Not only did Cameron wait more than a decade to make his more than $300 million passion project, but he spurred the invention of the cutting edge equipment to make his creation possible [read our January issue's feature on Avatar's 3-D tech here]. The construction of a new dual-lens 3-D shooting system and the development of an ever-improving motion capture and virtual camera system allowed Cameron to take his audience to the distant inhabited world of Pandora without compromising his ambitious vision for the place.
The film stars Sam Worthington as Jake Scully--a disabled corporate military veteran recruited to command a remotely controlled alien body--his avatar--in the hope of infiltrating Pandora's native humanoid species, the Na'vi. At first, his mission is a peaceful one--intended to help negotiate a peaceful settlement between the natives and the human colonial settlers. The evil techno-corporate types came to Pandora to dig up a priceless natural element, Unobtanium. Curiously, the audience is never let in on what it does, but the villains need it and they'll commit genocide to get it. Scully is the only hope to fend off what looks like unavoidable war.
Fortunately, he meets a Na'vi princess (Zoe Saldana) able to train him in the ways of her tribe. It's only a matter of time before he falls in love with his new blue teacher--a love that leads him to question his allegiance.
The soulless keepers of the bullets and bulldozers are led by Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), a one-dimensional, cliche-spouting parody of a modern Marine. If adventure films are as good as their villains, Avatar falls woefully short.
There's no point to investing too much more on plot "spoilers." Suffice to say, anyone who's seen Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai, A Man Called Horse, Soldier, Pocohantas, Enemy Mine, or a host of other outsider stories should be able to call every plot point Avatar offers. In fact, it's astounding how similar Avatar's plot plays when compared to Kevin Costner's Oscar-winning Wolves.
But no such lack of creativity plagues the film's action sequences, art design and 3-D effects. Every penny Cameron left unspent on story development poured into the film's richly detailed world. And the details are essential as the high-def 3-D is ultimately unforgiving.
Unlike traditional 3-D techniques that allowed foreground objects "extend" out toward the audience's perspective, Avatar's image offers depth between the focused foreground and the surrounding environment. The battle scenes are packed with rapidly moving visual pieces--almost to the point of incoherence. But the 3-D invites the eye to roam the frame for its element of choice.
The CG characters are painstakingly rendered, but movie magic makers still haven't found a way to make CG players look less like finely drawn cartoon characters. When CG-dominated films can create onscreen creatures indistinguishable from real-world humans and animals (without toeing the uncanny valley), a wall will come down. For this reason, Avatar remains visually impressive but not as groundbreaking as, say, George Lucas' Star Wars, which pushed traditional special effects techniques to the next level.
Unlike Lucas' more playful science fiction epic, Cameron reaches for a heavy environmental message. Avatar is every militant global warming supporter's dream come true as the invading, technology-worshiping, environment-ravaging humans are set upon by an angry planet and its noble inhabitants. But the film's message suffers mightily under the weight of mind-boggling hypocrisy. Cameron's story clearly curses the proliferation of human technology. In Avatar, the science and machinery of humankind leads to soulless violence and destruction. It only serves to pollute the primitive but pristine paradise of Pandora.
Of course, without centuries of development in science and technology, the film putting forth this simple-minded, self-loathing worldview wouldn't exist. You'd imagine Cameron himself would be bored to tears on the planet he created.
There are no movies on Pandora, so he'd be out of a job. The Na'vi rarely visit a multiplex. They sit around their glowing trees, chanting; they don't build and sink titanic ocean liners, and they don't construct deep-sea mini-subs enabling certain filmmakers to spend countless days exploring said cruise ships.
Even with this confused message, Avatar should make a healthy profit. International audiences love spectacle, and Cameron lathers it lustily into his comeback project. But, he (and 20th Century Fox) better hope those same audiences don't think too much on the way out of the theater lest bad word of mouth does more damage to Pandora than the corporate marines.
I don't agree with the article saying "but movie magic makers still haven’t found a way to make CG players look less like finely drawn cartoon characters".
Gollum in LOTR and Kong in King Kong both looked pretty convincing.
I haven't seen Avatar yet, so I can't comment on whether sniper smurf looks cartoony yet.
This is going to be awful. I've been reading a few reviews and stories about this movie. I think I've come up with enough to form a conclusion:
James Cameron is avatarded. This movie is his attempt to throw his hat back in the ring. But all he is really doing is throwing a ton of money into an uncreative (nearly plagarized), over CG'ed, $17 dollars-a-ticket turd. In 3D no less! And if he is REALLY trying to send a message about over technologized society, man, did he miss the point. I've seen more ads to go to my nearest 3D theater, that I found showtimes for using my iPhone, and driving my 40ton gas guzzler to sit on my butt and suck down $6 Cokes and obesiety inducing popcorn.
I'll tell you what James, I'll give you a 3D turd. for free. For those of you that read this, please organize a boycott of this film. The future of film depends on it.
Wow, talk about simple-minded. It's hypocritical to condemn the destruction of a civilization because we use and benefit from the technology that allows us to savagely, mindlessly destroy them? Really? Talk about self-serving double-think. The author should stop and think about what an immense universe we live in. There could easily be more advanced civilizations than us out there.
Destroying less technologically capable cultures has been done many times in the past and it's contemptible. That's what this movie is about: soulless avarice. Think about that the next time you drive by an Indian reservation.
Cameron has done what any good writer should do: he's found an entertaining way to comment on the bad and good inherent in humanity—and it ain't always a pretty picture.
Haven't seen the movie yet, but my general problem with Hollywood blockbusters (including Cameron's last big project) is that they are never as interesting as they could be. Good writing and an interesting story would cost just a tiny fraction more than mediocre writing and a predictable story. But over and over again the stories are sooooooo simple. You can see where they are going from a mile away. Visually, of course, they are great. But man does not live by visuals alone.
Another "corporations are evil and so are we" movie I'll gladly pass on thanks to this review. Too bad I didn't have something like this for District 9. That movie was so bad I walked out after the first 30 minutes. Thanks John! I'll save my money.
I am excited to see the movie if not for the rehashed politically correct hate yourselves, technology, science, advancement, corporations, blah, blah that we're all getting sick of. But for 100 million dollars there ought to be some insane effects in 3d no less I'll enjoy the special effects, make fun of the story and a fun night will be had.
Evolution is driven by the better adapted out competing the less well adapted. While people are all basically the same level genetically, technologically they have not been, this replaced the other with a drive to excel and produce the technology we use and will use. Without that there would have been no driving force to create, no arts no science. You'd be sitting there in a mud lean-to with a handful of berries 2 starving kids and a lion about to eat you because you'd never invented fire.
It's not contemptible, its nature. All of it. Those "Native Americans", if your going to be politically correct, go all the way, out competed other tribes procured their resources food, women, supplies yes the very same thing. They in turn were outcompeted as well.
We humans are all top level predators until something better comes along, we are our only competition get used to it. And please quit complaining about it. If you see a problem i.e. those reservations then do what you can to help, volunteer send money whatever they need. But quit the guilt and complaining.
Every single film has used technology every play has had masks make up and such. It is an impossibility to make any far reaching statement without useing envirnmental resources to some degree, but I do agree with the notion that mabey Cameron went a little overboard. (Haha Titanic)Why did you pile crap on him for useing cutting edge technology then say that he couldnt get the uncanny valley out of the film? He was trying at least.
I'm certainly going to see the film, mainly for the truly groundbreaking CGI. I'm really afraid to find that Avatar falls short on plot and character development. I hope Cameron got the balance between technology and artistry right. Already I see things that remind me of other movies, like Alien (was Sigourney Weaver and all). There will probably be an explanation for it all, but the notion of floating islands and combining alien and human DNA sounds neither plausible or even original. Unobtanium. I know it's been an inside joke in the SciFi world and even the tech sector for decades now, but that's not an excuse for not bothering to come up with something more believable. The whole thing sounds like a metaphor for corporate greed (even though that's what got the movie produced in the first place).
<em>They sit around their glowing trees, chanting</em>
If you ever sat on a glowing tree and chanted, you'd never want modern comforts and entertainments again. There, my friend, lies true contentment.
I want to see the movie. I don't care about negative reviews, i mean look at the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, that was a great jim carry movie and you never heard of it. I just want something different to watch instead of the same old crap.
i'm a <b> BIG </b> fan !!!
In spite of all the "new" technology in movie making, i seem to prefer to watch a "cartoon" style movie over one that has inflated, egotistical actors and actresses.. Voice Over Cartoon ANY day, Please!!
You guys are nuts if you think it's getting BAD REVIEWS????? It's rated 84% on Rotten Tomatoes.com and 82% on MetaCritic. The critics and the fans LOVE IT. Period. Go see it and enjoy.
I love Eternal Sunshine. Great film. And if you want something different, stay away from Hollywood ala James Cameron.
I'm gonna go see this because I love Cameron movies (minus Titanic). Abyss is still one of my favorites!
they just made fun of it on there own lol
I'm going to see this movie. Definitely.
My youngest kid is about 6th months shy of making it out of the house. Not quick enough for me to avoid an invitation to this one.
"Dad, will you go with me to Avatar?"
What are you supposed to say? "No, you little turd! I don't like to spend time with you! I'm going to Flanagan's for a Guinness and a game of pool."
I dont think that releasing CO2 in the atmosphere is a big problem for human as a species. Atleast I dont think its going to creat mutch problem that we cant solve with technolohy.
Humans have been adapting to climate change for thousants of years by being nomads. Its mostly women with bad jugdement and in need of attention that are hysterical about climate change and its making its way into polical decision sadly.
Put some pants on, build yourself a new house where it wont get flooded by the sea, if you beleive its worth the risk. You got 50 years to think ahead! If you cant figure out how to adapt, your responsible for yourself, you have been warned atleast 50 years ahead now.
The movie looks like great eyecandy but I predict the plot will be very simple.
I call it "Terminator meets FernGully"
My questions is,
if there is sufficient oxygen in the atmosphere for fire to burn,,,, why can humans not breath?
am i missing something?
He continues to push the boundaries...good work James Cameron
I smell the usual left-wing Hollywood self-loathing.
We're the bad guy. We're the enemy. We should hate ourselves.
I like the "Dancing With Smurfs" more. :)
"Cameron’s story clearly curses the proliferation of human technology."
Maybe it's not hypocrisy. Maybe Cameron just doesn't like his job and would be happier running a national forest.
I really don't get the point of this review. It isn't the technology that makes people push others around -- it's just a convenient tool. It's attitude, culture, that make people do stuff like this to the weak. As if there were no precedent in Earth's history for such behavior: I am sure you can think of some examples.
I guess you could make the case it's trite for a storyline. Do you seriously want a conflict-free screenplay?
jmatt: reality clearly has a liberal bias! Watch more 'Colbert Report.'
"In Avatar, the science and machinery of humankind leads to soulless violence and destruction."
Apparently, the author hasn't seen Terminator, Aliens, Terminator 2, The Abyss, or Titanic, as that has been one o the central themes of his movie.
The creation of Skynet leads to the near destruction of humanity. In Aliens, not only does human terra-farming lead to the discovery of a natrual [sic] predator which then goes on to murder the human population, but Cameron shows in what some describe as parallels to the Vietnam War how a more organized, technologically advanced force can have their asses handed to them by an indigenous low-tech opposition; and nevermind the attacks on the motivations of capitalism. The Abyss tells us that we need to abandon exploration and militarization of the oceans lest humanity get wiped out by a 300' tsunami. And lastly, the lesson we should never forget from Titanic is that no matter how technologically advanced we become, an iceberg will sink a ship and stop true love.
Where was your indignation then? Or was your face too stuffed with popcorn that we couldn't hear your alerts to us on the evils of the Cameron movie making machine?
Mr. Lewinski should learn to go to the movies without having to multi-task with his Witchhunting app.
Having seen the movie last night at a sneak preview, I would have to say that the reviewer missed the mark a bit concerning the message of this movie.
I know that technology plays a big part in the movie. The giant mechs and spaceships and the Avatar technology itself are at the forefront of most of the action sequences and the plot after all. However, I think that if the movie is heavy handed in any way, it picks more of a battle with foreign policy.
I could see how the reviewer would match this movie with The Last Samurai. The fights between the sword wielding Samurai and the gun toting Japanese army are really similar to the fights in this movie between the natives and the army. This mismatch makes you have the feeling of "oh this is unfair and wrong," but I would say that this is FAR from the main message of the movie.
Like the reviewer mentions, the army is on Pandora in the first place to get the unobtanium. All of the battles in the movie happen so that the humans can get the resources they want.
There are clear analogues to parallel moments in history. Our (speaking as an American) history with Native Americans is the most clear parallel here, however there are also nods to current foreign policy as well.
In my opinion, every aspect of the war for oil is almost identical to the war for unobtainium. The movie even mentions terrorism, "othering" the culture you are at war against to distance yourself from them, and attempts to appease foreign cultures with domestic pleasures like blue jeans and McDonalds.
Also, I have to disagree with what the reviewer says about the CG in this movie as well. I was blown away by what this movie does with its visual effects. I would liken my experience of watching this movie with how I felt watching District 9. Very early in the movie, I forgot that those weren't real creatures acting alongside real people. This movie did the same thing to me. I will say that the creatures do have a little more "polish" to them than seems natural. They seem almost glossy and too smooth the be jungle creatures.
Its quite funny how all you talk about the environment , well i guess he delivered that message too , but more strongly he was saying american can not go into war whenever for whatever they it suits them coz they gonna have an reaction ,like in all the war they caused so far , the message was simple and strong .
i my self saw the movie and i was very impressed took me to a different world(literally) the plot was simple i must admit it but i could feel the frustration of how arrogant people like the humans( which "surprisingly" were Americans )
think can do what ever the f... they want.
and finally it has thumbs up for me :)
I am sorry John Scott Lewinski, but you have shamed yourself.
you said "In Avatar, the science and machinery of humankind leads to soulless violence and destruction". This is false, it should be "In Avatar, the soulless violence and destruction of aliens was done by a more technologically advanced race: humans". In fact science and machinery aren't even the main point of the movie, the movie was about how a self righteous people can heartlessly destroy a civilization for personal gain, but it also mixes in the individual. the science and machinery of human kind did not lead to the destruction of aliens, it was greed.
this has happened many times in history, for example, the Nazis vs. the Jews, or the American colonists vs. the Native Americans (By the way, the Native Americans actually had many opportunities to destroy us, but didn't because they were too nice, divided, unlucky, etc.)
This article had completely missed the mark. I saw Avatar at a midnight showing this morning. I've seen more than half a dozen movies in digital 3D in the last year. I still was not expecting the simply amazing effects that drive his movie. Yes the plot is a bit predictable by anyone who has seen Dances with wolves. The point of this movie is in the journey! Ten minutes into the movie u won't care about that. You will BELIEVE in Camerons world. Obviously the author of this article had their imagination surgically removed at the end of childhood. Don't listen to the haters. If you love science fiction, love the idea of visiting a new world, you have to see this movie in 3D. Don't cheat yourself out of something very special.
Having been a subscriber to Popular Science for 45 years, I am very disappointed in this article. Lewinski and the commentor devipod obviously do not understand science fiction nor are sci fi fans. This story is the classic scifi story in the style of Larry Niven, Heinlen, and all the masters. Maybe you should review and comment on a genre that you are familiar with.
This movie is making movie technology history just as Star Wars did. THAT is the point. This magazine is Popular SCIENCE for crying out loud. We should appreciate the science and the science fiction, not deride it. This milestone marks a change in what is possible in movies and ultimately, in virtual reality. Congratulations Mr. Cameron and crew!!!