Come What May, I Have Doubted James Cameron For the Last Time

December 21, 2009 2:38 am

Tags: 3D, Avatar, James Cameron

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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Article Comments

Kimberly.3D ( posted at 6:42AM Mon, 21 December 2009

I just saw Avatar last night. The movie was literally stunning! I loved the story! The graphics were absolutely stunning! The animation was so good you could hardley tell that they were not human but animated characters! Amazing and highly creative! I was in awe! Well deserving of Oscars for it's edge of technology and beautiful love story!

bucee ( posted at 5:38PM Mon, 21 December 2009

AVATAR rocks, no doubt!!!! Great story, CG elements, scenery. I can go on and on. Only one drawback for me. I love the stereoscopic effects, but I think they were times when depth could have been pushed up a notch. Examples, the opening scene with the shuttles docking, I really noticed depth between the objects. The panoramic shots of the backdrop, they should have pushed the separation of the objects. Clouds, rocks, trees etc. The shots at the edge of cliffs, you got the feeling of immersion but the effect of being close to the edge, you should get that sense of really being on the edge. The shots from the aerial vehicles looking out the window, You have to really feel like you're looking out the window. I played with stereoscopy for years. I know it can be done. I purchased a 3d conversion software years ago to up convert 2d movies to 3d. I've seen some pretty impressive effects while viewing aerial footage. Journey to the center of the the earth had some impressive stereoscopic scenes. I give everyone credit for such a high class production. I wish I could get the opportunity to give some feedback to them. I know you can really push the limits of depth without causing strain of the eyes. Thanks Mr Cameron and everyone involved in the project!!!!

deemarie ( posted at 3:03AM Tue, 22 December 2009

Hey Kirk, Great article! Saw Avatar last weekend and sat mesmerized throughout the whole film. I personally thought there was a very strong storyline, emphasizing the need for compassion and understand of both nature and human nature. Needless to say, anyone who loves art, especially CGI, will fall deeply in love with this film. I especially appreciated the animated crowd scenes; each character was individually animated. The attention to detail was mind-blowing. I look forward to Sergio’s interview with you, and congratulation on being a part of movie history :] Dee Marie

loontje ( posted at 7:30AM Tue, 22 December 2009

Yes, avatar rocks. Honestly, when the movie was over people were applauding. Usually they just walk away when the credits roll... The graphics achieved two things: they looked like they were coming out of a dream or fantasy (in other words they looked alien), but at the same time they looked realistic and believable. It's hard enough to achieve one of those things... I guess that nerds will want to learn how to speak na'vi instead of klingon now lol

WorldbuilderMedia ( posted at 9:31AM Tue, 22 December 2009

I hope to see it this week. Kirk, congratulations on what sounds like an amazing experience you had working on this film. Thanks for your insights!

corinthianscori ( posted at 8:51PM Tue, 22 December 2009

sigh Fine. I'll go to see this film. My doubt remains, however. From Kirk's description I should have started with Production Assistant positions. I believe that was a good experience! But Avatar remains to be seen.

Elfmaid ( posted at 2:52AM Wed, 23 December 2009

I saw Avatar tonight... and WOW. I was happily drop kicked into the story cheering all the way! To say that the visuals were sumptuous doesn't even begin to describe the scope of the whole experience. Yes, it was very much an EXPERIENCE. Even I, who am a 3d artist and animator myself forgot most of the time that these were CG characters. The facial expressions, the body language, the scenery. Everything glowed with life and read so realistically that I found myself truly immersed. The story wasn't elaborate, but it didn't have to be. Cameron's vision of the environment and the character interactions truly shone through. I found it a truly memorable extravaganza. I have to go see it again simply because there was so much depth and detail I want more. The people in the theatre tonight (me included) all applauded after this movie too... and that's here in Canada. Be warned though... if you want to see the 3d in an IMAX theatre, be smarter that I was and pre-order tickets. This is a showstopper!

Belladzines ( posted at 2:40AM Thu, 24 December 2009

Actually i was disappointed with Avatar ... people warned me it was like dances with wolves and it was a bit similar .... i loved the colors and the catpeople (forget their name) but it just didnt have the wow factor ...

Gog ( posted at 5:32AM Thu, 24 December 2009

I felt the story ending was pretty obvious from the start, but that doesn't detract from the journey to get there. The effects were excellent an I would certainly go again to watch the same film with different friends if the offer came up. The film experience as a whole is superb, I watched the 3d version in the local cinema, I am guessing the imax version may be truly incredible. One of the mates I went with reckoned the 3d was as much of a leap from standard film as standard film was from black and white, it genuinely does take things to the next level. I'm with what the article says, ignore the naysayers, watch the film and make your own decision, you won't regret it.

Erestorfan ( posted at 6:15PM Thu, 24 December 2009

My husband and I just came from the movie theatre and we were blown away with the effects in this movie! The scenery alone was worth the price of admission. Was the story rather predictable? Yes...but then aren't most movies? That in NO way detracted from the stunning beauty of Pandora and how 'real' the Navi seemed. The alien creatures, the flora and fauna of the planet, the floating nothing I've seen before!!

PeterDD ( posted at 12:39AM Fri, 25 December 2009

I saw Avatar last weekend and it did indeed 'blow me away!' Yes, the storyline is a bit obvious, bad boy makes good, defeats evil empire and wins the girl, but that is probably true of a great many movies. It is the CG that truely makes this film great, especially in 3D, which is a must see. James Cameron has shown what can be achieved and has pushed the bar up several notches.

eyeland ( posted at 2:12AM Fri, 25 December 2009

I rarely see blockbuster films when they first open, because sold out theaters are usually annoying - people talking, moving around, etc. But the audience at the sold out show I attended were all just so locked into what was happening on screen that there were no distractions at all. It was an amazing, ground-breaking film experience (even my wife, who is not really into sci-fi special effects movies, was blown away). I've read some lukewarm reviews of Avatar, which I find kind of sad. If you go into this movie (or any movie, really) with a cynical, analytical, overly intellectual attitude, you will find things to dislike about it. But if you go into Avatar with open mind & eyes, you will have a rich, rewarding experience. Anyone incapable of being entertained by this film is just too jaded & sophisticated for their own good...

TalonGE ( posted at 11:28AM Fri, 25 December 2009

Two sides of the movie, and I'm not talking about plot. First, yes, the movie is visually stunning. The 3D work is astounding. I can barely get a scene with three ferns, a patch of grass, and a naked Vicky 3 to render without Poser claiming its out of memory. How they managed to pull this off will be cause to read 3D World's article. But the storyline, the characters, the Hollyweed-based human self-hatred, the obvious hipocracy of peaceniks using a violent revolution to throw off a military occupation, and the fact that the whole "primitives overcoming the highly technological force" was worn out when Ewoks took out Imperial Walkers,.... not to mention the greenie fascination with intelligent plants and the claim that "all things have a right to live",.... not just predicatable, insulting. However, the visuals and action so outway the movie's anti-human message,... I might not pay to see it in the theaters again, and I certainly won't waste the money or time to see it in faux-3D, but I'll likely snag the BluRay when it comes out.

lookoo ( posted at 3:14PM Sat, 26 December 2009

I don't think there is any "human self-hatred" involved when we apply the plot to our real world. Except if you don't consider the inhabitants of our rain forest humans ;) I also cannot see the "hypocrasy" of a scenario where natives literally fight for the survival of their way of life. And the obvious flaw in the "Ewoks" analogy is that in this film the neolithical natives, although fighting very hard, cannot make it out of their own devices. I am not going to make this into a spoiler but those who have seen the movie know what I am talking about. Yes, this movie has noble savages who are nobler than anything you have seen since Rousseau. They don't want ANY 22nd century gadgets, they have no traitora among them, there is no apparent intertribal warfare. But then, Cameron was hopefully just keeping his powder dry for part II and III. ;)

ladyperiwinkle ( posted at 8:02PM Sat, 26 December 2009

The best movie ever!!!!!!

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