Posted by mike in Entertainment,Film at 11:26 pm on December 17, 2009

As was the case on the eve of The Dark Knight‘s release, I once again find myself feeling like I’m missing something as I consider the imminent release of James Cameron’s Avatar. In this case, at least, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone, and the grand declarations of the film’s importance are mostly due to its marketing campaign, rather than premature fandom. Still, though, there’re some lofty claims being made about this movie and the effect it’ll have on the entire film industry, and I find myself dubious of most of them.

The two primary claims in particular—as I perceive them—are that Avatar:

  1. is somehow revolutionary in the world of film, and
  2. will make you really believe in 3D movie-making.

I sometimes think that #1 is referring to #2, but usually it’s stated as if there’s more to the “revolutionary” aspects of it than the 3D technology alone. One commercial that I keep seeing on TV proclaims, “Movies will never be the same.” And from the trailers I’ve seen, I’m just not getting what exactly that’s referring to. Here’s the final theatrical trailer:

Seeing that and the other trailers for Avatar has thus far inspired one big “meh” from me. I can see how it might look really cool to some people, in a Lord of the Rings, fantasy/sci-fi, ultra-nerd sort of way, but I don’t see much that makes me think it’s very “revolutionary.” The counterargument seems to be that I will understand when I see it in 3D, because the television commercials and theatrical trailers just don’t do it justice. I’m withholding judgment on that aspect (as well as all others, hopefully) until I see it… but I’m pretty skeptical about it. I have yet to be really blown away by any of the films I’ve seen in 3D recently, and in fact more often than not I’ve felt I would’ve enjoyed the film more had the distracting gimmick not been employed.

Another area in which this movie is supposedly mind-blowingly amazing is the special effects, and unless they’re using temporary effects for the marketing materials, I’m pretty sure I won’t be too impressed by those, either. I have a pretty straightforward personal rule about CGI: If I can tell it’s CGI, then it’s shit. The whole point of special effects is to make you believe that what you’re seeing is real, isn’t it? There’s no caveat to that: “It looks really good for computer graphics” means it doesn’t look good for reality.

Don’t get me wrong; I think some of those terrains, and the planet Pandora in general, and some of the ships and vehicles look pretty amazing—real, even. The Na’vi, however—the blue-green inhabitants of the fictional world in which Avatar takes place—don’t look any different from the silly video-game characters of Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf, and the creatures they ride don’t look any better to me than the cartoonish bouncing beasts from Attack of the Clones. Particularly when the Na’vi move, or when they speak, I feel like I’m watching a cut scene from a new video game, not a cinematic film—especially not a “revolutionary” one. The defense of this is always along the lines of, “They’re not humans, so they don’t move like humans, that’s why it looks weird to you,” which of course is nothing but a cop-out.

The film’s plot, likewise, doesn’t look like anything we haven’t seen before. Not to go too far in judging the book by its cover, but from the voluminous marketing material to which I’ve been exposed, I’ve gotten the distinct impression that the story of Avatar isn’t much more than The Matrix meets Dances With Wolves. (Or, as South Park called it, Dances With Smurfs.) Other reports of confusion confirm that I’m not alone in this.

As usual, I’m trying to remain as objective as possible and reserve judgment until I’ve seen the film for myself—which I’m intending to do tomorrow, in Digital 3D, so as to get the full advertised effect. But I have a healthy amount of incredulity heading into it. James Cameron has made some truly iconic films in his career, and I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until proven wrong (which Titanic, his last film—12 years ago—almost did). Reading his Playboy Interview, it’s hard not to catch at least a little bit of his excitement about this latest endeavor. I’d prefer to let history be the judge of its effect on the world of film, though… and that’ll have to start with its wide release tomorrow.

Comments (1)

1 Response to “Skeptical Again”:

  • From above: “I have yet to be really blown away by any of the films I’ve seen in 3D recently, and in fact more often than not I’ve felt I would’ve enjoyed the film more had the distracting gimmick not been employed.”

    That’s exactly what I’m looking for in Avatar. Cameron’s position throughout the development of the movie has been that 3D has never been used to add more immersion to a movie. I think that _Up_ is the only 3D film I’ve seen that didn’t artificially exaggerate movement along the z-axis to say “HEY LOOK BITCHES THIS IS 3D COMING RIGHT AT YOUR FACE!” (unlike the _Ice Age_ trailer that preceded it). Cameron seems to share my frustration, and I’d like to see depth used for good.

    We’ll see.