Saturday, December 19, 2009

Avatar

B+

Clips

There seems to be 2 technologies at play - one which mixes facial expressions of actor actresses with digital figures and the other one is movie in 3D. Both technologies deliver on their hype and there James Cameron has lived up to his reputation. In no uncertain words one can say that this movie has revolutionized movie making and movie delivery.

Gholum character in Lord of the Rings was fabricated in a way where facial expressions, eye movements and bodily actions were all mixed with digital processing. But apart from that, this movie is the one where such 'digital character' technology has matured and has come off the age. Clearly this technology is not for James Cameron to monopolize. It is not known to be patented / proprietorially managed so as no one else can use it. That is not the case and hence others will consume this technology too. But Lucas Films in San Francisco has not come out with their version of such a technology; movie Star Trek did not have that. What this all means is Cameron and certain select studios in Hollywood will have an edge in making such movies going forward. It is also clear that not for very long we will see movie making with traditional casts only. That is the revolution Cameron has brought. It is a phenomenal achievement.

The second revolution is in 3D delivery. For so many times in last few decades Hollywood has tom tomed 3D technology that one is reluctant to believe the hype this time too. However, here it is for real. Again it is doubtful whether audience will enjoy any movies without this technology. There were previews of Disney's Alice in Wonderland and NASA's Hubble 3D movie as pre-movie entertainment and both were unbelievable. So going forward it will be very hard to accept any movie without such breathtaking delivery system. Again it was very visionary for Cameron to work hard to deliver Avatar as a 3D movie.

The question is then why B+ rating? Have you watched latest 'Star Trek' movie released in Summer of 2009? Cameron needs to understand the importance of 'script' in Science Fiction. Compare Avatar with Star Trek and one realizes how feeble the script of Avatar is. Again, what about 'District 9' - that script, plot and technicality of direction; all are miles ahead of Avatar.

Avatar's main plot of 'greedy and dumb' Corporate America is quite boring. Of course, when greed of Corporate America and million dollar bonuses of Bankers are well known and here to stay, it is not that the plot is not realistic. But where is the creativity in this plot and script? Though Cameron is Master Story Teller, he has based the story on number of well ingrained cultural artifacts / clutches and in that sense simply given up on the need to come up with any intriguing and original story. Ex Marine with legs lost, another retired Marine serving Corporate interests, young but dumb brash Corporate Chieftain caring for interests of share holders, European colonial style outpost exploiting indigenous people and their livelihood, a scientist with missionary zeal, allies coming together to resist human evil (WWII similarities?), air battles ending in one on one combat, etc.; all these are well worn subplot gimmicks which Cameron deploys so as probably he is free to concentrate on the technology. All that is depressing and nothing new there.

But not all things are old and there are few things which are indeed creative - Pandora, life on a moon instead of the main planet, that is dreamy but plausible. It is deeply romantic when Jupiter like Planet occupies the huge swath of Pandora sky. Another equally plausible idea is how reluctant Mother Nature, who only keeps balance of Life, comes to help when that Life itself is threatened by Humans. Bioluminous plants and exotic creatures of Pandora, whole of that imagination and imagery is exceptional; very fruitful result of decades of thinking by Cameron and worthy of hundreds of millions dollars poured over years. These are the reasons the movie is worth watching despite the weaker script. Though there is much less scope for traditional 'acting', actor Sam Worthington has rendered Jake Sully cutely. That is one bright spot too.

Cameron and 20th Century Fox will for sure make money, Billion Dollar or so in early months or at least in the first year. There is nothing to be taken aback by a Billion Dollar tag because you know Dollar is worthless and hence Billion Dollar is the minimum mark new Hollywood franchise has to make; especially when the production cost runs at $300 millions. Avatar as a new franchise will surely achieve that financial mark, setting the stage for a sequel. But looking at the early response and my anecdotal evidence, Avatar may not be that block bluster money spigot. When I watched the movie, there were still 5 to 10% seats empty on the first day. Industry reports also indicate the slow North American start, further hampered by winter storms and snow on East Coast. But may be world wide it will make lot of money, enough to sustain Cameron for follow on releases.

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