Friday, December 18, 2009

Avatar

Tonight, we fly to London Towne.

Last night, we drove to Khalidya Mall. That part was awful. I swear, it's like every mall designer in the UAE didn't realize that literally 90 percent of the people who would go shopping would do so in a car. The parking lot was a nightmare, so was the parking garage, and we ended up in the parking lot of a blood bank (!?) down the street.

But whatever. Our friends gave up waiting for us, as they should have, but left our tickets to the UAE 3-D premiere of "Avatar" at the box office. And so we settled into our seats, funny-looking glasses in hand, about five minutes after the opening credits.

From there, though, the experience was immersive and impressive. I know I will be mocked for this (looking at you here, Mrs. Blog), but I would even say it was moving. Here's why: It submerged you in a rich, well-thought-out world that made you forget you were in the theater.


3-D looks much better on the screen than on my head.

Yes. I know that's pretty hyperbolic. And I'm not prone to hyperbole at the movies. But the last sentence in the above paragraph is literally true.

It's not just the 3-dimensional aspect (although it's hard to imagine seeing the movie in any other way at this point). I have seen 3-D films before, the last being a kind of random nature film at the Shedd Aquarium that included a "fourth dimension" of real-world effects like water sprayed in your face and air riffling through your hair. That just seemed gimmicky.

This was, I swear, barely noticeable after the first 10 minutes. And that's a good thing. Because rather than make you think about the cinemagraphic trickery needed to pull something like that off, or cause you to duck as a randomly thrown object hurtles "toward" your face, it just established that you weren't watching a movie. You were in a movie. A silent observer pulled along into a brilliantly realized world.

And about that world. I am a sucker for space opera. I love sweeping planetscapes, multiple suns and bizarre landforms. Yet the planet that was the setting for the movie, a moon called "Pandora" that appeared to be orbiting a gas giant, for all its technicolor animals and neon nighttime vistas, seemed less like an attempt to impress with its weirdness and more like an imaginable place.

Those two factors--3-D that immerses you in the world and a world that is fun to be immersed in--are the movie's strongest points. They are magnificent. And even if you ignore the plot (which I'll get to in a sec), it's still magnificent. A National Geographic special on Pandora would have me on the edge of my seat, chowing down on Moose Crunch.

The characters are broadly drawn, and I won't get into them too much except to say that they are clearly defined as good and bad, and that the main character is truly an avatar. All the actors were fine, and I never got the sense that they were staring at a green screen as they worked... although many times they surely must have been.

And the plot. Well, I don't think I'm giving too much away by saying it's "Dances With Wolves" guest-starring 12-foot-tall blue aliens. But that's fine. It's a serviceable story with lots of archetypical conflicts that resonate, even if only at a superficial level. It hits the right notes, like a pop tune you find yourself subconsciously humming along to.

The most compelling element of the story is the romantic arc between two of the lead characters, which, I have to say, came off surprisingly well considering they were both rendered by some massive server bank deep in a Tokyo CGI farm.

Not that the aliens really come off as computer generated. Like the 3-D factor, the massive amounts of digital content don't seem like animation. They seem real--or as real as the aforementioned Smurfs of the Forest can. A lot of that has to do, if my understanding is correct, with the way that content was created. Rather than motion-captured bodies with the world filled in around them, the new technology, whatever it is, worked to capture all aspects of the actor's work, from body language to facial expressions. And it shows in every CGI sequence.

I guess that's what James Cameron was talking about whenever he talked about this movie as a "game changer." The first motion pictures weren't impressive story-wise, but holy crap! The pictures were moving! The first talking pictures... same thing. People! On screen! Talking! Whatever the hell Cameron did to put this movie together, it literally opens up a new world of filmmaking. In the right hands, this kind of technology moves the audience out of their seats and into the scene. If you just focus on that, "Avatar" is a towering, 600-foot home run.

So let's nutshell it, shall we? GO SEE AVATAR. The plot probably won't impress you. But the world you find yourself thrust into almost certainly will.

Also, I hated "Titanic." Have a great weekend....

2 comments:

Richard said...

I have been consuming reviews of this movie avidly in preparation for seeing it. We're leaving from Minneapolis for Sicily in the wee hours, so I won't get to it before we return New Year's. But I found this review particularly interesting and helpful. You are spot on about the history of motion picture development and the wonder of each new technological breakthrough. The reason I am so interested in this movie is I want to see if it is the game changer, the "Birth of a Nation" it is billed to be. I've been a fan of all of Cameron's marine archeology films, if not Titanic itself. Thanks, Musser

Richard said...

I have been consuming reviews of this movie avidly in preparation for seeing it. We're leaving from Minneapolis for Sicily in the wee hours, so I won't get to it before we return New Year's. But I found this review particularly interesting and helpful. You are spot on about the history of motion picture development and the wonder of each new technological breakthrough. The reason I am so interested in this movie is I want to see if it is the game changer, the "Birth of a Nation" it is billed to be. I've been a fan of all of Cameron's marine archeology films, if not Titanic itself. Thanks, Musser