FEATURE: More Reflections on “Avatar”

22 04 2010

With the release of “Avatar” on Blu-Ray and DVD today, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the impact and legacy of the biggest movie of our time.

First of all, let’s go back to the movie itself.  Back in December (after seeing it at the earliest IMAX 3D showing on opening day), I gave it a solid “A.” I saw it again at the end of March, and I still stand by that rating.  Here’s some of what I said then:

”Avatar” is breathtaking moviemaking at its finest, with astonishing visuals that are designed to do more than just floor you.  They engulf you and transport you to Pandora, a land of untold beauty complete with its own indigenous people, language, and wildlife, for an exhilarating ride and fascinating experience.

“Avatar” isn’t just a movie; it is a full-scale experience that your visual cortex will never forget.  If it is the future of cinema remains yet to be seen, but it will most certainly usher in a widespread acceptance of the motion capture technology.  The movie also secures its fearless helmer a place among cinema’s greatest pioneers, and it could even reinforce his self-bestowed “king of the world” title.

“Avatar” is one of very few movies of the past decades that deserves to be called an epic.  Everything is bigger and grander than we have ever experienced before in a science-fiction or action movie.  It is a tremendously ambitious movie, and director James Cameron gives his vision every tool to succeed.  Whether you like the final product is up to you, but it’s pretty hard to deny that the movie is of epic proportions.

I think that the mere size of the movie has led to some massive exaggerations of opinions.  Normal people who didn’t absolutely love “Avatar” immediately say they hated it, and if they did love the movie, it’s their all-time favorite.  The same kind of feelings spread into awards talk too; people were either completely behind “Avatar” winning Best picture or vehemently opposed.  Very few people seem to take moderate, or even less extreme, stances.  My two cents here: it’s fine to just like “Avatar” rather than love it or loathe it.  There is not a problem with just kicking back in your theater chair and being transported; you don’t have to be wowed or disenchanted.

I do have to share the most extreme reaction to the movie that I heard of – and this is not a joke.  There is a syndrome called “Avatar Blues” that psychologists are actually studying.  Large numbers of people flocked to the Internet to discuss the depression that they felt after seeing “Avatar.”  It may not be what you think, though.

Ever since I went to see “Avatar,” I have been depressed. Watching the wonderful world of Pandora and all the Na’vi made me want to be one of them. I can’t stop thinking about all the things that happened in the film and all of the tears and shivers I got from it.  I even contemplate suicide thinking that if I do it I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora and the everything is the same as in “Avatar. (posted by “Mike” on an Internet forum)

You might not have been so blown away by the world of “Avatar” that you felt clinically depressed, but you had to have felt something.  Even if the story wasn’t your cup of tea, it’s hard not to have been struck by how intricately the movie was put together.  When I saw it a second time, I was floored by the impeccable attention to detail and just how thorough the world of Pandora was designed.

“Avatar” also brought consciousness of 3D and IMAX to a greater multitude, many of whom had never experienced either beforehand.  The movie absolutely blew away what we thought we could experience in the two mediums, and it has single-handedly been the catalyst for much of 2010’s discussions.  Because of the smashing success of “Avatar,” every theater owner is rushing to up his 3D theater count.  Our wallets have already begun to feel the pain from these additions with the soaring price of 3D tickets.  In addition, every studio is rushing to shoot their next big movie in 3D (acceptable) or convert their already complete movie into an extra dimension (unacceptable).  James Cameron has now become the wise owl in the tree on the matter, offering cautionary words to the future of the rapidly growing 3D market:

I draw a distinct line in the sand between films where you have no choice — “Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Indiana Jones”, James Bond movies, “Terminator 2” — I would love to see all those films in 3-D and the only way to do that short of having a time machine, is to convert them. Now, on the other hand, if you’ve got a movie that’s coming out in seven weeks and you wake up one day with a wind bubble saying, I want to turn it into 3-D, that’s probably a bad idea. “Clash of the Titans,” even though it made some money, has set off this controversy that we’re going to piss in the soup of this growing 3-D market. If you want to charge a premium ticket price you have to give people a premium experience. So I’m against slapdash conversion. And I’m against anyone who’s making a major tentpole movie whether it’s a new Spider-Man film or a new Pirates of the Caribbean film and they want to release it in 3-D but they don’t want to take the time and the energy to shoot it in 3-D. Again, they’re charging the audience for something that they’re not delivering.

And what about all that money it made?  Simply put, “Avatar” is the highest-grossing movie ever because it was more than a movie; it was a true cinematic event.  It was a movie that returned the urgency to take the whole family to the theater, and people were willing to spend the extra money to enhance their experience.  Once everyone saw the movie, they knew that watching the DVD or Blu-Ray simply wasn’t going to thrill them in the same way.  So they went back to theater and saw it one or two times more.  How else do you explain the movie’s opening only counting for 10% percent of its total revenue?  How else do you explain the minuscule weekend attendance drops?  How else do you explain the fact that “Avatar” made more money in its second through seventh weekends than any other movie made in the same frames?  Perhaps most telling of all, how else do you explain that 124 days after its first day in release and the day it is released on video, it is STILL in the top 12 at the box office?  You can’t deny it; “Avatar” is simply a phenomenon.

And if you think I’m finished now, that was just the impact of “Avatar.”  Now moving on to the legacy…

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Random Factoid #143

18 12 2009

You know what I hate?

Well, actually, if you read my factoids frequently, you know a lot of things that I hate.  In fact, I probably talk about what I hate more than I talk about what I love.  Why is that?  Probably because its more entertaining to listen to me talking about what I hate…

But anyways, things I hate #24601:

Theaters with no leg room.  I went to see “Avatar” in IMAX today, and they packed in so many rows that there is so room between them.  I had my friend wait in line while I went to go get some Buncha Crunch and popcorn, all the while with the need to use the restroom.  During my seven centuries waiting for the line to move, he managed to get in the theater to get us seats.  I couldn’t relieve myself toting around a bag of popcorn, so I had to go into the theater, deposit the goods, and squeeze back out.

But there was a slight problem with the plan.  My friend had plopped down two seats away from a very large man who, in order for me to get by, had to stand up and scoot back.  As soon as I sat down with the food, I knew I would feel bad having to make him get up two more times.  Yet at the same time, I could not sit through a 2 hour and 40 minute movie holding my bladder.

I had to awkwardly inch past the man two times.  I felt so bad making him get up, and I walked down the aisle muttering some idiotic combination of, “So sorry…excuse me.”

And to think, it could have all been avoided with a little leg room.





Random Factoid #135

10 12 2009

Apparently I’m still not growing up.

I mentioned in Random Factoid #87 that for a while after turning 12, I was still able to get into movies at children’s price.

Over the Thanksgiving holidays, I went with my 9-year-old brother to see “A Christmas Carol” in IMAX.  I asked the lady at the kiosk for one student and one child ticket.  When I paid, I thought it sounded pretty cheap.  I looked down at the tickets.

She charged us for two kids.

I am 17 years old and still look under 12, apparently.  I can drive a car and see an R-rated movie, yet I can pass for a child.





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. Read the rest of this entry »