movie: Avatar (3D at the IMax)

When I first saw the trailer for Avatar I immediately thought “I have no interest in seeing that”  However two things have brought me around to it, world-wide peer pressure in that everyone seems to have seen this and it is up for many awards, and by all accounts this is THE movie to watch in 3D and I feel I should try out this technology.

However I still went in with fairly low expectations of both the movie and the technology, and my conclusion is that it wasn’t as bad as expected.

The movie itself is alright.  It doesn’t have the best story, characterization, dialogue, structure or plot but it isn’t as bad as Transformers 2 (my current measure of how bad a movie can be).  To sum it up for the few people who haven’t seen the movie, there is a planet with a mineral which humans want – unimaginatively named “Unobtanium”.  The indigenous people (large, naked, blue, smurfs) are extremely connected with the environment and happen to be living on top of the biggest concentration of Unobtanium on the planet.  There are two groups of humans in this – the corporate businessmen who want to get to the Unobtanium with the soldiers who ‘protect’ them and the scientist who are trying to get to know the ‘smurfs’.

The scientist can inhabit an ’empty-shell’ mock up of the ‘smurf’ body – an Avatar.  So the human goes to sleep in a machine and their brain is connected to the Avatar so they can move around on the planet and communicate with the smurfs.  One guy does this really well, becomes accepted by the smurfs and tries to save them when the humans start to bulldoze their way towards them.

However, you really can’t talk about this film without referring to the 3D effects.  It is certainly made for 3D without too much of the old-school 3d cliches of things shooting towards the screen, and there is no doubt that 3D technology is really good.  There are moments when the full depth of the scene comes to life or when people in the foreground almost get in the way of the camera and this is used to the full advantage of this film.

There is a question of whether 3D adds anything to the film and that can only be answered if you define what a movie is?  Films take you into another world, captivate you in a story and involve you with the characters and plot when they work well.  Movies, for me, fail when you notice you are watching a movie.  Anything that brings you out of that experience to make you notice that you are sitting in a room full of people looking at a projection spoils it (which is why noisy food and talking is such a pain).  Would The Godfather, Casablanca, Roman Holiday, or any great plot-based movie have gained anything from being in 3D?

3D therefore (in my humble opinion) spoils the movie experience.  You are aware that you are watching a film – because you are wearing uncomfortable glasses that wash out the colour and keep seeing these wiz-bang ‘3D’ effects on the screen.  The thing is these ‘3D’ effects aren’t actually 3D!  It isn’t like looking at a stage where things are actually closer or farther away and people can move smoothly up-stage or down-stage.  So much of the 3D technology shows you action happening on different planes of vision which gives a very unnatural effect.  You are fully aware that you are watching a 3D effect and not looking at a real situation – although, again, I have to say that it is very good.

3D cinema is being pushed on us at the moment by the studios and distributors because it is harder to pirate.  If you can become truly immersed in 3D so that it doesn’t distract then fine and if you are going to watch any movie in 3D then this is probably the one.

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