Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A few more thoughts on Avatar

Avatar is filled with ugly visuals. Camera movement, direction, lighting and composition are all at the service of gimmick and spectacle. There is not a single, noticeably beautiful shot in the entire film. A part of this is due to the overabundance of computer generated images that are not allowed to flow organically as they do in many animated films (such as the wonderful films Pixar Studios have been making in the past few years) but are rather constantly calling attention to themselves. Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy suffered in much the same way where
good direction was often overshadowed by over reliance on special effects and CGI.

Aside from all this, the 3D in the film makes it even uglier. The aesthetics of cinematography are largely depended upon an artists ability to frame his or her subject matter, to use form and movement to convey to us images that are beautiful and meaningful, to touch us in emotional, intellectual and spiritual ways. This is made impossible with 3D which makes the image bleed out of the frame, calling attention to ridiculous details and working against the very biological structure of the human eye. In a regular "2D" film one notices depths to the image. In 3D there is no depth, only added layers all of which are completely flat, stacked on top of each other.

That being said, I do kind of want to see Avatar again in 2D. Perhaps the 3D experience totally ruined whatever good direction Cameron may have exhibited in the film. I have semi-liked many of his films in the past (and I loved the first Terminator) but the thought of sitting through the film again hurts my brain in terrible and frightening ways.

Here are a couple of visual examples from Avatar:

Avatar's Sam Worthington

"Na'vi" in Avatar

And here are a couple of shots from two wonderful visual masterpieces, Woody Allen's Manhattan and Carol Reed's The Third Man

Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in Manhattan

Orson Welles in The Third Man


ross charles said...

Doesn't get much better than The Third Man--an utterly beautiful film.

The arguments against Avatar (and films/trends of its nature) seem so easy and obvious. How is it that the people...critics, the academy, golden globes, what-have-you...who are supposed to be intelligent about such things, are so smitten by it? Not that it's anything new for such types to fall all over themselves for a load of shit, but this seems rather blatant. Avatar doesn't even have the token 'issue-movie' sympathies going for it like other 'must-love' movies such as Crash, Slumdog, etc. I don't get it.

ross charles said...

Ok, nevermind--your post below addresses this very well, and very much as I would have suspected, I suppose.

And now I'm depressed.

This trend seems to follow with so many other things of our culture in the path of becoming like a sporting a event. Everything is about competition and outdoing something or someone else, and as long as we can rave and get excited or upset about it, we don't care what substance is or is not there. See: American Politics.

The good news is that I'm going to start The Idiot in a day or two, and Dostoevsky always makes me feel better, even if still depressed.

Thanks for the insights.

R Logan L said...

Thank God for masochistic depression

Alvin said...

I did not see Avatar in 3-D. I must begin with that confession. Now, with that out of the way.

I walked out of the theater trying to find good things to say about the film rather than rattling off a string of how the medium of film, photography and story was trampled upon, and Cameron took fifteen (or so) years and $300 million plus and made swift waste, and hypocrisy, of it all. The film had my attention for the duration. This is not to say that I did not find questions to ask of the characters and themes, or that the plot was not predictable. It was; but it seems to me that Cameron's attempt wasn't to tell a new story, or even a fresh one, but to rely on the most resonant archetypes for his new animation technology to showcase.

The Digital Media kids at Dordt, as well as film tech. production circles are going apeshit. And as well they should because, 3-D viewing aside, the capabilities of Avatar are as when that wonderful, visually stunning gem Toy Story was produced. (Alvin bows in reverence.) (Yes, yes, Toy Story is now viewable in 3-D as well...) The Na'vi anatomy is completely rendered from digital scratch. You can see the nuance of muscle and vein in the image you provided on the post.

My suggestion to your anger, Reid, is that, if 3-D is "the future of film" (and I confess, I hope it's not) then there must be a new school of criticism.

R Logan L said...

Well, I should first note that I did not write this post. My friend Agust did. I have less anger for Avatar than he. Next I'll note that Toy Story is a million times better than Avatar. And it seemed fresher than Avatar did for me. One last note would be that I firmly believe that all films should be subject to the same kinds of criticism - although I also think that many people have an appropriately complex under standing of what that means.