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December 23, 2009

Saw Avatar over the weekend in super-deluxe 3D IMAX (LIEMAX, actually). Cameron delivers quite the epic spectacle, though not entirely without issue:

The Good

  • Up there on the big screen, visuals are just astonishing. We have achieved total Hell Yeah. After cutting their teeth on Lord of the Rings, Richard Taylor and his Weta Workshop FX team have brought the technology to the point where imagination (and money) is the limiting factor. I couldn't begin to guess what was real and what was glorious computer fakery.
  • The emotional range of the "na'vi" (which I assume stands for Native American Virtual Individual) motion-capture performances was pretty phenomenal. Miles beyond the stuff we've seen outta Robert Zemeckis with his Christmas Train, Beowulf, and Jim Carrey Scrooge "mo-cap" movies.
  • The 3D effect, which required the first ten minutes of the movie to really melt into my eyeballs, was strictly there to add depth and space to the locations. It's part of the new "highbrow" 3D trend that doesn't explicitly poke at the audience. Makes for a nice effect, though the special glasses are particularly gnarly for those already wearing glasses.
  • Cameron paints his action on with a mighty thick brush - exactly how we like it. Nice to see him continue to indulge that penchant for strong female roles. When is this guy gonna direct us up Wonder Woman movie?
The Bad
  • The story, as you may have heard, is crazy predictable and a little threadbare. That said, I'm not sure I actually cared. It's a pretty good message, told with visual grandeur. Fine. Whatever. Did the job.
  • The bad guys are pulled directly out of the James Cameron School of Villainy. You get one Psychotic Military Jarhead (Lt. Coffey from The Abyss) and one Greedy Corporate Suit (Carter Burke from Aliens). Both are generally one-dimensional, stopping just short of twirling black mustaches and beating orphans with their canes.
  • The MacGuffin is a rock called "unobtainum". Huh? Isn't that the same stuff they used in The Core to shield the ridiculous underground submarine thing they drove?
The Ugly
  • Sigourney Weaver's avatar lady looked really terrible. Entirely too Sigourney-like (+ braids, beads, and an awful belly shirt). One of the few design blemishes on an otherwise sterling CGI canvas.
  • The font/design nerds have beat this into the ground, but I'm compelled to bring it up... They lay out insane amounts of money to get this monster rolling, and we're dealt subtitles in the Papryus typeface (a font even more over-used than the storyline)? It was disappointing enough to see it plastered all over the promotional materials for the film (the logo). Surprised they didn't roll the end credits in Comic Sans.

It's difficult not to be cynical about a movie that follows this much hype. The much-lauded visuals aren't just photo-realistic - it's the conceptual designs of the flora and fauna, the convincing military technology (the wonderful robot "AMP suits", that turn me into a giddy little girl), and the fantastical landscapes all working in concert to create an extremely ambitious mountain of entertainment. Lots of fun.

See Also:
Avatar official site Resource Development Administration (brought to you by Coke Zero)
The Weta Workshop official site
Unobtanium wikipedia entry
When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like "Avatar"?