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Archive for January 11th, 2010

My wife and I went to James Cameron’s Avatar for her birthday recently.  I just had a couple of things to mention about it:

  1. My wife liked it.  She really liked the 3D aspect; it reminded her of the fun of experiencing 3D movies as a kid in Disneyland.  She’d like to visit Pandora, albeit via an Avatar, perhaps, for safety’s sake.
  2. tvtropes has plenty to say about it.
  3. I consider it to be Art, but don’t think highly of it as a film.  I still like it.

Let me expand on 3 a little.

I really like what they did with the visuals of the movie.  The 3D was good when it wasn’t broken, since it was more atmospheric and spatial than a mere gimmick.  The art direction is solid, with consistent visual appeal.  The world is lush and interesting.  The characters are actually my favorite part, because they feel plausible.  The animation and characterization is excellent; they don’t feel animated, they feel alive.

Compare the characters to those in the Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within movie.  The difference in static appearance isn’t much (stills from either film read pretty well compared to each other), but the Avatar characters move more plausibly, complete with imbalances, personality and body language.  I’m not sure whether this is a leap in motion capture or animation technique and technology (or just more money thrown at an issue), but there is a marked difference between Jake Sully’s Big Blue and Aki Ross.  Dodging the Uncanny Valley by using not-quite-human characters also probably helped significantly.  Either way, this is why I tend to stress that animation itself is more important to selling the sense of life than high resolution textures and 3D glasses.  The Disney animators tend to believe similarly.

Pandora, the movie’s fictional world out thataway somewhere in Plot Space, looks like it could be a real place.  It’s interesting and pretty.  The floating mountains are especially awesome in my eyes, though the biophosphorous neon jungle might be more appealing to some.  I can only imagine that an IMAX viewing of the show would be rather exhilarating, especially in the flight scenes.

So… it’s all very pretty.  The story is almost paint-by-the-numbers, though, and it really clashed for me.  It’s been compared to Dances With Wolves, albeit with blue body paint and technogeek body swapping (the titular “avatar” technology).  I could certainly nitpick a LOT of things in the film, but it’s not really worth it.  It’s not a bad story, exactly, but it’s nothing all that spectacular, innovative or interesting.

Then again, one might wonder if the market really wants innovation?

I had a similar reaction to Cameron’s Titanic, actually.  It was pretty, and the visuals of the boat sinking were spectacularly crafted.  The story, though… cut it out, and I might like the film as a whole.  It would have made a great documentary or historic dramatization, sans DiCraprio and the naked chick.  (Is it terrible of me to find it funny that Global Warming nut DiCaprio effectively froze to death in that film?)

Similarly, Avatar would have been a great artistic tech demo (Picasso’s early Cubism could be considered a tech demo, and it’s considered Art), or even a fantastic game, sans the caricature story and almost-romance with blue almost-naked almost-people.  It’s not a terrible film, and it’s a pretty good “experience”.  It looks really good.

I guess that’s enough to make money, though.  Why do we even care about innovation, again?

I mean, there’s got to be something more importan… ooh, sparkly blue thingy!!!


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