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Avatar Trailer Impressions 21 August 2009

Posted by jordanfarley in Film News.
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Avatar tank

Seeing as every man, woman and their no doubt sci-fi loving dog has now seen the teaser trailer for James Cameron’s 3D opus Avatar I thought I’d chip in with a few thoughts of my own. As a huge Cameron fan (Aliens is probably my favourite film) I’ve been following the development of Avatar more obsessively than most, every little sliver of information, every behind the scenes promo picture and even screenshots of the game seemed to confirm more and more that Cameron wasn’t going to put a foot wrong with his $200 million epic. But while there’s a lot to like from the brief glimpse of the film we were given yesterday there are some elements which prove to be an unwelcome cause for concern.

The first impression you’ll get when watching the trailer is that Cameron seems to have nailed the sense of scale this story no doubt requires. Mountains hang in the air like helium filled balloons on the hostile planet of Pandora, the camera swoops over a lush, verdant forest that stretches as far as the mist allows you to see and a frenzied battle in the sky between Banshee riding Na’vi and Hornet VTOL aircraft looks to be a thing of chaotic beauty.

The environmental effects work is stunning, as is the character effects work but there are some glaring early issues. While many touted Avatar’s revolutionary 3D effects work as “photorealistic” before the release of the trailer, not many are doing so now. But in his defence Cameron has always claimed photorealistic computer creations aren’t possible at present and that even the one frame out of 10 that falls into “Uncanny Valley” means the human eye will instantly recognise the effect as a computer creation. This of course is an even bigger problem when you try to create even vaguely humanoid creatures like the blue warrior race Na’vi.

Their skin textures don’t look quite right, far too smooth, but the long shot of Jake’s avatar’s feet look as real as CG feet ever will; the real problems are their faces and general body movement. It all looks disappointingly like something from one of the Star Wars prequels or at worst something from a video game cutscene. In the film’s defence this is all no doubt unfinished effects work, in 2D, that should be polished to perfection once it reaches screens in December but I’m starting to fear that Avatar could not possibly live up to the hype. The Thanator in particular (the large reptilian creature that chases Jake’s avatar when he first arrives on the planet) doesn’t look very good at all with its shiny skin texture and dodgy lighting effects looking more like something out of Doom 3 than a $200 million film. The amploaders look a little too much like the APCs from the Matrix sequels for my liking and strangely even the human characters (barring the early close-ups) look CG as well, more likely down to unfinished compositing effects that will hopefully be sorted out before release.

The final battle in the skies of Pandora looks nothing short of spectacular however, and if Cameron’s purported 14 years of script work is anything to go by the film should have a narrative to back up its astronomical cost. The teaser doesn’t give much of a hint about what we can expect from James Horner’s score, we see very few of the human cast and there’s only one brief line of dialogue in the whole thing but, Cameron gave viewers exactly what they wanted to see – a tease of what one of the most expensive films in the world is going to look like. While it may have soured the impossibly high expectations of most there’s no doubt overall it’s a stunning teaser and hints that Cameron is still on track to deliver one of the best films of the year come Christmas.

For those unaware today (August 21st) is worldwide Avatar day and to celebrate 15 minutes of footage is being screened at select cinemas across the globe. Your intrepid blogger will himself be seeing said footage at 6pm today so expect a full report soon!

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