Monday, March 29, 2010


Thank you, James Cameron, for the wonderful experience.  In the same awe-inspiring way that Lucas' Star Wars created an exotic galaxy to be discovered, Avatar detailed just a fraction of a single life-supporting moon.

First off, the 3D.  I'd held off on watching any 3D films, save the new Terminator ride at Universal Studios, for Avatar, and it was well worth it.  The depth of vision really enhanced the illusion of a real world that our protagonists are visiting, and allowed my eyes to graze over and around the textures of every object, person, and even the beams of light piercing through the forest canopy.  At first glance the CG looks top-notch and is undoubtedly the best in the world at this moment.  The film really was "dream-like" and flying through the breathtaking view of the Hallelujah Mountains with its waterfalls evaporating into the wisps will not be topped anytime soon.  While great stylized animated films rest unchallenged on their golden thrones, the struggle for realistic computer graphics is a continuing struggle in which each successive film tops the next with a bigger budget and better equipment.  However, the lush landscape of Pandora has a magical quality that I feel will last.

With his having chosen to work on Avatar over Battle Angel first, I hope that James Cameron has learned enough about stereoscopic and computer graphics technology to have it be second nature.  Adapting Battle Angel Alita into the film Alita, I hope, will be both an exhibition of groundbreaking visuals and of a successful adaptation of a Japanese manga into a live action film.  Cameron has picked his title well, as Battle Angel Alita is less likely to suffer from whitewashing of the cast that film adaptations of Street Fighter, Dragonball, and Avatar: The Last Airbender have.  With his announcing of the plot of the first Alita to be based on the Motorball arc, I wonder though how Cameron will be able to faithfully adapt the work and present it to film audiences.

My only gripe with 3D (that is, excluding 3D gimmicks), is the jarring experience of having to refocus my eyes to see the 3D when my eye wanders too far from the area on screen that is in focus.  For video games that were presented in 3D at GDC this year, this was not so much a problem as the planes in the video feed were all in focus.  Watching someone play a baseball game, I could observe the entire field, and should be able to do so considering that it is essential information to the player.  With Avatar, however, whenever my eye strayed too far away from the protagonist to look at, say the bunker beds in the background, the 3D effect wore off.  It was so much more an experience in which my eyes were asked to be on rails than be in the world.

One particular shot in Avatar caught my eye.  In my notes here I wrote cliche, but reflecting upon it, I'll just regard it as another choice of shot.  The shot is sometime into the film when the army flies into the Hallelujahs, and we, from a distance, see the entire fleet flying amongst the mountains.  Where I would expect a cut, Cameron use a dramatic (I would call tacky) zoom into the ships to bring them closer to view.  It's exciting, and this is an exciting film, though I can't help to wonder if Cameron used this technique from documentary work.   It felt like a shot from a handheld (a very expensive one, I would imagine) , and director Kitamura would probably not approve.

Going into Avatar, I had read that Cameron took a scientific approach to making the film, creating and documenting the moon, Pandora, so that it would be as plausible as possible.  The final product, however, only gleaned on the science fiction, coming nowhere close to the original scriptment.  Given the length of the movie and the target audience, though, the cutting of geeky explanations was kinda necessary.

Lastly, Jenova Chen's "game" comment caught my eye.  The press, Ubisoft, and Cameron were both excited about presenting a video game and film that underwent production simultaneously.  However, sales failed to meet expectations despite the movie going on to become to highest grossing film of all time.  To quote Chen: "Avatar is good. But based on the emotion the film try to convey and its plot, I feel it would be more impactful if it's told through a game."

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