Avatar Day – movie preview
It seems somewhat absurd to be reviewing what is essentially a trailer, but James Cameron’s gargantuan Hype Machine is shifting into 2nd gear, the result being a global event showing 15minutes of teaser clips in Imax cinemas, and cannot be ignored.
Numerous people have already documented a shot-for-shot rundown of what footage was shown, so I’ll spare you the minutiae and concentrate instead on my initial thoughts and reactions.
Prior to today, Titanic Jim has kept his cards pretty close to his chest, espousing hyperbole such as “revolutionary techniques,” “game changer” and “photorealistic CGI.” Well, unsurprisingly, the reality of the situation could never match up to his own self-aggrandisement, the 2D trailer was unleashed yesterday, and inevitably led to snarky and negative comments all around the web. “Ferngully in Space” ; “The Smurfs v The Matrix” ; “Dances with Wolves featuring the Cat People” are amongst the more imaginative reactions, “It looks shit” and “seems my Xbox broke” feature amongst the less-so.
3D technology is still an enigma that a large portion of the cinema going public appear to wrestle with, and indeed in the opening few shots I worried that I was all set to experience a flashback to Superman Returns where headache inducing incoherent noise was tirelessly blasted at me. It was a great relief then that after a brief settling in period, the 3D appeared to be crisper and easy to process. In later shots based on the alien planet Pandora, JC cannily uses the architecture of the jungle to frame shots and generate field depth – minor details like a cloud of mosquitos create a haze that makes the viewer realise you’re having to look through them to see the action. Somewhat ironically, what jolted me as the most 3D element was when one of the indigenous Na’vi spoke in their native language, and bold subtitles leapt out of the screen. If you have been lucky enough to see Pixar’s UP in 3D, there is nothingly instantly revelationary here, although the seismic shift from a pure CG model to one featuring live-action actors is undeniable.
As for “photorealistic CGI” – we appear to be straddling something known as the “uncanny valley” – 10 foot tall blue furry cat-like warrior people do NOT appear to be authentically realistic – who could have seen that coming??? I suspect part of this is because we know that such creatures don’t feature in our day-to-day waking life, and so a part of the brain rejects the “truth” that we are seeing on screen. It is undeniable that what we are seeing in Avatar is CGI, but I must counter that to date, the bar was set with Robert Zemeckis’ mo-cap Beowulf. This blows Beowulf well and truly out of the water – the detail of facial expressions, body movement, and the animation of bizarre alien creatures are all of a standard previously never seen. My knee-jerk reaction was that this will make Jar Jar look like the cartoon we always knew he was. Na’Vi and Avatar alike are instantly recogniseable as actors Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, and Zoe Saldana, even thought theyre seen as alien blue behemoths. Being a fan of robotica and future-mech, I must admit I’m genuinely excited to see the human’s Power Suits and military hardware which only gets the briefest of look-ins here.
From what we have seen in the last 24 hours, it would appear that despite all the fantasy and sci fi elements, not to mention technical prowess, Avatar will be bringing a fairly conventional story arc that would imply the Dances With Wolves comparison isn’t entirely unwarranted. I suspect that this is why there has been such a surprisingly negative reaction from various quarters. District 9 comes to mind as a Young Turk sort of a film that is eager to try something fresh with established technologies, whilst Avatar is seemingly seeing the Old Establishment do what it’s always done, but just a whole lot shinier and more-polished.
In summary, I think what was shown looks stunning – the environments, creatures, and creations all look beautiful, and whilst 3D could easily be dismissed as a gimmick, it is a gimmick that I will not be wanting to avoid when I find myself in the Imax on December 18th. The footage was intruiging and certainly made me want to go back to see the completed product. James Cameron may not be Jesus but he has the same initials, and the jury is still out as to whether Avatar is likely to be his Second Coming – the marketing men will still have a long way to go to convince Normal People and not just Film Nerds that this is something they will want to pay their £14 for. What can be said for certain is that we can look forward to a roller-coaster ride showing off what Cameron has always excelled at, namely: action sequences that the eye can follow, interesting characters not just teen-bot cardboard memes, and some good old fashioned robot porn. Watch out Michael Bay, Jim’s back to show you how it should be done.