Avatar and the future of 3D (Part 1)

Why didn't that thing get sucked into the rotors?

I’m not going to apologize for all the time that passes between posts anymore. I write when I have the time, when I have something to write about, and when I feel like writing. Just subscribe to the RSS feed so you don’t have to keep coming back. I do have plans for making this blog a little more active, but it’s a still too early to say when that’ll happen.

Have you heard about this movie called Avatar? Have you? Really? It’s a science fiction thing with blue people and…oh, you have heard of it. What a surprise.

I’d like to give a quick mini-review of the movie, and then talk about something that’s perhaps much more interesting: the 3D tech behind the movie, and where that’s going.


Yes, it’s Dances With Wolves. But it’s more than that.

There are certain stories that get told over and over. Not just in Hollywood, but in fiction in general. Avatar is no exception; we’ve all seen this story. Specifically, it’s a version of Dances with Wolves. It follows the Hero’s Journey formula to the letter. It’s predictable, with few surprises.

But that’s not to say that it’s bad. In fact, it’s a great telling of the classic story, and the classic formula can still be a lot of fun. The Hero’s Journey is something that still speaks to us, whether it’s Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter or Frodo Baggins or even Jesus.

Consider, as another example, the story in Seven Samurai: a small village is being exploited by bandits who are stronger and better-armed than the villagers. Most villagers are content to put up with this, because they fear retribution from the bandits if they refuse or put up a fight. But some of the villagers decide that they’ve had enough, and leave their quiet village to go and find someone who can help them. They find washed-up misfits who are nevertheless willing to help (for various reasons), who help the villagers defend their town and repel the bandits once and for all.

Sound familiar? It’s also the story of The Magnificent Seven, A Bug’s Life, an episode of Firefly, an episode of Enterprise, and countless other movies, books, tv shows, and other works of fiction. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter what the story is, as long as it’s told well. Which is how I think of Avatar: a classic story told well.

The special effects were extremely impressive, and I can’t wait to see them again in 2D (more on that later). Every shot is filled with computer-generated marvels, but they’re seamlessly integrated with the live-action stuff. It’s almost impossible to tell what’s real and what’s fake, except when it’s obvious. The creatures and characters don’t look shiny or rubbery like CG frequently does.

I really enjoyed the look and feel of the technology in the movie too. From the first scene, your eyes are filled with science fiction marvels, from spaceships to vehicles to computers to really cool exoskeleton rigs. The human technology in this movie was very reminiscent of the space marines in Aliens, but far surpasses anything we saw in that movie.

What I thought was really cool is how completely nonchalant the director was with showing us this technology. It’s all filmed as if we see this stuff every day. We’ve all seen movies where the camera will linger on some strange piece of equipment we’ve never seen before, so the audience knows that this particular gizmo does so-and-so. Not here. You see amazing stuff going on in the background, out of focus, and the camera doesn’t care. Exoskeleton walking around? Want a demonstration? Why? It’s so commonplace. We see those every day. Maybe I’m making a big deal out of nothing, but I thought that was a great directing decision.

This movie also has one of the most badass villains I’ve ever seen (and I’m very reluctant to use such a term to describe anything). He’s a grizzled, scarred, experienced leader of a huge military force. He stomps around in an exoskeleton, even when he’s not wearing one. He smokes. Breath mask? Screw that, he doesn’t need to breathe. He’s fucking indestructible, dammit. You don’t get on his bad side.

On the other side of the coin, you have the planet Pandora, an astonishingly beautiful jungle world filled with gorgeous plant and animal life. And for once, it all actually looks and acts like it evolved on the same world; they’re not just a bunch of weird alien creatures.

Ok, this has gone on way longer than I intended, and I’m starting to ramble. Final verdict? Go see it. It’s visually stunning, conceptually fascinating, and it tells its well-worn story well.

Avatar and the future of 3D (Part 1)

Avatar and the future of 3D (Part 2)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>