Monday, 21 December 2009

AVATAR: Game-changer or Nappy-changer?

Well it seems that this week there have been two things that you had to have an opinion on. 1) RATM or X Factor for Christmas number 1 and 2) AVATAR - is it any good?

After a boozy head office party in London last week, I was lucky enough to get to see AVATAR in 3D at the IMAX... I say lucky, but I really just booked my ticket 2 months in advance!

I had tried to go into his film with as little hype and expectation as possible, difficult I know. I avoided reading reviews and had only seen one disappointing 2D trailer and two preview scenes at Movie-Con.
I had previously learned my lesson about believing the hype, only to have George Lucas produce THE PHANTOM MENACE and INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULLS, the result being that he, in the words of Simon Pegg, "raped my childhood" TWICE!
So with relatively low expectations and a huge pair of 3D glasses on my face, it was time for the main event.
You know you're onto a good thing when seeing the 20th Century Fox logo in 3D prompts an "ooh" from the audience.
The 3D is stunning and adds amazing depth to the visuals without ever resorting to cheap gimmicks like so many of the horror or animated 3D films.
Cameron has succeeded in creating a believable (well maybe apart from the floating mountains) living, breathing planet out of a series of 1's and 0's. Alive with colours and imagery never before captured on camera.
The Na'Vi themselves are wonderful. The motion capture used provides the best performances since Gollum, the level of detail in the expressive eyes and faces is extraordinary.
After a while I honestly forgot that these were fully-CGI characters. Things have come a long way since Jar Jar Binks.
But I must be honest, AVATAR is not a perfect film.
The plot and dialogue are not as strong as the visuals, think ALIENS meets THE LAST SAMURAI, and at times it gets forgotten about as Cameron stops to look around and marvel at the world he has created, causing the film to drag in a few places. Dialogue can be corny at times, what is the rare mineral the company is mining for called? "Unobtanium", really James, really?
Minor characters like Trudy, Spellman, Parker and Tsu'tey, get lost in the mix when they could have developed into, pardon the pun, 3D characters with potential for great story arcs.
And the battle scenes can sometimes feel like something straight out of Halo.
Film geeks like myself will have fun spotting all the ALIENS references; from marines in power loader style suits, Giovanni Ribisi's slimy Carter Burke-esque company man, and the company behind the whole operation is Weyland-Yutani in everything but name.
So is it the game-changer that everyone was hyping this to be?
From a storytelling viewpoint, there is nothing here that is very new or original, but seeing this in 3D on IMAX turns what would be a 3 or 4 star movie into a 5 star must-see experience.
From a filmmaking viewpoint, absolutely. It raises the bar in terms of what can be achieved in terms of visual effects (there is no way it can lose the Oscar for special effects), as much as The Matrix did 10 years ago. It could even put actors out of a job eventually, with more films moving to motion capture performances e.g. TINTIN. Once all the information is stored on a computer, it could easily be replicated and manipulated to create new films without them even being there.
Despite its flaws, this is a must see film. With all the news in the press about film piracy and declining audiences, James Cameron has delivered a movie event that demands to be seen on the largest 3D screen possible and will be responsible for bringing people back to the cinema. And that can only be a good thing.

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