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Avatar Day or how I tasted the 3-D revolution

I’m just back from seeing the 15-minute preview of James Cameron’s Avatar and one word comes to mind: gorgeous.

Wiggle your big toe!
We were able to see six very intense scenes in 3-D from the movie’s first half.
A quick note regarding the story: I didn’t expect much beforehand so I wasn’t disappointed on that part. It looks like a “green futuristic Pocahontas.”
Nothing more, nothing else.

Yesterday, I said I was going to wait until after Avatar Day to see the 2-D version of the teaser trailer, thinking the teaser would look pale in comparison to the true result. Looks like I was correct.
Indeed, the 2-D version is, dare I say, awful. Too flat, too unrealstic, too CGI. A video-game of sorts, like Crysis but on screen.
However, the 3-D end-product transcends everything you might expect.

Here it is folks: the most immersive movie in History.

Yes, that’s what over 120 years of technology have led up to.
I’ll refer you back to my November post about how “3-D will be introduced in 2009.”
If you think about what all those technological advancements in the entertainment industry were for, the answer is simple: realism.
With the use of sound, color, and now 3-D, mimicking the real was always the main goal of cinema.
And this is real enough, folks.
The CGI is so advanced that its uncanny valley equivalent has been skipped. Sure, we’re not talking about fake-humans here, this is no Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, but the Na’vi skin and eyes are more than convincing. There’s no dead-eye syndrome either.
The movie seems to have completely immersive CGI aesthetics that perfectly blend in with the raw footage. Though you can obviously guess what was added (answer: everything non-human), it is still extremely realistic.
The night scenes are absolutely amazing, same goes for the fauna. Colors were vivid, despite the use of darkening glasses.

I might seem overly enthusiastic about the movie but I had two problems with the footage (hey, there had to be some):
The first scene we got to see was one only involving humans, and presented to us the world we were about to enter. As the camera was dollying in, the depth of field created by the 3-D camera felt too…forced. It was almost problematic. Basically, it looked to me like the technology seems to work great with CGI-based sceneries and scenes with some human/CGI interaction (like above), but seemingly not that well with “semi-raw” footage (or rather scenes only involving human interaction in normal surroundings).
Given that about 40% of the movie should be live-action, I’m still waiting to make up my mind regarding Cameron’s use of 3-D in non-VFX scenes.
Probably the main disappointment however came from the main action sequence featured in the preview (a chase between Jake Sully and an alien creature through a forest). The camera and editing were way too quick. The scene was almost all a blur. With 3-D, eyesight cannot really adapt to the various depths.
Also another minor quarrel: Given that I saw the preview in Paris, the movie was subtitled (fortunately not dubbed). You might have noticed the use of subtitles yourself during the native Na’vi language as well as its Papyrus font. They were pretty distracting overall. The eye has to deal with the subs in the forefront, plus the whole movie behind with its own depth of field.

Anyway, in case you’re wondering, theatres aren’t being equipped with Avatar-only technology. It’s your standard run-of-the-mill modern 3-D tech, including XpanD glasses (the ones you might have used on Up).

Incidentally, Cameron has just inked a deal with Panasonic to help promote 3-D TV and 3-D Blu-Ray players. The home video business plan for Avatar will be extremely interesting to see…
That said, what separates Avatar from previous movies is its use of the revolutionary Fusion/Reality Camera System 1 developed by James Cameron and Vince Pace allowing groundbreaking stereoscopic imaging.

Remember when I said:

If [typical 2-D movies were meant for 3-D], something huge would have been missing from the first time we laid eyes on them.

Avatar is exactly that.
Seeing the 2-D trailer just shows how great the gap between the two “dimensions” is.
Even on a big screen, I doubt Avatar 2-D would visually work, or at the very least if it would be as immersive as 3-D.
James Cameron clearly revolutionizes 3-D not by the way it is made but by the way it is used.
We’re far from Journey to the Center of the Earth or My Bloody Valentine with their “gimmicky” use of the tech.

We’ll just have to see the 2-hour result on December 18th.

One Comment

  1. Richard

    I'm sure this movie will go down well with the youth and video game playing generation amongst us but to me it will just be gimmick.
    As you said the plot is kinda sucky after all. I'm all for advancing technologies but there will never be a replacement for proper good old fashioned quality acting and script writing.

    This is little more than a test project that i doubt will lead anywhere or, play much of a part in the future of cinematography as a whole. No More than Jaws 3D did when i watched it back in 1983. A nice bit of fun and something different but ultimatly… a gimmick.

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