Monday, January 4, 2010

Avatar


From the trailer, Avatar looked like a film I'd be fine with skipping entirely. I'm not a fan of motion-capture, and I don't always want topical parables in my sci-fi. Of course, there are always exceptions: Gollum is some damn fine motion-capture, and Enemy Mine is so epic I have to admire it. Additionally, James Cameron knows what he's doing and put fifteen years of his life into this thing. Add to that the geeky and gleeful squawkings I'd heard around the office about this being "the pinnacle of 3D technology, man!" and I decided to give it a go.

My coworkers were dead on. The 3D is jaw-droppingly better than anything else I'd seen before. That alone makes this film worth seeing while it's still in theaters.

There's tons of impressive stuff in this film: tightly choreographed fight sequences, stunningly rich environments, and funky alien beasts with multiple pairs of eyes and legs. Cameron went to the Weta Workshop for all his special effects and creature needs, and those guys are truly modern monster masters (as they proved recently with District 9). I think they're beating out Industrial Light and Magic for quality, although apparently ILM lent a hand here and there.

But for all the computer wizardry, there was some stuff that I personally found flat-out unappealing. It was weird to see gorgeous landscapes like the floating mountains in one scene, and then see the garishly-colored jungle night shots in another, which to me resembled the cheesy sci-fi art you'd find airbrushed on the side of a van. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, or there are some realms of sci-fi that I can't jive with.

I guess I should talk about the story, but it was never the driving force of my viewing experience. It's pretty predictable stuff, especially if you've ever seen Fern Gully. But familiar stories can still be retold well, and Cameron takes extra care in setting up every detail at all the right moments, ensuring a smooth journey for the audience. We know Jake's gonna ride that flying red lizard the first moment we hear it's impossible, and we know he's gonna duke it out with Sergent Bush-isms the moment we see him flexing in one of those Alien-style body suits. This might be what's keeping the film "very good" status instead of ascending to "fucking great," but it never stops being enjoyable.

Apparently there are two sequels in the works, so there's plenty of room for these movies to break out of the predictable. I heard that Cameron always intended to make a trilogy, but a part of me wonders if the studio said "we put $500 million into this thing, you're damn right we're using it all again!"
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Random tidbits:

- Avatar shares a surprising amount of traits with Delgo, which bombed harder than any other animated film in history. Seriously, it's uncanny.

- NPR has a great interview with Cameron, in which he really flexes his nerd muscles. Is "nerd muscles" an oxymoron?

- I really hope I See You blows up like "My Heart Will Go On." Or at least some hot nasty club remixes?

- At the showing I attended, the audience was verbally squeamish and generally not down with the love-making scene. Was it due to the 3D? The blue and elongated bodies? I dunno, but it showed that no matter how impressive CG gets, it'll always be harder to accept than real humans interacting. Especially when passionately touching. UPDATE: The actual sex scene will be on the DVD.

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