avatarsp avatarsp

Avatar talkback

I saw James Cameron’s Avatar last night and I feel a talkback post here would be appropriate.

Did I like the film? Yes, very much so. Eye candy galore! We’ve seen this movie before, but never like this. The film is an awesome, epic spectacle – a classic “western” told through a pulp sci-fi prism.

The film also changed my mind about motion-capture. It turns out I don’t hate mo-cap after all… I just hate the mo-cap films of Robert Zemeckis.

  • TK

    Cameron pretty much got to the other side of the Uncanny Valley, but not without casualties. Apart from stunning visual, the fallback for Avatar would include the strong flashback vibes from films like Atlantis, Battle for Terra, FernGully and Princess Mononoke, cheesy one-dimensional villains, and Papyrus for subtitles.

  • robertpaulson

    I agree that spectacle is a good word for it. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the film, I just don’t think it taught me much about being human. To me it was more a virtual experience; even though it’s a 300 million dollar “ferngully” it’ll feel like you’re riding the dragons. I also really feel that this movie can only be enjoyed in movie theater 3-D form, it won’t scale well. Home theater market?

    Also, was anyone sort worried at the idea of a CG mo-cap sex scene? It felt awfully strange.

  • This movie just blew me away. I expected great things and got even more than I anticipated. The story and characters are engaging (if not particularly deep or original) and the visuals are truly mindblowing and literally jaw-droppig. (My mouth was probably open for at least half of the movie.) The detailed world Cameron has created is really immersive and unprecedented in its scope and creativity. The 3D is the best I’ve seen by far and the performance capture is miles above what Zemeckis is doing. Only a few cheesy moments that are hard to swallow keep the film from being completely great. Still, it’s a must-see!

  • I got completely lost in Pandora, even though I could predict what was about to happen next several times, I didn’t want to leave! I wanted to see more of that world… not a sequel, just a longer film!

    @robertpaulson: Yeah I was like oh no, not CG porn. Glad they didn’t take it too far!

    @TK: You gotta love that general guy, he was so pissed he didn’t care about breathing at all. Now that’s dedication!

  • Skip

    One thing that everyone seemed to agree about the film (Both those who loved it, and those who hated it.) was that for the first time a director was able to create a world in which the viewer felt as if they were exploring that world. I don’t know if anyone else could have pulled that off. Even though the story was not completely original James Cameron did break a lot of ground with this film. There were some pretty damn amazing elements to it. I don’t think that the story was bad. I think the reason that some people griped so much about the film, was because the film had been hyped up so much by the Fox studio that Walt Disney him self could not have met those expectations. It may not have been the best film that I have ever seen, but I will definitely go see it in the theatre again and buy the DVD.

  • The visuals were really nicely done, and the uncanny valley was jumped but the movie made me angry because all that money and all that work was tied to a worn out story. When it came down to the core, the film was a glorified fist fight and nothing more. With only a very little thought, this could have been a much better, more interesting story. Instead, it’s the same old thing gussied up. I saw “Princess and the Frog” the same night and while that trod familiar ground as well, I really enjoyed that.

  • Pedro Nakama

    I agree. I hate Robert Zemeckis motion capture films also. I think Weta has mastered motion capture creatures with The Lord of the Rings films and this film. But what you also have to realize is that the ears and tails on the characters all had to animated by animators after the motion capture process. And the dragons had to be completely animated.

    There’s a lot of questions on what was CG and what was done practical on the set. The next issue of Cinefex is going to be completely dedicated to Avatar.

  • Eric

    How could you not like Zemeckis’ The Polar Express? I have always loved that one for the last five years!

  • dr. giraud

    There are a lot of problems with Zemeckis use of motion capture, but the most off-putting is with the eyes. Every character has soulless, “dead eyes.”

  • Rat

    After seeing the film, I kept calling it Pandora. Telling people “I just saw Pandora… I mean Avatar.” I realized it was because I felt I had *been somewhere*.

    This film represents the beginning of a new era of filmmaking. People talk about the “post Star Wars” era, or the “post Jurassic Park”… this is in that league.

    Stories are in the telling, IMO. And this is a story well-told.

    Technical folks like me always knew that there was nothing wrong with motion capture that banging on the technical and art side couldn’t fix. And yet Zemeckis film after Zemeckis film caused everyone to assume there was. I’d also argue that there is no “uncanny valley”. UV is merely an excuse for shitty character designs and shitty capture/animation/deformation. Look at the Polar Express children now with hindsight. It ain’t that there’s some insurmountable issue with human likeness. It’s that Zemeckis has no eye.

    Anyway, Avatar feels like a place. I agree with others who said that they didn’t want the film to end… they wanted to stay in that place. I totally agree. When the lights came up, all of my friends said they wanted it to go on for another hour.

    A part of me felt like I was in the film. That I had been on Pandora for about three months. I recalled the point in the film when Jake didn’t know about the animals on Pandora and feared them, and it felt so long ago, much longer than the events that happened near the end. I can’t recall getting so lost in a film in a very, very long time. Maybe Lawrence of Arabia.

    The film is one of the very few films that the subject matter kind of meta-combines with the film itself. Just as Jake transfers his consciousness into an Avatar and explores Pandora, in 3d Imax so do you. And that is an incredible, once in a lifetime experience.

    I envy everyone who has not seen it yet. I envy their ability to see it for the first time.

  • squirrel

    I thought just ONCE you’d explain the story behind that South Park pic! :O I’m more curious about THAT! I thought the season ended.

  • dbborroughs

    The ah moment about motion capture was at the end of Zemekis’ Christmas Carol where Gary Olman’s face stopped looking like Alfred E Newman and looked normal. It was at that point I realized the problem wasn’t the technique but what was being done by these filmmakers. It also made it clear that what Zemekis was doing was pointless and that what Cameron was doing- creating a real alien world- was what was the best use of it.

  • I went into this film opening night knowing that I was about to watch Dances with Wolves in space. The characters and dialogue were horribly one dimensional but the world was so immersive and interesting that I didn’t pay too much attention to the film’s flaws. Halfway during the movie, I was wishing for a Myst-like experience where I could explore the world without interruption. I’ve shyed away from bluray, but this movie might just get me to upgrade when it’s released in stores.

  • Oliver

    No intention whatsoever of seeing this film, but still — isn’t it amazing to consider that it was only 25 years ago, in ‘The Last Starfighter’, that CGI was first used to create photorealistic, ‘real world’ objects?

    That said, fewer than 25 years separated ‘Fred Ott’s Sneeze’ (1894) from Griffith’s ‘Intolerance’ (1916). Now that’s what I call a learning curve!

  • Rick Farmiloe

    Robert Zemeckis obviously HATES animation and thinks his MoCap films are a safe way around it. His films stink….starting with the barely watchable POLAR EXPRESS. I can’t wait to see how he ruins YELLOW SUBMARINE. I wish Disney would change it’s mind before it’s too late. It’s going to be a disaster!! At least we still have the old film in all of it’s psycadelic glory!!

  • squirrel,

    That’s from the episode “Dancing with the Smurfs”, which I thought was pretty funny.

    And wow, Jerry Beck making a positive comment about a mo-cap film? This I gotta see.

  • Sylvain

    We didn’t know you hated Zemeckis films, we really didn’t ;-)

  • i’d say robert zemeckis. His films suck, yes, but its the person i hate.
    As an animator I would argue that it is possible to get more lively characters by animating them old school, even if their outershell is within the realm of hyperrealism.
    Funny thing that motioncapture has become so popular among film creators. Why is it so necessary to have real actors “play” the roles of the on screen characters just because they look real?

  • Chris J.

    “Motion Capture” doesn’t really do what was up on that screen justice. This truly was “performance capture.” The most remarkable thing about Avatar is that although you know everything that’s going to happen, it still pulls you in and holds you. I don’t know if it will make its money back – but I’m grateful that it was made before Zemekis drove the concept of performance capture into the ground.

  • KMB

    So much fuss for something that wasn’t worth 500M$:
    Low character development (do you care about the Hero once?), a weak and predictable scenario (…and the dialogues… ouch!) with designs that was seen hundred times on CGTalk.

    I agree with the whole “Uncanny Valley” step forward, I just hope they’ll match it with a nice scenario.

  • TheGunheart

    Well, for one thing, Rob’s films always use human characters, unlike this and Lord of the Rings, where mo-cap was used to animate humanoid, but not-quite human creatures.

  • Mike Johnson

    I wonder…since when does any director OWE us an original story? It has always seemed to me to be the height of conceit to expect that WE are owed ANYTHING by anyone who is a filmmaker. This is the story that James Cameron wrote, so this is the story he has to tell us. So what if it’s not the greatest original screenplay of all time?

    I saw AVATAR last night and was thrilled to death by the experience. So much so that I am seeing it again today in just a few more hours. I don’t care if the story is derivative of many others. MOST stories are derivative, whether it’s a screenplay or in literature. I remember when The Lion King came out that some people pointed out glaring similarities to King Lear, but I don’t remember anyone holding that against it.

    What AVATAR achieves goes far beyond whether or not the storytelling is of a certain caliber. AVATAR has introduced us to a new way of experiencing cinema…and for me at least cinema has always been about what the eyes see and what the heart feels, and it is very rare that a film completely changes the way those two things are perceived.

    Speaking only for myself, I found the story more than adequate, even rewarding, and though it may be “simple” or “corny” sometimes simple and corny are good things, if employed correctly. I’m not saying that I found anything simple or corny about the story myself. I didn’t. I only mean to point out to those who feel insulted that AVATAR wasn’t what THEY wanted, that perhaps you should come down off of your pedestal and mingle with us common folk who are looking for a couple of hours of escapism from our worldly troubles and our only expectation is to be taken somewhere worth visiting for that time.

    AVATAR more than delivers on that, and I only wish I could thank Mr. Cameron personally for what he has given us.

    By the way…I don’t hate anyone for not liking AVATAR. That’s your opinion, and you’re welcome to share it. There are many films I don’t like either. It just seems to me that many of the haters are hating for purely selfish reasons, and that’s kind of a shame. I know that when the film ended last night, the entire audience literally cheered, and I heard not one negative comment at all.

    I guess I must have been sitting with a bunch of uninformed, low-class people who wouldn’t know a good story if it bit them in the a**…

  • it was a very pretty movie all in all but i knew that was the main draw for the film. I wanted a good story and i wasn’t surprised in any way. It seemed like Pocahontas, John Smith aka Jake Scully goes to a foreign world looking for riches. All the natives are Indians the Nabi i think they even speak a real Indian language in Avatar its most likely not fabricated. earthly people connected to the wild in the literal sense who are only mildly dangerous when first encountered. The female love interest saves the protagonist from death at the hands of the natives. There’s even a grandmother willow the tree of spirits or whatever its called. The battle scene is in there too and the white people leave back for the old world of Europe. There were even songs in Avatar but no singalong was featured and sans comedic troupe of pug, raccoon and hummingbird.

    Ive never seen a movie this colorful and impressive that actually was a good storytelling experience but the narrative was lackluster at best.

  • George

    Just curious, has McDonald’s ever had a Happy meal promotion for a PG-13 film? I thought nothing of it till I saw the posts here about a CG sex scene, then I found it a bit awkward. Funny, but awkward.

  • Michel Van

    @Mike Johnson: since when does any director OWE us an original story?
    Cameron not only Write the Skript, he design the Hardware, the lifeforms of Pandora
    this Ecology, the art of movie. even the Technolgy need for Movie he made!

    @TK:Cameron pretty much got to the other side of the Uncanny Valley
    and Zemeckis CGI movies died in Uncanny (death) Valley.
    POLAR EXPRESS, BEOWULF were …bad and his new one this A Christmas Carol
    the Trailer shows it, sucks…
    and i hope deeply some one stops Him, befor he rape “YELLOW SUBMARINE”.

  • Scarabim

    Pretty pictures.

    Dumb script.

    I tawt I taw a puddy tat!

    End of story.

  • Oliver

    Why should I watch a Cameron movie with spectacle but stupid characters and dialogue when I can put on a DVD of a Cameron movie with spectacle and *interesting* characters and dialogue, like ‘Aliens’ or ‘T2’?

    “Common folk” shouldn’t have to choose between action and intelligence when they can have both.

  • Scott

    Fun movie, badly designed. Especially the vehicles, which had little to do with their use in the environment–or even to contrast them.

    Looked like Thomas Kinkade designed the film, by way of the same run-of-the-mill so-called “concept artists” that designed films like “Yor” and “Ice Pirates.” Ugh.

  • Lucky Jim

    “Avatar” is the James Cameron-iest movie ever made. And I mean that as a compliment.

    One thing I liked is that Cameron “gets” motion capture. The human actors are actually human, and the aliens are CG, and that’s how it should be. If you CG everything like Zemeckis does, it ends up looking like nothing.

    It was also a treat to watch action sequences that you could actually follow and understand. We’ve seen so many Michael Bay-type “everything’s happening at once” action scenes, that to see a clearly told set piece is amazing.

    And it’s nice to see Cameron still has a knack for set ups and payoffs. (SPOILERS) At the beginning of the film, Jake Sully sees a tank with arrows in its wheels. Later, the military colonel says those arrows can kill a man within a minute. By the film’s end, the colonel is killed by the arrows. A simple gag but it’s very effective. (SPOILERS)

    My hats off to the amazing crew, you’ve done good.

  • optimist

    Saw the 3D version. I’d already heard great things about it and went expecting a terrific time.

    Well, it does have some great visuals,and the level of the mocap and subsequent animation is indeed tops. It was brilliantly storyboarded. Good editing. No, GREAT editing. nice sound design. That’s the good news.

    The rest: it’s got one of the lamest scripts and story ever for a movie of this kind. The dialogue is so bad it makes Iron Man or Transformers seem like Noel Coward in comparison. I know Cameron can’t write dialog but this was bad even for him. The stuff was so hackneyed and predictable that I could mouth the replies along with the characters, and the “badass” quotient was unbelievably irritating and lamely overdone. After the 238th deadpan/ironic version of an “Eat THIS, bitch” comeback I wanted to throw my popcorn bag at the screen. They even had one character pump his arm and hiss “YESSSSSSS!”…didn’t that cliche peak about 15 years ago-r was it 20? Has ANYone ever seen anyone in real life EVER do or say that? I guess it’s been revived in 2350 or whatever.

    Even though it’s set on another planet and is a scifi fantasy don’t the characters have to have some believability for us to care about them? Because I never believed they existed(the lead came off best throughout, no doubt due to the actor, who did his best, underplaying throughout).
    The movie is Sgt. Rock and Dances with Wolves crossed with big doses of Ferngully(even down to a dozer taking out the giant sacred…well, you know).

    Other thoughts: It’s too long by at least 30 minutes. I was flabbergasted at the amount of clumsy exposition from every single character. Did the aliens have to be based so directly on native american indians in every way? Did the ANIMALS have to be based on earth creatures so closely? While beautifully rendered technically, to me the designs were in actuality pretty obvious, predictable and unimaginative. I’d have preferred much less of the old “fight off the evil corporation shills” stuff and a lot more of “I’m in an alien world; how do I cope and what if I want to stay here?” Again, the plot and dialog really sank it. I was bored by the final Big Battle and unmoved by what happened. Just wanted it to end.

  • Sumatra

    AVATAR is out of this world. WETA and ILM work is also out of this world. THe 3D use is smart and stunning.

    Alice in Wonderland looks dated before it´s release ( 3D Wise)

    All the other visual effecs companies better catch up

  • Roberto

    I watched Where The Wild Things Are yesterday and I found everything a lot more real, and I was actually moved by the characters and the story.

    Avatar is spectacular and more or less entertaining for its length. The inmersive experience was cool sometimes but I also didn’t feel the Na’vis were real either. To me the more charismatic character was Colonel Quaritch…well, him and Sigourney Weaver…whatever her character was..just because she was Sigourney Weaver was a lot more charismatic than most of the other actors and creatures there.

  • Bugsmer

    I just saw the movie tonight. James Cameron has done it again! Digital technology has not yet evolved to the point in which complex animals and humanoids can appear completely lifelike, but the background scenery–the trees, floating mountains, waterfalls, etcetera; the spaceships and helicopters; all looked completely real. In this movie, we get a good story that is actually able to pull you along emotionally, unlike many of the deadly sci-fi films of recent years. Somehow, Cameron does manage to put you into a new world, and objects and scenery that you know can’t exist seems every bit as real as anything you can touch in this world. This film is beyond visually breathtaking. You don’t see a bunch of actors standing in front of a blue screen pretending they’re interacting with things and beings. Cameron uses a lot of real physical objects, and merges them seamlessly with his digital world, so what you end up with is a complex combination of the two that look like they belong together. I think that I probably saw it on a normal screen, so I have no idea how it looks in 3D, but on a normal screen, it looks very, very good. I recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed Cameron’s past films, and to anyone who likes a good sci-fi actioneer with some good drama.

  • Lee

    I liked it, a good cowboys and Indians movie in space, the 3d-ness of it all was almost overwhelming, I’ll admit to a bit of motion sickness with some of the fast blurry cutting, and that the storyline was a bit predictable in some places. I just wanted to see more and more of the world and creatures and characters that were created. I like how we humans were the bad-guys,and got the boot.

  • matt

    C’mon guys, if you’re gonna rag on this movie, rag on something worthwhile – I hear the subtitles are Papyrus! WTF? ;)

  • Steve K.

    I’m 100% with dbborroughs and Lucky Jim above!

  • DaveCuu

    Great film, is it changing the face of movie making?… Maybe, but I have seen all of these things in Square-Enix cut scenes before, (Also check out FF7 Advent Children the movie if you have not) so I don’t know how new the concept is.

    I do however want this to succeed because if it does that means we are more likely to get more things like this. If it doesn’t succeed we will more likely get lower budget films.

    Disney should have made this. Back in the days Disney would be at this level per se

  • As I wrote on my blog, “Scott Tobias, in his review at the Onion’s AV Club, wrote a prophetic line: “As the film’s technical marvels grow commonplace, it will look like a clunky old theme-park attraction, a Captain EO for our time.”

    I thought of that several times while watching the film and still think of it. The art style is so trite and the script so pathetic that it’s an enormous surprise to find how much I enjoyed the one-time-only experience of taking in this film. At least the MoCap faces didn’t look dead throughout the film. It’s worth a look but not much more.

  • Scott

    ” All the other visual effecs companies better catch up”

    All the other visual effects companies better learn that a story is more important than visual effects. And they need better designers.

  • sporridge

    Yes, the military characters were so nondimensional, they could’ve been cast from that “Bucket ‘o’ Soldiers” in “Toy Story.”

    True, my brain was calling up parallels with “Tron,” “Brainstorm,” “District 9,” and other incidents of An Everyman vs. Corporate Scheming.

    Yet I enjoyed “Avatar” for one viewing, anyway. Noticed a portion of the credits listed a dedicated “Texture Crew,” which I’m guessing had a hand in the mocap refinements — or at least to make a viewer forget about the technology and focus upon the accomplishment.

    However, my vote for mocap industry leaders right now (if that’s what they’re using) would go to Apple Daily Motion News and their depictions of the Tiger Woods serial (especially nice use of thought balloons).

  • rockynotbullwinkle

    Was I supposed to get out of this film that we are killing the earth and we can stop it if we stand up for whats right…..cause thats what my bio major head got out of this movie.

    I do think it could have been a tad shorter but I really liked it.

    Its visually awesome but 3D glasses and my own glasses didn’t always work.

  • matt

    sporridge, unless you were being deadpan, there are dedicated texture artists on every single movie that has cg. Cg models have inherently smooth/mathematically perfect surfaces so texture, colour and specular properties must be assigned to them. Sorta like the ink and paint department. But yes, if these texture/shader layers are done well the idea IS that you can forget about the look and concentrate on the story and characters because you’re not continually distracted by the look being “not quite right”. Allowing for the inherent anachronism you’ll ALWAYS be confronted with in fantasy, which is suspension of disbelief/the very premise being literally unreal.

    Having said that though, nine times out of ten when people say CG doesn’t “look right” these days they actually mean it doesn’t move right, or have a convincing sense of mass.

  • matt

    Sorry, P.S.

    – Which brings us back to the reason for using mocap and it’s transplanting of real captured movement onto a cg rig/skeleton. Facial capture is the same sort of rotoscoping principal. Texture doesn’t neccesarily have anything to do with mocap/motion capture at all. It’s just the skin on the cg cat.

  • Chris J.

    For my part, I didn’t find the script “pathetic” or “nondimensional” or any of the hyperbolic descriptions I’m hearing from the film’s detractors. It was completely predictable – yes, and as ever Cameron is no great auteur when it comes to dialog, but frankly if I want to see Glengarry Glen Ross, I’ll go watch Glengarry Glen Ross.

    The script was tight, the emotional impact was absolutely there when it needed to be, the villian was outstanding, and the storytelling was fantastic. I guess at a certain point you either get drawn into this amazing movie or you don’t.

    For myself, there was NOTHING so glaringly bad in either script or performance that stopped that for happening for me. Far from it, I personally bought into the movie very early on and despite a predictable story, it kept me. A good, good movie.

  • sporridge

    Thank you, Matt. This was the first time I noticed the “Texture Crew” listings. Credits for CG-intense movies tend to be a speed reading test through wide columns of text; my eyes just happened to land on that term this time.

  • OM

    …Is Peyo still alive? Either way, whoever owns the rights to The Smurfs needs to sue for look-n-feel theft.

  • stumpyuncle

    I saw Princess and the Frog yesterday and Avatar today. Princess looked like an animatic story reel when compared to Avatar. Sorry!

  • Brian

    Avatar definitely let me down and it has some to do with hype, but come on this is a movie over ten years in the making. You can’t escape hype on a film like that, Cameron had enormous shoes to fill and they were just way too big. The film is one giant cliche after another, I couldn’t’ feel for the characters since I had seen them all so many times before and they had been potrayed so much stronger. I could literally take characters from fern gulley and replace them with avatar’s cast. I really do respect James Cameron alot too, Aliens and Terminator 2 are two of my favorite films but this does not stack up to either. As far as Visuals go, yeah it did set new grounds and it is the best CG I have ever seen with characters that feel and look real. But visuals alone wont make a revolutionary film for me.

  • andreas Wessel-Therhorn

    wow. that last comment was silly. anyway, great performance capture, pain inducing script. felt like a remake of atlantis with a bit of pocahontas mixed in.

  • Brian

    For the record I enjoyed Princess and The Frog as much if not more then Avatar.

    As for this year I’d say District 9 stands at #1 for me with UP in a close second.

  • Steve Gattuso

    I think the best way to describe what I saw was a nickname a friend of mine gave it: “Dances With Smurfs.” It’s a very, very pretty veneer over a very, very trite and uninteresting story. The fact that Cameron simply created “Unobtanium” as a reason for being on Pandora tells you that he’s aware of this and didn’t care. He’s always had this problem with stories, but usually got away with it because the target audiences were either action freaks (Terminator 2) or sex-starved romance-novel readers (Titanic). {I suspect this flick will ignite closeted furry fans.} I don’t mind simplicity in a film if it tells the story well, but I never did like gourmet hamburgers. I could nitpick on details and overused tropes in the thing, but it’s almost Xmas and I have more pleasant matters to attend to.

  • I loved the movie: the lush settings, the awesome creatures; and the Na’vi are definitely the bestest synthetic characters ever to be used in a motion picture. I too didn’t want it to end!

    About the story? sure, a bit predictable, but nevertheless I didn’t have any major problems with it —maybe because I’m *not* white :-P

    The Abyss is still my favorite Cameron movie. But this is definitely his second best. Start rolling the sequels, James!

  • I went into the theatre fully prepared to hate it to pieces. When it was over I didnt feel ripped off, and the more I reflected the more I was happy I saw it.

    3D digital is awful by the way. Is it just me or does anyone else get a head ache too? Imax 3d looks better.

    When I saw the first scene with Sam Worthington as Jake Sully in his avatar, I was nervous. The lip sync looked awful for that first scene, perhaps through out, the way he moved etc. But the mo-cap and physical acting of Zoe Saldana’s character, Neytiri saved the film for me, the subtle nuances in her facial acting were great.

  • Bugsmer

    The weekend box office results have come in. Avatar made 77.3 million dollars, already 30% of its budget (using an estimated 250 million dollar budget, since the actual budget hasn’t been revealed). If this film keeps going strong, it may become the first trillion dollar movie maker in box office receipts alone.

  • matt

    Bugsmer, as always, that’s only American domestic. It made 164.5 overseas (still to open in a few markets though). So all up 241.6 apparently. Not that I care, but it just bugs me when people not only don’t think outside America, but it never even occurs to them that the U.S. is NOT the world. No offence, and don’t even get me started on Baseball’s “World Series”! ;)

    I still think that the most appropriate use of mocap will always be Happy Feet. It uses the technique in complete service to the story (no matter what you think of the story), for things that couldn’t be done as well in 2d, and the facial ,action and swimming stuff is still keyframe-driven.

    Haven’t made it to Avatar yet, and outside of scary Papyrus subs, I just wish that the catch-phrase militaryspeak had been used as an ironic indictment of the that type of person. Ah well. And the yes look pretty good so far, which is the crucial thing for me.

    And Steve, “unobtanium” is a real word – scientists came up with it, not Cameron. At least that term has a couple of layers to it!

  • matt

    Correction – the EYES look pretty good so far, not ‘yes’!

  • Matt Crowther

    Saw it, really liked it. The creatures, the realization of the alien world, the mo-cap all were spot on. The script- predictable, but I expect that from big-budget Hollywood fare. It was not horrible though, and given the films other merits, it gets the thumbs up.

  • Bugsmer

    I must correct my words. I meant that Avatar has a good chance of breaking the billion dollar box office barrier, not trillion. Matt, you’re right. I wasn’t taking into consideration the worldwide gross for the figures I posted, but I was considering the worldwide gross when it came to the billion dollar possibility. Several films have made over 900 million dollars at the (worldwide) box office, but no film has yet reached a billion. Perhaps Avatar will be that film.

  • matt

    Gotcha! But Titanic made almost 2, not 1 billion at the B.O., with 2/3 of that coming from overseas. Despite being so long. And to think, they made him cut down previous stuff to get more sessions per day! I think for all the hoopla about running time, if it’s right for the movie then it’s right, and the box office will be whatever it will be. I just prefer that it suit the movie. I like Lawrence and Dr. Zhivago at their lengths, and I like Dumbo at just over an hour.

  • Guy

    ” All the other visual effecs companies better catch up”

    All the other visual effects companies better learn that a story is more important than visual effects. And they need better designers.

    Dear Scott,

    Name a single visual effects company that is responsible for the story in a film. You can’t.

    Visual effects companies produce the EFFECTS and the story is brought by the director and the studio that hires the visual effects company.

    If you were a client studio would you hire a VFX company that didn’t do what you asked? Is a visual effect studio running on a limited budget going to throw out your (bad) story, all your principle photography, re-shoot the actors on its own, and re-write the script?

    Time after time bad directors veto choices by good artists at VFX studios when it comes to design. They come in with their own preconceptions and early development work and they are often MARRIED to it.

    That said, if a VFX studio DOES have a chance to develop anything on the front end, it’s their responsibility to put GOOD options in front of a director. You can’t make them choose the good options but you can try.

    Beautiful work in this movie overall. Design choices are a bit weird in places but I’ll leave that for another comment.

    The end.

  • Avatar was an amazing experience. Some people may want to talk trash about the story, but it kept me involved the whole 3 hours. Then it was on my way home that I figured it out… Avatar is what happens when you mix the Matrix with Pocahontas.

  • “Avatar is what happens when you mix the Matrix with Pocahontas.”

    Could not agree more.

    Yes, everything is as good as it can be.

    But it could have been so much more.

    If ever a planet needed to get its act together against those raping it it is the one we live on.

    Ain’t gonna happen except in the movies.

    By the way, the Pocahontas story, properly told, would bring all who saw it to their knees in shame.

    The true story is about a woman abandoned and an entire people murdered.

    It is time for the movies to grow up.

  • Bugsmer

    You’re right, Matt. I’m behind the times. Four movies have shot over the billion dollar mark in terms of worldwide box office alone: the first Harry Potter movie, “The Dark Knight”, the second Pirates Of The Caribbean movie, and “Titanic”, which made the most.

    You’re right about movie length being relative to the movie. I can’t imagine “Gone With The Wind” having anywhere near the depth were it shorter. At about four hours long, it manages to keep people wide awake, intrigued and entertained–a feat that many hour-long shows are unable to duplicate. Dumbo could have been a tad longer, but at 60 minutes, it manages to tell all the story it needs to and leaves the audience feeling fulfilled. My one gripe with some of the Disney theatrical cartoons is the length of time used for character development. They can take several minutes slowly building up the character development, slowly introducing us to the story, and then, just as the story starts getting really interesting, the cartoon ends. As several posters above wrote, you have to care about the characters being portrayed onscreen, and the directors that can manage this feat can make you believe in anything.

  • I had a very good time. The visuals blew me away. The creatures were all interesting and appealing, especially the blue nine foot tall supermodel aliens. Good god, they were a RACE of blue smurf Iroquois supermodels in space. The humans were conveniently one dimensional, so I didn’t feel too bad while wishing the aliens would kill ’em. The flying vehicles were dumb; a modern helicopter would have been a dozen times more sensible than what they used.

    What bugged me was that aside from that almost-sex scene, I can’t think of a single thing they did that took a risk. The whole film was so familiar, the characters so generic, that I felt like I had seen it several times before. Dances with wolves, the last samurai, etc. The further adventures of mighty whitey.

    The Brew reader who coined ‘Dances With Thundersmurfs’ all those months ago gets a well-deserved pat on the back. All this time and I STILL call them that, and so does most of my family. Good stuff.

  • Mike

    The story has been told before, the last samurai and what have you..

    and there is the obvious theme that comes with such a film which is anti-capitalist, corporatist and colonial etc..

    Aside from the stunning, beautiful cg art, i also felt a sorta joy you get when figure drawing. It was quite beautiful watching the half naked na’vi crouching to attack, drawing back a bow and arrow, balancing on one of those flying creatures.

  • Ian

    Who is commenting on this site? I thought it was professionals or students of film / animation. I stopped reading after this pair of particularly (un)insightful comments:

    12/20/09 7:29pm
    OM says:
    …Is Peyo still alive? Either way, whoever owns the rights to The Smurfs needs to sue for look-n-feel theft.
    12/20/09 7:48pm
    stumpyuncle says:
    I saw Princess and the Frog yesterday and Avatar today. Princess looked like an animatic story reel when compared to Avatar. Sorry!

  • OtherDan

    Finally saw it. Amazing visuals! The previews made me think it was akin to “Final Fantasy” (stale and video-gamey), but I was pretty blown away by the rich visuals and avatar beings/creatures. I read one review that stated this movie was for today what Star Wars or Jurassic Park was in their days as a technological breakthroughs, and I have to agree. At times I wondered if there were practical avatar actors. Because, I thought it wasn’t really possible to “make-out” believably in CG. Either way, it was an amazing ride to take in 3D. I hope they turn a profit, because it was a worthwhile endeavor…As far as comparing it to “Princess and the Frog”?? Apples to oranges: two very different things with potentially equivalent zestiness.

  • Hey there from Palermo (Buenos Aires – Argentina)
    We love your blog and think you are right to raise this important issue.
    We have been thinking along similar lines here in BS. It is good to connect with other like minded thinkers on these issues. Keep up the good work and keep the debate going.


    Animation Dance Association

  • Scarabim

    I haven’t seen this, and I doubt I will. All the hoopla, geeky gushy fanboy worship and ridiculously powerful box office has turned me off of it. If I went to see it now, I’d feel like a lemming. Pass!

  • Meng

    I keep hearing claims that Avatar jumped/bridged/thrashed the Uncanny Valley, but I don’t buy it. The Na’vi were distinct enough from humans (and enough like cats) to remain on the stylized side of the valley. Consider, did anyone else find Sigourney Weaver’s and Joel Moore’s human-na’vi hybrid avatars slightly more off-putting than the other native Na’vis? Consider also, after seeing Avatar, I wanted to be held by a giant, blue cat-woman. After seeing Beowulf, I wanted only to gouge out my eyes.

  • Agree with OtherDan. Avatar is 2009 and probably 2010 is a technology and motion capture breakthrough.

    I have never seen any movies that can describe the amazing word than StarWars, and after saw Avatar, the world is something that I amaze me. The character is too much like DarkElf.

    You have to see it first before judging the whole film.

  • Visually, this film is amazing – *every* second of the forest/Navi scenes are totally synthesized, yet not for a moment did *any* of it look CGI-ish – I could swear Cameron took movie cameras out to a jungle and made a movie starring 8 foot tall, blue skinned, tailed actors who answered his casting call.

    Avatar is a landmark fantasy movie and will influence every film of its genre from here on, the same way the original Star Wars movie made space opera all its own. (And like Star Wars, I’d classify the story as ‘adequate.’) At moments I was reminded of Burrough’s ‘John Carter of Mars’ – look for a studio to put that film into production very shortly.

    Someone above complained about Cameron’s calling the stuff the humans were mining ‘unobtanium’ – I don’t mind the filmmaker winking at the audience; he could’ve called the stuff ‘MacGuffinite’ & it still would’ve worked for me.

    Last thought: is it my imagination, or did the macho General resemble this guy?: http://stolemyhubcaps.com/covers/Small%20Soldiers.jpg

  • TheVok

    It’s a spectacle, it’s a ride, but the aliens are butt-ugly.

    Most mo-cap creations still seem to be this awkward stepchild of animation and live action. You need someone like Doug Jones or Andy Serkis to provide a less typically human performance as the basis; otherwise, you really do just have basic ‘avatars’ up there on the screen, in which case you’d be better off with people in makeup.

  • what if

    What if the Colonel’s gay lover had been killed (possibly eaten) by the Na’vi? That would have helped justify his hatred of the natives and added a not so predictable element to the story.

  • i totally agree. i really wasn’t expecting much because i’m kinda anti-hype but i really enjoyed the film. i totally forgot about mocap while watching the film.

    i hate mocap because i’m an animator but wow, james cameron knows how to use his tools. bob zemeckis should take notes.

  • ZAR

    Well, it was an experience, but the story and character department felt very bland and stereotypical. Dances With Wolves meets Aliens.

    Regarding the 3D-technology, Redlettermedia’s fictional “Harry Plinkett” put it like that: James Cameron has achieved his goal “to advance movie technology further in the wrong direction”.

    Watch the review (and the others as well!) it’s hilarious:


    The industry, of course, will try to cash in on that hype, but I don’t see too much future in it. In fact many people find it rather annoying. It has failed before and it’s likely to fail again.