Tonight, I saw Avatar.

I have heard quite a bit of buzz about this film, I think it’s pretty hard to avoid. From what my sister occurred (and she’s my super plugged in secret movie expert,) people were saying that the film is visually stunning, and had no plot. Some other friends who I saw it with had heard similar things. I have to say, I disagree totally and completely.

The film is gorgeous — more on that in a minute, but the reason that I enjoyed it so much was because I was drawn into the story and the characters. It is not a revolutionary story, in fact, the basic story is a mythic journey of a type that’s been told for thousands of years. There is nothing wrong with that, and it’s told in a new and interesting way. So, probably the single most important thing I can say is that as a whole film worked beautifully for me, and I loved it.

As a projection designer I’ve done quite a bit of graphics work of various sorts over the years, including some 3-D modeling and rendering — so I was very interested to see what the “breakthrough 3-D technology” in this film did. Well I have to say it is an absolute breakthrough — for the first time in a heavily computer-generated film, I didn’t spend most of the film analyzing what was computer generated and what was photographed. I just believed. It was magic.

It’s also hard for me to overstate how beautiful the film is, there is so many moments which are just absolutely gorgeous. There’s so much art, care and beauty in this film — it’s wonderful.

We saw the film in a new IMAX digital 3-D theater. The digital IMAX is a new kind of theater, typically found in multiplex cinemas. The screen is not as big as in the traditional film-based IMAX theaters, however the digital picture is absolutely stunning — extremely bright with beautiful color, and none of the flickering or instability which can happen with traditional film projectors. Due to the show being sold out, we were forced to sit extremely close to the screen — maybe four or five rows back from the front. I would not have chosen to sit this close if there had been a better choice, however I have to say the experience was excellent. By being so close to the screen, it really filled my field of vision creating a very immersive experience. The seats were comfortable and structured in a way that it was natural to look up at the screen. The whole thing worked out very well. I should also note that the theater had an excellent sound system, and as somebody who spends a lot of time working with audio, it’s something am rather sensitive to. I really appreciated a sound system that was good enough that even I didn’t notice it — I have to say that that’s both rare and surprising.

For the most part the 3-D was done beautifully, it’s as if the screen disappears and you’re looking through a portal into a real three-dimensional world — just beautiful and amazing. The only real negative I had about the film involved the 3-D however. In photography and filmmaking it’s very common to use depth of field effects to lead the attention of the audience; that is to say having the foreground and background slightly out of focus so that only the subject is sharp. In traditional photography and filmmaking this works very well, I found it a little bit distracting in the 3-D however, when there was something floating in the air between me and the main subject, and it was out of focus, it felt unnatural because everything else was so real. It may be that as more and more filmmaking is done in extremely realistic 3-D that this sort of technique needs to be rethought.

Overall though, even I have to admit that that’s a pretty nitpicky detail. If you haven’t seen Avatar, and has even the slightest sense that you might enjoy it go see it in a good 3-D theater. This is a film that should be seen on the big screen and in 3-D.

Have you seen Avatar? I’d love to hear your opinion of it!

  • andy w

    Saw the film a week or two ago with my wife. We both liked it very much.

    My take is, as a film spectacle, its terrific. Once in a decade type experience.

    But I had this nagging feeling there were some lost chances to really hit an emotional home run with the story and characters.

    Here’s a link to a discussion I found worthy of your review of the film, Andy.

    http://www.boingboing.net/2009/12/29/five-storytelling-ri.html

    Happy to know the 5th row was worth the admission…

    AW

    • admin

      Andy – I like the boingboing discussion – thanks for pointing it out – though I really only agree with points 4 and 5 – I think that 1-3 would have made me like the film better.

      Andy

  • andy w

    Saw the film a week or two ago with my wife. We both liked it very much.

    My take is, as a film spectacle, its terrific. Once in a decade type experience.

    But I had this nagging feeling there were some lost chances to really hit an emotional home run with the story and characters.

    Here’s a link to a discussion I found worthy of your review of the film, Andy.

    http://www.boingboing.net/2009/12/29/five-storytelling-ri.html

    Happy to know the 5th row was worth the admission…

    AW

    • admin

      Andy – I like the boingboing discussion – thanks for pointing it out – though I really only agree with points 4 and 5 – I think that 1-3 would have made me like the film better.

      Andy

  • My grands saw then movie and I’ve had no interest in it until I read your review. I would be most interested in the creative aspect of the movie. I’ll have to grab a friend and see it.
    .-= Kathy – Insightful Nana´s last blog ..Caring For The Elderly =-.

  • My grands saw then movie and I’ve had no interest in it until I read your review. I would be most interested in the creative aspect of the movie. I’ll have to grab a friend and see it.
    .-= Kathy – Insightful Nana´s last blog ..Caring For The Elderly =-.

  • Andy, you knew I’d have to weigh in on this one, didn’t you… I’m a reviewer, a writer and a movie maker. How could I not? 🙂

    Yes, I agree, the movie was stunningly beautiful. It was a fun ride and had some moving moments. Here is what I wrote to my younger brother, who lives in Switzerland and saw it with his kids:

    I loved the look of it, the detail, even the use of 3d which was just there to enhance the story, not overtake it.

    As for the story, though, I thought it was Dances with Wolves in space. I get really annoyed with Hollywood’s penchant for presenting any “other” society through the eyes of a white man, who then becomes the “other’s” savior, their hero. Why not just present the “other” on their own terms, why do we need to be the masters of everything? And usually, just to make sure it doesn’t look like it’s jingoistic, all the rest of the white people in the move are all racist, macho idiots. (At least there were four or five people in this iteration that were actually human.) I could name four or five movies with this model without breaking a sweat.

    I also found the specifics very derivative. There were elements of Anne McAffree’s Dragonriders of Pern series, FernGully, Chronicles of Thomas Covalent (the “One Tree” was even the name of, I think, the middle book in that! A trilogy I highly recommend, by the way.) I also saw elements of Alien II (those, I think, they call homage… ), Speaker for the Dead (second or third in Card’s Ender series). Yes, there are no new stories, but there are brilliant books that you could film rather than pulling things from so many places and calling it new. (That’s just my writer getting his back up.)

    However, I agree. I truly enjoyed it and am very glad I saw it on the big screen and in 3D. As a filmmaker, all I can say about it is, “How did they do that?”

    Yes, even with all this, go see it. It is a marvel.

    Geoff
    .-= Geoff´s last blog ..Post 26 – Hope, the Enemy of Art =-.

  • Andy, you knew I’d have to weigh in on this one, didn’t you… I’m a reviewer, a writer and a movie maker. How could I not? 🙂

    Yes, I agree, the movie was stunningly beautiful. It was a fun ride and had some moving moments. Here is what I wrote to my younger brother, who lives in Switzerland and saw it with his kids:

    I loved the look of it, the detail, even the use of 3d which was just there to enhance the story, not overtake it.

    As for the story, though, I thought it was Dances with Wolves in space. I get really annoyed with Hollywood’s penchant for presenting any “other” society through the eyes of a white man, who then becomes the “other’s” savior, their hero. Why not just present the “other” on their own terms, why do we need to be the masters of everything? And usually, just to make sure it doesn’t look like it’s jingoistic, all the rest of the white people in the move are all racist, macho idiots. (At least there were four or five people in this iteration that were actually human.) I could name four or five movies with this model without breaking a sweat.

    I also found the specifics very derivative. There were elements of Anne McAffree’s Dragonriders of Pern series, FernGully, Chronicles of Thomas Covalent (the “One Tree” was even the name of, I think, the middle book in that! A trilogy I highly recommend, by the way.) I also saw elements of Alien II (those, I think, they call homage… ), Speaker for the Dead (second or third in Card’s Ender series). Yes, there are no new stories, but there are brilliant books that you could film rather than pulling things from so many places and calling it new. (That’s just my writer getting his back up.)

    However, I agree. I truly enjoyed it and am very glad I saw it on the big screen and in 3D. As a filmmaker, all I can say about it is, “How did they do that?”

    Yes, even with all this, go see it. It is a marvel.

    Geoff
    .-= Geoff´s last blog ..Post 26 – Hope, the Enemy of Art =-.

  • P.S. I’ve never heard people say it had no plot. I completely disagree with that.
    .-= Geoff´s last blog ..Post 26 – Hope, the Enemy of Art =-.

  • P.S. I’ve never heard people say it had no plot. I completely disagree with that.
    .-= Geoff´s last blog ..Post 26 – Hope, the Enemy of Art =-.

  • admin

    Geoff –

    I didn’t know you were a filmmaker – I’d love to see your work!!

    in terms of “how do they do that” I have two answers – “With a LOT of thought and VERY hard work!” and “Very Very Well!!!”

    My friends and I talked about how this was Dances with Wolves in space, and also Pocahontas and FernGully and and and….. totally agreed. Yes – it is very very derivative. The thing I was thinking about was Anne McCaffrey’s Petaybee books which feature a sentient planet.

    Though I agree with you that they could have been more original, I think that when making a $400,000,000 movie that is totally dependent on groundbreaking new technology, I can understand them wanting a proven story that’s known to work – and it did work well…. it may not bother me as much as some because I don’t go to the movies that often….

    Besides – the mix of elements really worked well.

    Thanks for your comment! and I had been expecting it at some point 😉

    Andy

  • admin

    Geoff –

    I didn’t know you were a filmmaker – I’d love to see your work!!

    in terms of “how do they do that” I have two answers – “With a LOT of thought and VERY hard work!” and “Very Very Well!!!”

    My friends and I talked about how this was Dances with Wolves in space, and also Pocahontas and FernGully and and and….. totally agreed. Yes – it is very very derivative. The thing I was thinking about was Anne McCaffrey’s Petaybee books which feature a sentient planet.

    Though I agree with you that they could have been more original, I think that when making a $400,000,000 movie that is totally dependent on groundbreaking new technology, I can understand them wanting a proven story that’s known to work – and it did work well…. it may not bother me as much as some because I don’t go to the movies that often….

    Besides – the mix of elements really worked well.

    Thanks for your comment! and I had been expecting it at some point 😉

    Andy

  • Nice Review…Avatar is an interesting experience looks great as a treat but is quite hollow inside. Especially on the narrative, the film falls a great deal.

    • admin

      Thanks for the comment Jean – why do you say it’s hollow inside? I think it as a powerful message – and as I said in my reply to Geoff – the story is not new, but I found it fulfilling. And of course, this film is not trying to be a challenging work for the audience. I like difficult and challenging work, but I also like things like this when they are well done – I don’t feel one is better then the other – just different. I’d be interested to hear more about your take.

      Andy

  • Nice Review…Avatar is an interesting experience looks great as a treat but is quite hollow inside. Especially on the narrative, the film falls a great deal.

    • admin

      Thanks for the comment Jean – why do you say it’s hollow inside? I think it as a powerful message – and as I said in my reply to Geoff – the story is not new, but I found it fulfilling. And of course, this film is not trying to be a challenging work for the audience. I like difficult and challenging work, but I also like things like this when they are well done – I don’t feel one is better then the other – just different. I’d be interested to hear more about your take.

      Andy

  • “in terms of “how do they do that” I have two answers – “With a LOT of thought and VERY hard work!” and “Very Very Well!!!””

    And lots and lots of money. That helped! 🙂
    .-= Geoff´s last blog ..Post 26 – Hope, the Enemy of Art =-.

    • admin

      Geoff – money generally makes it easier…. 😉

      Andy

  • “in terms of “how do they do that” I have two answers – “With a LOT of thought and VERY hard work!” and “Very Very Well!!!””

    And lots and lots of money. That helped! 🙂
    .-= Geoff´s last blog ..Post 26 – Hope, the Enemy of Art =-.

    • admin

      Geoff – money generally makes it easier…. 😉

      Andy

  • I saw the 2D version on New Years Eve. I don’t normally like these type of films, but I really enjoyed this one. It kind of took me back to when I was kid where I was obsessed with Star Wars. It’s kind of the same calibre of Star Wars, but much better, because of the advancement with technology and special effects. The story really struck a chord with me and reminded me about how money can become far more important to some than paradise.
    .-= Girl Startup´s last blog ..My first lesson learnt from hiring people. =-.

    • admin

      Hi Girl Startup,

      Thanks for you comment. I think that the comparison to Star Wars is a good one – they are both grand mythic journeys, and I think that’s what makes both of them work so well.

      Take care!

      Andy

  • I saw the 2D version on New Years Eve. I don’t normally like these type of films, but I really enjoyed this one. It kind of took me back to when I was kid where I was obsessed with Star Wars. It’s kind of the same calibre of Star Wars, but much better, because of the advancement with technology and special effects. The story really struck a chord with me and reminded me about how money can become far more important to some than paradise.
    .-= Girl Startup´s last blog ..My first lesson learnt from hiring people. =-.

    • admin

      Hi Girl Startup,

      Thanks for you comment. I think that the comparison to Star Wars is a good one – they are both grand mythic journeys, and I think that’s what makes both of them work so well.

      Take care!

      Andy