This has been a big year for movies. There was a lot of really good stuff. Star Trek set the bar of how good Sci Fi could be and rejuvinated a tired franchise. The Hurt Locker set new standards for what tension could be. Inglorious Basterds reinvented the war movie. UP showed us that even when the concept is baffling on paper, Pixar can make it work (seriously, who expected a movie with a cranky old dude as the main protagonist to be an action adventure flick?).
It was also a year where special effects became boring. I sat through both GI Joe and Transformers, and was pretty much bored the entire time. Both Stephen Somers and Michael Bay have forgotten that in order for action to have impact, you need pauses for the audience to catch up.
James Cameron finally showed us what he’s been working on for the last decade and a half, and while the story itself is a rehash of existing material…the technology he showcased and the art direction entirely redefined movies as we know them, and made me a believer in 3D which up until now was a weird gimmick I had little interest in looking at.
I could go on at length about how beautiful it was, how Cameron once again pushed technology to its’ limits, or how 3D may be the silver bullet that kills movie piracy.
Instead of that I’ll tease you with one word.
Fair warning. The first 15 minutes of Avatar is completely overwhelming, and it takes you about that long to train your eye how to see a 3D movie. Things start out simple, but it ramps up quickly, and you are overwhlemed by this new world where things are sharper than you’ve ever seen them before, and there’s depth of field and focus that can be overwhelming.
A quick tip, if you find you’re getting eye strain or giving yourself a headache while you’re watching the movie in 3D, it’s because you’re doing it wrong. You need to focus on the area of the screen that is the central part of the scene, Cameron has chosen to keep a really narrow depth of focus, which means stuff in the center of the scene is in sharp focus, and stuff that’s out of the shot is blurry. No matter how hard you try to focus on the blurry stuff, it will not come into focus. This is on purpose, so don’t focus on it.
Everything about the movie is deliberate, and even the pacing is textbook how to make someone care. Yes the characters go from action beat to action beat, but there are plenty of slow moments in there too where you can just catch your breath and stare in awe.
What you want to see is the otherwordly creatures and flora which Cameron has created. Everything is close to what we have here, just one step removed. Everything on the alien planet of Pandora, has this bio-lumnecent field to it, and I have a feeling Fox will be buying up all of the neon ink on the planet in order to make prints for the flick.
Oh, that’s another thing…if you can, go see this in Digital projection. We have a Digital Theatre here (the Cineplex Westmount, which has the best invention in movie going history…a reserved seat VIP theatre which is 19+ only), and I would not want to see this any other way. Digital projection makes everything crisp and perfect.
Even the subtitles are part of the action, (for font nerds out there, Cameron chose the Letraset font face “Papyrus” as the subtitle font) , they’re presented behind the main action just a little further from the depth of field than the main character who is speaking them usually.
Cameron follows a pretty basic structure, in fact some have said it’s pretty much “Dances With Wolves” in space. This is true…but Dances With Wolves was a pretty damn good movie…so that’s not too much of a knock for me.
With that said, there are the standard Cameron beats. Some pretty blatant foreshadowing, some good character development, a forbidden love story, and of course, strong female leads.
This is a movie that MUST be seen in theatres, where 3D is part of the story, and not just a gimmick. Run out today and catch it, and prepare to be awed.