Saturday, 22 August 2009

Avatar Day was a red letter day

There it was then. The full 20 minutes of footage in all its glory, on the big IMAX screen, in 3D. The trailer for Avatar hit the net yesterday, and the backlash is already in full swing! A lot of "its not photorealistic enough" and "looks like an Xbox game" (clearly not gamers), but how many of 'em got to the cinema to check out the real deal? The future has been on its way for 14 years, so now is the time to ask, are we there yet?

We open with the self same footage I saw just last week, which remains as equally impressive on the jumbo screen as it did previously, and larger. But then, oh glory of glories, the new stuff. First up is Mr Worthington helping himself into the mind melding sarcophagus while verbally sparring with Sigourney Weaver – they don’t seem to be getting on too well, could it be his cocky, brash machismo is rubbing her up the wrong way? Or perhaps the right way? Anyway, he’s in the tank, so let's see some Dileep Rao playing minority report with his snazzy Apple notepad, as the link between marine and Na’vi is established- we need to go first person for this. Wooshing lightshow, then bam, out of focus doctors are staring into the lens. This scene is glimpsed in the trailer, and is amazing. Worthington is immediately having the time of his life. He can feel his legs and is up and wobbling about the place, to the dismay of the medics who just want him to touch his thumb to his fingers. “This is great” he grins. And it looks it too. The creature is there in the room, while the medics, dwarfed by the blue giant, scurry around him. Remarkable.

Next up we’re in the jungle at night, Worthington is wrestling with an alien dog creature and is losing. Out of the dark leaps a semi naked Na’vi, firing arrow into the dog in midair. She takes out the rest of the pack in graceful, deadly movements, and the remainder retreat into the darkness whimpering as she snarls after them. She extinguishes Worthington’s torch with a curse, what a numpty, lighting a fire brand in a hostile jungle, and goes about putting one of the injured dog creatures out of it's misery. As he retrieves his torch from the pool, Worthington realises he has flawless night vision, and that the jungle is lit up all around him in gorgeous neon. Very pretty. Very alien.

Next, the scene directly following – Worthington and Zoe Saldana (for it is she) have their first tiff. He is trying to thank her for saving him. She is super pissed off at him for getting in trouble in the first place and needing her to kill the animals she did. Then why did you save me? “You have a strong heart – you have no fear”. Hmm first sign of sloppy romance (of course) or also an allusion to the fact that he’s a marine working a body that’s not his and he doesn’t really give two hoots if his face gets bitten off by space dogs? Regardless, the faces on the two protagonists are simply amazing, expressions and nuances so spot on, so detailed, they are looking more and more realistic.

Cut to the final scene. Worthington now seems to be part of a Na’vi tribe as Zoe is there, and there’s a bunch of other males there too. They are inching along a high precipice of a cliff face, and as the round the corner we see.. a flock of dragons basking on the rocks! Freaking big sabre toothed dragon things, all laid out on the cliff face, nesting like something out of Planet Earth, the leathery looking creatures squawk and roar, flapping away as the Na’vi approach. We learn they mean to capture these creatures, and that they use them as transport. Zoe has been teaching Worthington the tricks of the trade; he must make a bond between himself and the lizard to tame it. He approaches one that looks game, and prepares for the catch. One of the male Na’vi is mocking – “The moron's going to die” - ooh, 3D subtitles. The creature snaps at our boy, he dodges and leaps on its back, wrestling with it for control, but is thrown, nearly taking a spill off the impossibly high cliff as the nasty looking male jock roars with laughter. What a douche. Undeterred, Worthy leaps back up and then onto the back of the creature, this time pinning its head. We see the "bond" is literal – he grabs a tendril from the back of the creatures head, and his own pony tail, and holds the ends together – we see silvery nerve endings intertwine between them and they fuse together – the dragon going wide eyed and docile in a moment. Next they’re off, the first flight "seals the bond". The first flight is actually a bit of a nightmare, as the creature dive-bombs and tumbles through the air, the camera swooping after them in stomach lurching arcs. Worthy cant get the hang of flying, the creature smacking into the cliff face and falling several hundred feet, screechily protesting all the way – until he shouts “shut up and fly straight” and it simply does - he thinks it, it does it, then it's plain sailing all the way, and a chance to take in the beautiful panoramic landscape.

And then we’re into the wrap up reel. This followed the style of the trailer but there were a few more shots in there that are not, including an indescribably cool shot of falling debris – perhaps one of those floating mountains being destroyed and falling to earth? - and lots more of the epic action from the trailer, which we didnt get a sniff of in the proper footage. Boo.

Lets be clear, what I saw was astonishing. I’ve read an awful lot of hating on the nets today, mostly aimed at the trailer, and I honestly can’t understand it - just what were people expecting from a sci fi movie about aliens on another world? Ok, so you can tell the Na'vi are CGI, but only some of the time! In closeup especially, they are breathtakingly convincing, and at the very least, represent the pinnacle of computer generated characterisation. I thought the trailer alone looked great – impeccably gorgeous landscapes, again undoubtedly the most advanced CG ever seen, anywhere (FACT) but to see the world and characters in 3D, and on the big screen was something else. What these wizards have c
reated is so rich and so gorgeous that I simply need to see this movie now. The imagination on display was astonishing and so well realised and incredibly immersive that claims about it being a watermark in cinema are probably spot on - bearing in mind JC certainly hasn't shown his full hand yet, the game is set to be well and truly changed. It seems in some camps expectation had been set so high, the reality has come as a bit of a downer. But it really shouldn't have as this is the closest anyone's come to fashioning another world onscreen, and the reaction may be more to do with the realisation it's going to be a movie about blue skinned aliens in a jungle. Some people are never satisfied.

The technology has been the focus since we heard about it, but watching the footage it became clear that what Cameron has been quoted as saying about the tech being advanced enough to “wave its own wand and make itself disappear” is totally true – all the CG and 3D will play second fiddle to the story and characters. The Avatars, despite being 8ft tall and blue, were completely believable, and the range of expression on their oddly feline faces was amazing– by the second viewing (did I mention I went twice?!) they didn’t look CG at all, but rather like familiar faces, each unique and remarkable. Imagine sitting through a whole film. We’re going to love these things.

But this is just me. Could you get tickets? Were you a part of Avatar day? What did you think? Revolutionary or Thundercats meets Ferngully?

If you need to see the trailer.. here it is!

1 comment:

therealbobthought said...

you are too cool doin this for us