not in 3D perhaps. I'll happily watch this in 2D on an IMAX screen because even whilst watching the 16 minutes of footage in 3D I felt the process was constantly jerking me out of actually settling down and enjoying the film. Very fast movement through the film plane still results in a juddering motion that can't fool the eye. There are some very nice uses of multi-plane and perspective that do just about fool you into believing you are in the same room with the characters. But the action sequences, spectacular as they are, don't quite reproduce in the same way and often descend into barely comprehensible images.



The CGI is probably some of the best I've seen and will look impressive either in 2D or 3D but...it still looks and feels like CGI and the later portions of the preview when the characters are on the planet surface struck me as akin to a very sophisticated Pixar film with environments and characters having an unreality about them. Even here, 3D is still coming across as a pretentious gimmick and I still think major developments are to come and I get the feeling that Cameron is simply synthesising everything that's available and is just using better equipment. All the claims that he's about to revolutionise cinema are quite honestly horseshit. 3D certainly is developing rapidly and James Cameron will no doubt be the film-maker who may be able to demonstrate some finesse with the technology and push the medium ahead and he'll influence major directors to adopt the 3D system (Ridley Scott is already looking at making Forever War in 3D).

Cameron knows there are issues and has, rightly, been arguing that movies have to play well in both 2D and 3D and that the story is the be all and end all whether the film is shot silently or in super-duper 3D. So, I hope the story and characters of Avatar are enough to satisfy our appetites. The difficulty is that directors will need to think carefully about making their movies in 3D because they are made differently than 2D movies and 3D insists that editing is paced slower because the human eye and brain struggles to process stereoscopic images as fast.

The other baffling thing was that the 7pm showing of the preview in Manchester was actually two thirds empty. I reckon about 100-200 people saw those 16 minutes at 7pm. If this film is sooooo amazing then where was everybody?



Anyway, what did we get? After a huge 3D version of Cameron smarmily introduced the film, we got a few sequences with the military and scientists, presumably in their base on Pandora, and an introduction to Sam Worthington as the central character Jake Sully. All very Starship Full Metal Jacket Troopers but without the satire. We then get to see Jake Sully inhabit one of the very tall blue alien avatars via some neural rig and create havoc in the medical bay. It's a really good sequence and the CGI is impressive and realistic.

We then got to see an extended version of the scenes in the jungle where Jake and the landing party, all in their alien blue avatars, are attacked by a herd of very colourful dinosaurs. Again, it's fantastic but only slightly more impressive than some of the superlative CGI we've seen in King Kong or the Lord Of The Rings. You do have to keep pinching yourself from here on in because you realise that everything you're seeing is made in a computer - the jungle, the blue aliens, the creatures - and it's likely the very best that technology can currently provide. Many of the comments about the colour palette being Disney-esque are not far off the mark. It's an assault on the senses.



This is taken to the ultimate degree in a later scene where, after Sully is rescued by a native of Pandora, Neytiri played by lovely Zoe Saldana, she puts out the camp fire he's started in the jungle to reveal that he doesn't need firelight. The entire jungle is bioluminescent and bursts into life. Again, very eye catching.

Sully is initiated into Neytiri's tribe through his ability to capture and tame one of the big flying lizards that the tribe use to fly around the jungles. Well executed, fantastic effects, eye popping colour but again it's not the huge advance in image creation that I was expecting.

The preview closed with a montage of images, more or less what was in the trailer, of the clash between the machines of the humans and the tribespeople on their flying lizards. It comes across as a sort of Apocalypse Now written by Edgar Rice Burroughs or H. Rider Haggard.

Which sort of left me feeling...very nice, but the 3D is still just a gimmick and is the least effective part of the film, and I'll reserve judgement on the rest of it until December.

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One Response to “AVATAR - 16 minutes of 'Hiawatha Meets Starship Troopers'”
  1. Have to say I agree with your comments re the gimmicky nature of 3D. I've only seen a few clips from Avatar and, as you say, it looks a bit like a Pixar movie to me. But 3D is just one big gimmick and the risk is always going to be that film-makers will become so obsessed with throwing/jabbing/hurling things towards the audience that the actual business of story-telling will take second place (if it hasn't already) and that the audience will become so immersed in the 3D-ness of the film they'll not be paying attention to what's actually happening. I'm more concerned about the effect this will have on story-tellers and the potential this has to create films which exist only to show off how clever they look rather than how good their story is.

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