Sunday, August 23, 2009

They waited ten years for this?

Forget the hype. Avatar is about as much of a cinematic event as Transformers 2.

For those dedicated nerds who have been waiting for this epic sci-fi, mostly because it features flying dragons and scantily clad alien women... well, they might be satisfied. They may have been the losers who applauded after the preview screening. The cinema audience equivalent of applauding after Ryanair get you to Spain. Alive!

I was looking forward to Avatar for an entirely different- though equally nerdy- reason. I wanted, willed Avatar to blow me away with what was supposed to be the pinnacle of stereoscopic (3d) technology. Everything was supposed to be leading up to Avatar. It was supposed to set the bar for 3d, in the same way that Terminator 2 set the bar for computer graphics.

The most effective 3d moment of the screening? The logo for the company that provides the 3-d technology. There's your first mistake. It's possible that they are trying really hard to avoid the 'gimmick' of having something fly out of the screen. But, forgive me if you will, but if I choose to see a 3d film (and pay extra for it), I want to see something flying out of the fucking screen.

So anyway. The logo popped out of the screen, and hovered over the head of the woman sitting in front of me. That was fun. Then I had to sit through fifteen minutes of footage that barely looked 3d. I took my glasses off at one point, and there wasn't much of a difference. Even James Cameron's head (introducing the footage) was relatively 2d. Surely a James Cameron head that hovers over the person in front of you would have been much cooler?

The 'revolutionary motion graphics' looked frankly like a high quality computer game. Not the photorealism that we were led to expect. It's kinda like Lord of the Rings. A hugely expensive attempt to show off technology that it doesn't represent very well.

There was one part that looked good. It was a neon jungle. Like a vast Q-zar areana, very retro. But it was no more impressive than the neon garden of 'Coraline', a film without any of the pretences of Avatar. A film that was probably made for a quarter of Avatar's budget.

So the 3d is dissappointingly conventional. Ok. Even conventional 3d is more immersive than 2d, right? Not necessarily, in this case. I wasn't alone in finding a lot of distractions in the frame. An insignificant character in the foreground, say, would draw your eye away from the key action. I don't remember experiencing this problem in other 3d films. So, judging from that fifteen minute preview, the 3d is not only conventional - it's sorta sloppy. Is there a risk that the film that was supposed to triumph the stereoscopic format, could actually end up harming it? If I and one of my friends noticed the distractions, aren't other audiences going to?

If the intention of the studio was to wow audiences with the 3d, and spread positive word of mouth reviews in the run up to the December release date, well.... for me, at least, they failed. The marketing might be partially to blame. Like everyone I was lead to believe that this would be a seminal cinematic moment - if not in terms of story, then at least in terms of technology. I still think there will be some excellent 3d films. But Avatar will not be among them.

To put it simply, I wasn't impressed.

For the sake of balance, you might like to check out a different opinion, over at Venntertainment.

For the sake of comedy, check out this great 'official' trailer. I can report that the effects are slightly better in 3d :)