FEATURE: What’s All The Fuss About “Avatar”?

22 08 2009

It has been 12 long years since James Cameron’s “Titanic” took the movie world by storm, becoming the sixth highest selling movie ever (NOTE: I didn’t say “highest grossing” movie because ticket prices have fluctuated so much over the years that the most fair way to gauge a movie’s success is through its adjusted gross.  This method takes the amount of tickets sold and multiplies it by the ticket price in the current time).  With “Titanic,” he got girls to come back week after week, swooning at Leonardo DiCaprio for over 3 hours.

Now, Cameron is aiming for a new group of moviegoers: the visual effects nerds.  “Avatar” has been hyped for years, and now we are finally getting to see what Cameron has been crafting for over a decade.  He has had the idea for quite a while, but he wanted to wait for the technology to be developed to make the movie the marvel that he imagines.  Because Cameron so deeply values the role of technology in making movies, I figure I should briefly explain how they are making this fantasy world.  The movie uses an advanced version of the motion capture technology used for movies like “The Polar Express,” allowing Cameron to see and control the virtual environment, normally added later, alongside the actors on the virtual stage.  They are also experimenting with allowing the actors while they are on the motion capture stage to interact fully with computer-generated characters.  The team has also made improvements to the motion capture technology, making the characters and their expressions look even more real.

The project has been mysterious for many years, and the first time that the general public really got a glimpse at it was at Comic-Con in San Diego a few weeks ago.  It was there that Cameron announced that he would be screening 15 minutes of the movie in select IMAX 3D theaters across the country, calling it “Avatar Day.”  That was yesterday, August 21st, and I was fortunate enough to view it.  The first official trailer for the film was released the day before, and all of a sudden, “Avatar” is everywhere.  Yet due to the project’s enigmatic nature, many normal moviegoers have no idea what all the buzz is about.  So, hopefully I can answer the question I posed in the title of this post.

Knowledge of the plot of “Avatar” is very limited.  Cameron told the audience at “Avatar Day” that the movie takes place on a distant moon called Pandora in the 22nd century, and the main character, Jake (Sam Worthington), is a paraplegic ex-Marine.  From press releases, we have also gathered that Jake has been selected to be a part of the Avatar program.  This allows him to inhabit a 10-foot-tall walking body called an “avatar,” which is linked to and controlled by his mind.  The avatar is necessary because humans cannot breathe the air on Pandora, which is inhabited by the Na’Vi.

Cameron showed 6 short clips from the movie in the preview, the majority of which were meant to showcase the movie’s visual effects.  The most striking aspect to me was the jungle, which features an extraordinary and vibrant color palette the likes of which I have never seen.  The scenes shown in the real world looked crisp and clear, but the 3D technology makes them look almost surreal.  The avatars have incredibly realistic facial expressions, and I can see the technology doing marvelous things there.  I just wonder why Cameron would make them look so outrageous.  One of my friends went as far as to call them “blue versions of the cats from the musical ‘Cats.'”

My main concern is the lack of a strong plot and script.  I understand that Cameron didn’t want to show anything that gave away the secrets of the movie, yet from what he showed, I saw a whole lot of action and not much story.  Yes, it has some jaw-dropping effects and awesome action sequences, but it would be a shame if all of Cameron’s time and effort became nothing more than a technical marvel.  I have no doubt that Cameron can spin a good yarn from “Aliens” and the first two “Terminator” movies, but I feel he lost his touch with “Titanic,” which I found to be nothing more than a bombastic bore.  And after seeing the footage, I wasn’t so reassured of its potential by watching the first trailer before “Inglourious Basterds” that had NO WORDS.  I can see two scenarios: one, they are waiting to reveal its intricacies on December 18th; two, they have to hit us with all the amazing graphics to hide the fact that there is no plot.  I hope for the first, but I am apprehensive that the second could be the case.  From what I saw, I fear that “Avatar” has nothing more than its cool special effects to separate it from a movie like (gasp) “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”

But we will have to wait and see.  One thing is for certain: the hype isn’t going to die down.  Some viewers from my screening went to buy advanced tickets for the midnight showing immediately after exiting in the theater.  I doubt I will be one of them, but I will probably wait in a line to see “Avatar” sometime in the first week.  Check out the trailer below and see what you think – then COMMENT!  Sorry for my constant push on commenting, but it would really be a nice contribution to the blog if I could start getting more of your input.

Until the next reel,




One response

27 08 2009

I have high hopes, but at this point it looks a bit toonish. The effects look amazing and the facial expressions are really impressive. I agree with you that the Na’Vi look almost too outlandish, as does the world of Pandora. In what I have seen in the trailer it seems that the two worlds meshing will be the hardest sell. I hope that once seated in the theatre with the 3-D glasses in place that the audience will be emersed as they were with Finding Nemo. Not to equate this with a cartoon (wonderful as it was), but in terms of totally giving in to the world created on screen.
Great blog BTW

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