Sure, I had always looked forward to his movies with all the excitement of any other action film fan, but I admit my eagerness has always been laced with a lining of doubt. The first being Aliens; not only was I just old enough to get in, I was just experienced enough in film that I had a nagging doubt that a sequel to Ridley Scott's Alien would be able to live up at all to a movie that had become one of the reference standards in sci-fi film. Needless to say, Cameron's sequel blew my (and everyone elses) socks off. Year after year and film after film he has had me on the edge waiting to see what he would do next, and again that tiny residue of doubt would come along for the ride. Subsequently, each doubt had been quickly rubbed out on every opening night.
Let's fast forward to Avatar. Here's the scenario: James Cameron, who's last feature film Titanic was, at the time, the largest budgeted film in history, came out to bank $1.8 billion in just box office receipts alone. That was exactly 12 years ago this week. Add on top of that, his last sci-fi film was Terminator 2 at 18 years ago. Lets pile on top of that, the rumors abounding that the budget for Avatar is around $300 million.
Do you think Cameron is feeling the pressure? Of course he is, he's human, right? Well, at least we believe he may be. Bottom line: the hype and expectations for Avatar have been immense for a very long time, and now have only grown exponentially since the film fans have been getting their first looks at Avatar. The hype, the expectations, and the budget, it has all lead to that stupid nagging doubt of mine again. Well, let me tell you, I have personally been able to peek at the Avatar bricks being built up over these past 3 years, and now, only after seeing Avatar last week can I tell you, I have doubted James Cameron for the very last time. To put it simply, Avatar absolutely, positively rocks.
Now here's my scenario: almost three years ago, I got to work a short while in the production facility that was making Avatar. I was cutting my Production Assistant teeth in and amongst what I hoped, maybe what I knew, would be one the greatest sci-fi movies in at least the last decade. There was no time for doubt, just excitement at being where I was. The job of PA is the most unglamorous job in any section of the film industry. You are doing the jobs that no one else wants to do. But here's the upside: in production, every department is using you, so you eventually get to see absolutely everything.
So, two years and nine months ago, I saw the whole of the movie laid out in concept art, illustrations and storyboards. One day, turning a corner I almost ran smack dab into a life-size replica of a Navi alien. The experience being around all of that creativity and technology was amazing, to say the least. It gave me an insider's look at an industry, a director and a movie I was dying to learn more about. And now, as Avatar finally moves out to the rest of the world to see, I can tell you it is an experience you should have yourself. Cameron has lived up to his reputation and has created another home run. So, lets go ahead and talk a little about this hit.
Let's talk tall blue aliens. This seemingly has been the doubt-hinge-point for Cameron fans. I'm sure you may have experienced it yourself after that first teaser came out and you saw the technicolor blue boys and girls for yourself. A lot of you out there didn't like what you saw, and at the time, I was actually right with you. Now, I knew what the movie really looked like, I knew how good it looked. I had seen rough and finished footage over the years, I had attended the IMAX free screening of the sixteen or so minutes of Avatar footage and I gotta tell you, the online teaser especially, and in truth the full trailer, did not live up to what was the finished movie.
Here's my thoughts why that was: remember the hype and expectations I mentioned before? Well, Cameron was very aware of his own past reputation and his future impending scrutiny, so it was time to relieve some of that vast amount of bottled-up pressure, not by showing the world exactly how cool it looked, but by leaning the other direction and lowering expectation. He needed to level the playing field so to speak, to bring 12 years of expectations down to a manageable size. But, no worries, that expectation would rise somewhat again when the full trailer was released. By the time word of mouth started after the free IMAX preview, the ball was rolling again, and now that the public is finally able to see the whole movie, expectations are exactly where they need to be and doing precisely what they need to do. Believe me when I say, Cameron is wise.
Let's talk about the movie, and I promise, no spoilers. What I am hearing most of all right now from the public at large, is the lack of story in Avatar. Obviously, it has a story, but I will agree, it's not a massively involved tale and it doesn't need to be. I don't believe that, and well, neither do you, actually. You know as well as I what is key in any story, and especially important in film, and that is can we as viewers care about the characters and what they are going through? Can we insert ourselves into what we are seeing played out before us? Can we perceive these 3D renders as real enough, not only in our eyes, but in our minds to take a hold of the emotions being played out and make them our own? If the answer is yes, then the length and width of a story's area just doesn't apply. We want to be moved, entertained and inspired. Avatar does accomplish all of this, all in an amazingly beautiful package. Avatar's wrapper is the eye candy of the moment, but don't let it blind you to what the story is telling you. It is telling some important things, and some brave things. Avatar may not be a long parable, but the worthy ones rarely are.
So is Avatar perfect? I may think so, but try not to believe anyone telling you any movie is perfect. If they do, they are probably making money off of said film. There are as many varied opinions on what is a perfect anything as there are people in the world. What Avatar is, is another leap in filmmaking and storytelling by James Cameron. It is a technical wonder. It is a work of art. Cameron has taken 3D animation and 3D viewing, and taken it to its next perfect level, the next bar which others will now use to try and launch off of to make their own. We have watched amazing visual films all of our lives, and will continue to do so in the years to come with all these perfecting technologies. Some will be worthy and some will not, but after all these years and after all that I have been through, I am done with my doubting James Cameron.
I'll finish off by letting someone wiser than I say it as well as I ever could hope to about Avatar:
"The last time I came out of a movie feeling that way it was the first time I saw Star Wars" - Steven Spielberg
Be sure to check out the Official "Avatar" website
Coming soon: Stay tuned for Sergio Rosa's interview with Kirk Dunne and his film work...
Kirk Dunne [AgentSmith] works on 3D data and asset tracking on motion capture film productions for Robert Zemeckis' Image Movers Digital located in Los Angeles. During downtime he works as a freelance graphic artist and illustrator or the occasional art director gig on short films and music videos through American Film Institute. His film work includes: "Avatar," "A Christmas Carol," "Mars Needs Moms," and he will be heading back to IMD for "Yellow Submarine" in early 2010.
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