Avatar Comes Out in Less Than 24!
Hey friends back home, sorry I haven't been posting so much. I've got another I'm working on that I should post next week. In the meantime, please enjoy this article I wrote for Shimane JET's magazine, the Black Taxi. It's all about James Cameron's new film Avatar, a film I have waited years for. If you're are a Shimane JET reading this on Facebook, there's nothing new here for this entry, but thanks anyways for checking the post out.
What’s the big deal about Avatar?
By Jonathan Edwards
Anybody out there remember Titanic? You know, that movie that won five billion awards because Leonardo DiCaprio played this impossible romantic hero who died before Kate Winslet could find out it really wasn’t going to work out. Don’t get me wrong, Titanic was a good movie, but not sweeping the Oscars, highest grossing movie of all time good. Seriously, The Dark Knight was the biggest movie of this decade, yet Batman and Joker’s earnings didn’t even come close to what Titanic made. The movie has actually irked me the most not from any fault of the film itself, but because of the director, James Cameron. Not that I hate the guy, in fact I love just about everything he’s done. But the man hasn’t made a real film in the twelve years since Titanic’s release, just documentaries about underwater sea life… boring, boring sea life; which is tragic because Cameron is a fantastic film maker, giving film buffs amazing classics like The Terminator, Aliens, and Abyss. His name may not be as recognizable as the likes of Spielberg, Lucas, or Jackson, but his contributions to cinema are just as epic, and I’d say more important.
Many people associate Jurassic Park with the onset of modern computer special effects. Before that, dinosaurs, monsters, and other non-existent enigmas were manifested through normal animation, animatronics, or the now (sadly) ridiculed stop motion animation. In fact, Spielberg’s prehistoric epic nearly went with stop motion in its pre-planning stages, if not for Cameron’s influence in the special effects industry at the time. Cameron was the first to prove that computer generated imagery could create realistic images without being surreal or cartoony. With Abyss, he pioneered CGI to create a living tentacle of water, one that could mimic those it interacted with. The effect could have been done with hand drawn animation, but drawing water realistically is time consuming, not to mention nearly impossible. Simply put, Cameron had put into film a creation that no film maker before could ever have done. He refined the trick and created the shape shifting T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a character that baffled audiences a full two years before Jurassic Park. So with all that talent and creativity, why the twelve year hiatus after making the biggest movie ever?
Avatar. No, not that Nickelodeon cartoon that some of you might be familiar with. The movie for that one is titled The Last Airbender to differentiate the two. After Titanic James Cameron had an idea for a science fiction movie, one he felt he could not properly tell given the technology of the time. I remember reading way back when in high school (about seven years ago) about this science fiction story called Avatar Cameron wanted to do, and how he felt the character Gollum in The Two Towers showed him he could pull off his new creations. But still he would wait. CGI was only part of his vision; the other half was 3D technology. I laughed at the time, and thought he was nuts. 3D films are the stuff of 1950s sci-fi, a long lost zeitgeist (kick ass word, look it up) that just seems too cheesy to resurrect. They tried in the 1980s and failed. Yet in the past two years, more and more North American theaters have been building giant 3D IMAX screens with smaller ones converting to normal 3D projectors, and studios are pumping out movies that utilize them, far more than twenty and fifty years ago.
Unfortunately, the problem with most 3D movies is that the extra dimension is utilized solely as a gimmick, rather than an extension of the artistic medium. Film makers find any excuse to point and throw objects and characters at the screen for shock and awe value that quickly wears thin and becomes annoying. Until Cameron, no big name director has actually stated any vision of how to use the 3D potential to actually enhance a film, rather than supplement one. He has claimed his vision for the movie was one that could only be conveyed through the third dimension. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t give such a claim much weight. However, the trailer highlights a world with land masses suspended in midair, and a great deal of aerial machines and creatures. A good director could create some impressive perspectives in three dimensions, and Cameron’s created brand new cameras to do so along with a resume for technological innovation backing him up.
And so for several years I have paid close attention to what has been a very secretive project. The trailer I mentioned was not even released officially until mid September, a dangerously brief three months before the release. With that trailer, a sudden realization hit me. I am in Japan now, where international films are often delayed for months or even years, assuming they arrive at all (District 9 anyone?). Thankfully, Japan will be part of Avatar’s world premiere this month on December 18th. With that bullet dodged, I’ve run into one more problem: This is Shimane. Despite the physical size, you can count the prefecture’s movie theaters on one hand, none of which utilize the extremely new 3D IMAX technology James Cameron spent twelve years waiting for. In fact the nearest commercial 3D IMAX screen is in Osaka, and they might be the only ones.
Now I’m not so crazy as to say people should be making such an expensive trek just for one movie. Even a film buff would call that stupid. But any film buff will also tell you that this is a one time opportunity, as 3D IMAX cannot be duplicated in the home. Pirating the film or waiting for the DVD release will not capture the intended scale or effects, and theatrical rereleases are very rare. In fact, that’s the whole reason the movie industry is pushing this new format, to entice viewers back. So if you do find yourself in an area with 3D IMAX over the holidays or the month that follows with the time to spare, give seeing the film some consideration. Especially if you like Aliens or The Terminator.