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Late to the Party
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lil_shepherd
but that isn't going to stop me...[grin]

inamac and I finally got to see Avatar, in 3D yet.

Let's deal with the 3D first. The system we saw it in was Real3D. Better than it used to be, but nowhere near perfect. With real photographed people (as opposed to CGI people) you occasionally got the effect where the person looked like a cut-out stuck out from the background rather than a properly rounded object. It was better in the all-CGI portions, though (and the CGI was excellent, though occasionally there were the usual weight problems.) One of the real difficulties with 3D lies in depth of field. Photographers and film-makers use depth of field to direct the eye to the significant object, but that is not how we look at the world. The human eye can and does scan a scene by focusing all over the shop (and then the brain fills in the gaps.) So when something drifts in front of the object you are focusing on or catches your attention, you will look at it quickly and focus on it then, if it is not of interest, switch back. But you can't do that with 3D, because the camera (and the director) decide for you. The (also 3D) computer screens were often blurred out and drifting embers were out of focus, to name just two of many instances. This means that the idea of actually putting you in the film can't work, and you are just as aware that you are watching a film as you are in the equally artificial 2D. Until they solve this problem 3D still isn't much more than a gimmick, and one that, currently, detracts from the content of the movie. (In this case, this may not be a bad thing.)

Well, it's a very pretty movie. I really enjoyed Pandora as a world, even though what little I know of physics, anatomy and evolutionary biology nagged at me at various points. Hell, though, it is very pretty, and interesting, if not exactly likely. In fact, the "exploring the flora and fauna of Pandora" was by far the best thing in the movie. The CGI, as mentioned, was very, very good indeed - though I'm not sure about the lighting down in the forest and, the natives didn't always seem to have much physical weight. It also wasn't very imaginative - I can just see Jack Cohen fuming about the knees, whereas everyone else has been fuming about the nipples.

Plot. Oh, ghu, the plot. Was there one? Yes. Was it totally predicable? Yes. In fact, it may have been the most predictable film plot ever. Was it interesting? No. A plot that predicable (and telegraphed) is not interesting. Dances with Smurfs? That isn't at all fair to Dances With Wolves, a much superior movie and one where, at least, the White Male does not save the day - any more than Tom Cruise does in The Last Samurai. Let's deal with the Cultural Appropriation and the Natives-need-a-White-Male to lead them to victory here. Yes, the naa'vi are plainly an idealised and romanticised version of some generalised (and in its turn romanticised) version of Native American culture, with added Gaia theory. If I were the Native Americans in questions I'd be denying any connection, because the version of the Native American culture Cameron is using isn't any more real than the CGI! And, while, unlike Dances With Wolves and The Last Samurai, the White Male does indeed Save the Day, at least it's by contacting a goddess, and the girl gets to save the hero at the end.

The script was dire. As in totally, completely awful. Unremittingly awful. There wasn't a single memorable line. Hell, there wasn't a single line that wasn't completely clichéd. I was embarrassed for the scriptwriters, I really was.

Every single character was also a cliché. The bad guys were bad, the good guys were good. The hero was thick headed (what is it with Hollywood and stupid heroes)? Cannon-fodder was cannon fodder. No-one ever acted outside his or her one-note tag - the venal businessman, the dedicated scientist, the native priestess, the native girl who falls for the hero, the hero's native rival etc etc etc. Consequently there were only two characters for whom one felt the slightest empathy - Sigourney Weaver is a superb actress, and even with this script she managed some sympathy, if no depth, and the pilot with a heart Trudy Chacon. Despite all Cameron's manipulation, I felt nothing for Scully except a mild contempt.

Furthermore, the movie wasn't exciting. The giant fight scene was, to put it simply, boring. Bring back the Ewoks, I say. I wish I could remember the comic book that the Colonel-in-fighting suit reminded me of so vividly - but then the movie borrowed from everywhere. I'm not sure that Annie McCaffery shouldn't sue. (Mind you, the "avatar" central trope is so old that there has been a lot of squabbling in the SF community about where Cameron stole it. Poul Anderson's Call Me Joe has been mentioned a good deal, and I vaguely remember an ASF-published story called Identification which is making the same point in a different way.) Anyhow, having nothing invested in the characters, I sat and yawned.

What worries me about this is that I am a sucker for big mindless movies, and this is a HUGE mindless movie. I guess that the mindlessness can only go so far, and I need at least one character I can believe and invest in. Still, it is very pretty, and I am glad I've seen it. I might buy the (2D) DVD when it gets discounted deeply enough, and watch the pretty bits while fast-forwarding the boring ones. This movie needed a script and a decent plot which allowed for some characters that were not all surface, and for a lot of the last third to end on the cutting room floor. Cameron also needs to stop recycling his old movies (did I mention that there were whole sections lifted from Aliens and The Terminatior and bits from The Abyss and possibly - 'cos I've never been able to sit all the way through it - Titanic?) and borrowing large chunks from other people's movies and books.

Two stars. I am tempted to give it an extra half for the CGI and the pretty planet (which was courtesy of Roger Dean) but am resisting.
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Two technical points on the 3d. Your point about depth of field is well known, and why 3d enthusiasts (though not the new crop of film cinematographers) hold that you should compose 3d photos so that they are entirely in focus. There is much grumbling on 3d lists about the tendency of the new crop of films to ignore this 'rule'.

The live-action sections in Avatar are not particularly well composed in 3d; that causes the cardboard-cutout effect you noticed. Though there is also one shot in Avatar that simply doesn't work in 3d (the differential that the audience is expected to swallow is far too great and even experienced 3d watchers bounce), and another one where the filmmakers gave up and used the 2d shot.

Gosh, I should have guessed there were 3D photography lists!

The job of a director in a movie is, amongst other things, to make sure that the audience is looking at the significant object. I can't see them giving this power up - and nor should they - but it is going to be at odds with 3D cinematography forever. I'm with Mark Kermode in that I don't think 3D adds very much to a movie and would much rather see it in 2D - if you want great 3D, go to the theatre!

However, even if the 3D had been perfect, it would not have made up for the crassness of the script.

yeah, i COMPLETELY refuse to see this movie, mainly cause it annoys me how overrated it is. all i hear is "omg, it's soooooo good, especially the special effects!" if it weren't for the special effects, then how great would it really be? plus it KILLS me that it's now #1 grossing film of all time.

Well, it is very pretty.

It has to be said that last year's highest grossing movie was Tranformers 2 which had, if the reviews are anything to go by, exactly the same strengths and weaknesses as Avatar. Remember that you never get rich over-estimating the taste of the the public...

What bothers me is that people whose taste I normally respect, both friends and pro critics, have fallen for the pretty.

Edited at 2010-01-30 07:22 am (UTC)

I've just posted my rant. You've identified exactly the problem I have with the whole 3D thing.

Noticed the (lack of) nipples. Knees? I missed that. What was up with the knees?

And, yeah, the unthinking, unquestioning whole white male supremacy thing grated intensely. Check your brain and you politics at the door, folks! You won't be needing them here...

Oh, and if Anne McCaffrey didn't sue Paolini over his dragon riders I can't imagine she'll worry about Avatar's...;-D

Plainly, you never attended one of the early Jack Cohen talks about the design of aliens. Jack believes that the knee is the least perfect solution and that different evolutionary lines won't have gone down this particular path. The aliens did have knees, which I suspect annoyed Jack.

My problem is that everything except the naa'vi (though I understand there is one token shot of a four limbed creature) the whole evolutionary line is six-limbed and has breathing spiracles rather than lungs. The boobs were a deliberate decision, apparently, and insisted on by the studio.

I've heard Jack a few times but I admit, that one escaped me! There are so many really crap things about the "design" of the human body (always fun to trot out to the "isn't God's design perfect" crowd - the answer must be "what kind of body are *you* living in??")

I remember noticing the double sets of forelimbs and for a moment when we first see the Na've I thought they had them too. Then the 3D got out of the way and I realised, no, the Na'vi were built on an *entirely different* body plan and no, that doesn't work. Or is, at least very unlikely...

The boobs... well they mildly annoyed me. Actually, couldn't they just have stuck breastbands on the females? The decision surely should have been between nipples (which they might have just got away with even in a 12A film because, as we all know, primitive nipples are not rude in the way that technologically advanced nipples are...) or to cover them up. The worst decision of all was to have breasts with no nipples.

But the female body is obviously too obscene for mainstream cinema.

The knees were something that he went on about in the eighties. I think it was the publications of Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials that did it.

None of the other fauna appears to be mammalian, so even i the nipples had existed it wouldn't have been a decent excuse. How do the naa'vi reproduce anyway??

Maybe the boobs are vestigial front limbs?

Not that I'm defending it.

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