Sunday, January 3, 2010

On "Avatar"

Everyone is talking about just how awesome a technological advance Avatar is in filmmaking.  And it is.  The tech is pretty outstanding.

Here's the thing, though:  I expect the tech to be outstanding.  I grew up on Christopher Reeve actually flying in Superman, and the Death Star actually blowing up in Star Wars.  I've seen so many oversized robots capable of massive destruction (operated by evil humans or just evil on their own), I wouldn't be surprised if someone isn't turning them out someplace.  RoboCop looked like a robocop; Terminator looked like a terminator; and Neo really could bend the matrix.  I believed Yoda when he was just a puppet, and I believed Gollum when he was CGI.

What I'm trying to say here is this:  They shouldn't have made Avatar if they couldn't have made it look this good.  They did, and good for them.  But I come from a generation that doesn't put up with crappy tech in a movie -- I'm glad they had enough tech to do this film, really.  But I question whether (1) they made the film because this is the film they wanted to make and now they finally had the tech to do it; or (2) they made this film just to show off the tech.

Absolutely, James Cameron would say it's the first -- that this is the movie he's always wanted to make and the technology (with a few pushes) has finally reached the point where it could be made.  But what I'm not sure of is whether the people who put big piles of money into the movie felt the same way -- or if they just green-lit this thing because they thought James Cameron + impressive tech = huge box office.

I won't accuse them of using tech just to use it -- thankfully, all of the tech here is in service of the story.  The problem is that the story just isn't all that good.  I mean, suppose they did the exact same movie without all the impressive tech.  Suppose it wasn't in IMAX, wasn't in 3D, and didn't push the envelope on CGI all that much.  They could've done it with miniatures and puppets and robotics and lithe ballet dancerss.  (The Na'vi might not have come out quite so tall or so thin, but you don't need to be tall and thin to be an alien.)  And if they had done that, would it have been that successful a film?  Or would everyone have said it was a too-long retelling of a story we've already seen dozens of times?

When I was the only one in the theater who burst out laughing at "unobtainium," I got the distinct impression that I was surrounded by 399 people who had all drunk the Kool-Aid, and I was the only one left who was still capable of seeing reality for what it is.  And, in this case, what it is was A-plus tech wasted on a C-minus script.

1 comment:

Lori said...

Thank you! You've vindicated my first impression of the trailers. I didn't think I'd want to see it, and now I know I don't. All I've heard about it is "The special effects were great!" The story line didn't seem all that great to me.