Sunday, December 20, 2009

Jason watches AVATAR in IMAX 3-D

And let me get this out of the way first. I enjoyed it, and from a technical and asthetic standpoint it vastly exceeds anything that came before. The look is breathtaking and the immersive 3-D is unlike anything you've seen before. More thoughts on the 3-D technology later.

Normally I avoid the opening night crowds, and especially the pre-opening midnight crowds, but I wanted to see it in IMAX and I'm spending the holidays in an IMAX-less world (Bellingham, WA and Anchorage, AK) so it was Midnight Thursday or wait until January. Well, the crowd was annoying as expected up until the opening shot (a POV of flying over a forest) and then everyone shut the hell up. I could swear the whole audience held their collective breath for two and a half hours, afraid to miss a thing. And for taming the multiplex rowdies, I give James Cameron a standing ovation.

Now let's get (unfortunately) to the story. Humans are on the planet searching for an arbitrary plot point mineral called Unobtainium for use as fuel (or for building a drill that can drill to the core of the earth, maybe that's in the sequel). The forests of Pandora are full of danger and 10 foot tall blue humanoids called Navi. The Avatar project is led by a scientist named Grace (Sigourney Weaver). They grow Navi/human hybrids that they can transfer human consciousness to (kinda like virtual reality, but the human body is asleep at the time). A crippled Marine joins the program (his twin brother was on the program but died, so they already have an Avatar that matches his DNA), goes native, and within 3 months becomes the baddest-ass Navi ever (apparently the working title was THE LAST SAMURAI DANCES WITH MEGA-SMURFS). So much of the plot is cliche and telegraphed well in advance. The villain is a cartoon in his militaristic brutality. I could go on...

But let me say again, I really liked it. It's only in the post-viewing analysis that I have to admit the plot sucked. In the moment, I was completely transfixed. And that brings me back to the 3-D technology. Back in my review of UP, I claimed I hadn't seen a movie that must be seen in 3-D. I knew AVATAR was coming when I wrote that, and I knew it might change my mind. And I'll give it pretty close to full marks for that. I'm sure it's much better in 3-D, in no small part because it detracts from the plot flaws, but also because the 3-D is so well done. I also said that the real future of 3-D is in getting rid of the glasses. I still stand by that, but I have some extra, pessimistic predictions about that. I mentioned Philips had worked on 3-D monitors that I've seen in action and are/will be amazing. Others are working on this, too. But here's my fear--they seem to be working on the home theater market, building a cinema screen with that technology is way too much (I might be wrong, I'm not that plugged in to the technology). Well, 3-D might rescue cinemas for a few years, and might be a lasting boon to the filmmaking industry, but within ten years we'll (and by "we" I mean people who have the means to drop a few thousand dollars on a giant HDTV today) will have to option to see the latest 3-D spectacle in the cinema with those annoying glasses or at home without them. And that will kill the cinemas. So thanks a lot, Mr. Cameron.

In the meantime, if this is the future of filmmaking then I'm eagerly awaiting a really good movie made with this technology.
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