Thursday, December 17, 2009

Reviews: Not One, But Two Guest Reviews Of AVATAR!

Jim here. There are some SPOILERS in these - be careful. I have a couple of AVATAR reviews from MarketSaw readers down under where they enjoyed seeing the movie earlier than us North American folk! Take a look:

AVATAR has a soul (Mike Retter)

I saw AVATAR yesterday. It was a boiling 40 degrees Celsius in Australia. I caught a bus and train to get there. I spent months on a forum before that. Incremental stops included a scriptment, stills, a teaser, a foot, AVATAR day and a full trailer. Now released I have had many reviews to read which have been mostly very positive.

It is a marvel to watch. The opening scenes are very sci-fi with a glimpse of low gravity aboard a space-craft. Sam Worthington fills us in with a short narration. He is taking over his diseased brother's role in the AVATAR program. These opening scenes are actually among the most effective 3D in the film, pulling you into this story, tracking shots putting you into the steps of the characters.

I jump ahead, like the film, to The world of Pandora which is lush with earthly life as seen through pulp fantasies. The rendering of this world is terrific. The life and activity is in the plants as much as it is the animals. Wonder is generated with this ambitious creation. Cameron has lifted the bar. The CG is the best I have ever seen. Everything you have heard is true. The 3D enhances this with leaves falling and swaying branches life-like in the foreground.

The realization of the Navi is also ambitious. They are CG but there are many moments that make you think they are real and in terms of the story they are more than good enough to propel the narrative with strong emotional content.

I went into this film knowing mostly everything within it. Hours of reading, some from the treatment and pages of the recent reviews. It is very much a family film like "Nealz" said in his IMDB review. There is a moment where one of the ferocious animal species that earlier were attacking Jake are seen with a litter, the children in the audience loved the cute pups! The spiritual side of this film is much better than expected. It is in fact a beautiful story. The structure is classical filmmaking but with amazingly new scope in CGI to express grand images. An epic

The journey that Jake takes through Pandora is lovely. He is taken in by the Navi and explores their culture, language and habitat. Neytiri, the female Navi he meets while lost, helps him through this journey. This is a love story of both soul mates and with a wider picture. Existential connections with the natural world. Personal destiny.

I had tears in this film. I tried to hold them back but by the roll of credits they came. This is a movie that I have anticipated for so long. I think the ingredients of its story and my connection to this films production gave me a very emotional response. I cant imagine this disapointing any of the fans on the board. Keeping in mind that it is a family film but delivered everything I wanted.

Expect a special edition. After AVATAR is a hit, a special edition will make its way to the cinema. I can understand why they would cut the earth scenes and it works. The actual film seems pretty brisk and it could also have more padding out. You want more of it and that is a triumph for this type of film running two and a half hours. It is a good balance because at two and a half hours AVATAR is aimed directly at the cinema going audience. Broadly appealing with elements for everyone. My earlier prediction of a billion or more world-wide seems safe.

I dont want to go on about visuals too much but the lovely shots of the natural wonderland of glowing life in still 3D shots is magical. Something to take kids to see. Floating tiny neon life jellyfish their way through the air with grace. The monkey-like extra-limbed creatures with the peeping eyes flock through the forest quickly. The creature design is done in a clever way with the motion of a living thing. The action is over the top, epic, frenetic and a new take on the battle sequence.

James Cameron didnt stuff this up. He probably pressed the studio way beyond their comfort zone with the time, money and effort that has gone into this. Sam Worthington is excellent casting choice. Sigourney Weaver adds frank reason. Stephen Lang chews the scenery as the ultimate you know what. Zoe Saldana is beautiful as Jake's guide into this world.

I went to the cinema and it was a very hot day. By the time I left the cinema, the streets were wet with rain. A warm humidity was thick in the air. Lightning splashed my walk to the train station with white light. I honestly wondered if It was my time to be struck down with a bolt of electricity from the sky.

Watch this film. It is destined to become a childhood classic to many little-ones too young to be on this forum. It will be talked about at high school by male and females as spectacular. It will be watched multiple times by fans. I loved it but beyond my appreciation for the film itself, is the the message of love permeating from this movie that I hope enters the zeitgeist like elements of Cameron's other stories have. At its heart is a soul. AVATAR is an achievement in many technical departments but I wouldn't say the story is deficient. It is a beautiful experience and the story is surprisingly what I loved most.

Believe the hype.

Mike Retter



By Andrew Woods
Andrew helps run the SD&A Conference

I just got back from seeing one of the first public 3D screenings of AVATAR here in Australia. (surprisingly two and a half days before the USA release)
It was Fantastic! The story, the quality of the CGI, the 3D. Wonderful!

I saw it in digital 3D IMAX.
I'm going to restrict my comments here to the stereoscopic 3D technical aspects of the film.
I'll also comment on the stereoscopic live action and stereoscopic CGI sections separately.
The stereoscopic CGI sections were spot on - flawless from a stereoscopic alignment perspective.
The amount of depth in the CGI scenes and the choice of ZPD (Zero Parallax Distance) were well chosen (most of the time).
The CGI scenes were glorious to see in 3D - too many great 3D moments to mention.
Unfortunately the live-action stereoscopic scenes were not so good.
My biggest complaint is the amount of depth and excessive amounts of positive parallax at the infinity point - in many of the shots.
The worst scene for this was in the zero gravity arrival scene at the beginning of the movie. The infinity positive parallax was extreme.
The worst live action scenes would probably look great on a 50" 3D Plasma, but are an eye stretcher on a digital IMAX 3D screen.
This is a real pity - the company which filmed the stereoscopic live action scenes has filmed lots of 3D, and should know better.
I intentionally sat in the back of the theatre because when I saw the 3D trailer for this movie 3 weeks ago (in REAL D 3D) I saw a lot of vertical misalignment in the live-action scenes - I am very happy to report that most of this was fixed for the final release (at least the IMAX 3D version). There were still a handful of scenes with some minor vertical misalignment (e.g. where Jake does his first video log), but on the whole the vertical stereoscopic alignment of the film was spot-on.

One thing that is still an open question in my mind is whether the 3D projection system for this screening was aligned correctly. What makes me say this is that the end credits were shown with positive parallax and not at screen distance (with zero screen parallax). In my experience most 3D movies have their end credits shown at zero screen parallax - so that patrons don't need to wear glasses to see the credits. The image also receded more on the right than it did on the left. The vertical alignment of the projection system appeared spot on across the whole image though. If the projection system was adding positive parallax to the movie, this would have contributed to the live action 3D problems I mentioned above, but it would not have been the main contributor.

In one of the reviews of the movie I read they referred to the cautious use of 3D - except for one scene in the beginning which was there just to show that Cameron could do in-your-face 3D too. I presumed they meant a screen piercing moment with something protruding into theatre space - but I didn't see one. I wonder if they were talking about the zero gravity scene I mentioned previously with the extreme (divergent) infinity positive parallax.

Oh, and one stereoscopic VFX shot that didn't quite work - the insertion of Jake's 3D video log into one of the laboratory screens (towards the end of the movie). Sorry guys, you can't rotate a stereoscopic image and expect it to still be viewable. ;-)

Some of the great 3D moments: in the control room with the multiple volumetric 3D screens at various operator consoles, the 3D photographs stuck to a glass fridge door, looking over the shoulders of the Na'vi warriors, looking over the shoulders of the humans in the final pre-battle pep talk, lots of the scenes on Pandora at ground level, and many more.

Story rating: 4.5 / 5
3D quality rating: 4 / 5 (let down by the live action scenes)
Go See it!

Editor's note: The SD&A show features a keynote presentation by Bob Whitehill from PIXAR and also a presentation from Tara Turner from Disney discussing aspects of Beauty and the Beast 3D. THANKS GUYS for the reviews! I look forward to posting mine VERY soon (finally seeing the midnight showing tonight!!)

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