Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rocky, Pao, Rej, O'Neal, Karen and myself were recently among those invited to see a glimpse of the upcoming James Cameron film Avatar yesterday afternoon. While the whole movie has long been shrouded in secrecy, there has been much hype building about how no one has ever seen "computer animation like this before" and how they supposedly "raise the bar" on the quality of animated flicks. Being one of the few people who actually appreciated Squaresoft's pure CG film Final Fantasy, I was wondering exactly what James Cameron's camp meant considering most science fiction or fantasy films nowadays has the merging of live-action actors intermeshed into a computer generated universe (everything from the classic Tron, to the prequel Starwars trilogy) with numerous films even using computer generated images to such a degree it can be difficult to separate from reality (from the models used for Final Fantasy, to the very believable performances of Gollum in Lord of the Rings, and even the majestic non-existent sets and creatures in Starwars and Cloverfield.)

Visually, the teaser images we were allowed to see were remarkable. While I failed to be "fooled" in seeing the images to be "real", the rich textures and colors were definitely a sight to behold. Final Fantasy still edges ahead of Avatar in animating and creating hair, but Avatar does successfully exploit the power of the 3d depth of field an iMax film can offer and does it pretty well.

While I felt some concerns that James Cameron was going a tad overboard with his love for bioluminescene and colors, the visual spectacle that Avatar promised was there, with a nice contrast forming between the natural world and the mechanical military world.

I had some reservations as well on the design choices in some instances. For example, the alien race of blue-skinned humanoids used as avatars have seemingly feline qualities in their design. These qualities however seem to be merely cosmetic as the being do not reflect the typically expected qualities of a cat in their motion and agility. I don't even recall seeing them use their tail as a balancing factor or counter weight. The vibrancy of the forest reminded me a lot of the cartoon Fern Gully, as did the overall plot which has a strong nature versus "industry" feel. There were even hints of the story having been inspired by Pocahontas when the lead hero from the modern world seemingly befriends (and falls in love with) a native of the planet who chides him for being stupid and uncaring of the animals and the delicate balance of the ecosystem, but admits she saved him for having "a good heart."

While I don't feel much about the lead character being played by Sam Worthington of the recent Terminator: Salvation flick, I am very exicted to see Sigourney Weaver back in a film that in some ways resonates the adrenaline rush of Aliens. There are also plans for an upcoming toyline which will embrace the use of Augmented Reality to add some new fun to playing with them.

Does the movie, based on the teasers we were allowed to see look worth watching? Absolutely. While there are some movies (like say Public Enemies) which I wouldn't mind catching on video instead, Avatar falls under movies that seem worth seeing with the full visual impact it needs. Like the movie Cloverfield, Avatar greatly benefits from being seen in a larger than life level with every single detail you can glean while watching adding to the overall experience. While I have my doubts this movie will revolutionize anything as far as the medium is concerned, I do expect this to be a visual feast world indulging this coming Christmas... especially since it most likely sees release a few days before the start of the Metro Manila Film Festival.

(in short: Avatar is the lovechild of Fern Gully meets Pocahontas and Aliens with Matrix-inspired power armor. Notice how Jake's Na'vi looks like the lovechild of Edward with the brash attitude of Anakin Skywalker in the scene when he first taps into the Avatar and wakes from the gurney.)

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