Monday, July 7, 2014

Rewatch: Avatar

This is a new segment where I talk about a movie that I have seen before, likely many times. Likely I own it, or it could show up on Netflix and I want to watch it again. But it has never shown up here before. Unlike other "reviews" this is not going to be a rehash of the plot, more my observances and things I catch only in multiple viewings.

Avatar was my first Blu-ray. It came the Christmas just after I got myself the PS3. Despite all the anti-hype, I still loved the movie. Yes, it was a retread of Fern Gully and yes it was unabashedly melodramatic. But I loved it, both visually and story wise.

As my first Blu-ray, I was and I still am astounded as to how good it looks. So, crisp, so clear and full of scenes that highlight the advances that Blu-ray represents.

The movie is one of those UI people love, because yet again a futuristic interface is envisioned and depicted. We are in the transparent screen stage of such, and the movie makes massive use of it, with the large interactive screens in the shuttle and the science lab. I especially love the way they could toss live data from the big screen onto handheld screens and continue their work while changing the way they interacted with the data. I would love to see Apple devise some similar sync-ing between MacBooks and iPads. Now, its all CGI on our screen but it is sooooo distinct looking, colourful and bright.

The designers were also smart enough to show that not all tech is going to be all glass and glamour, as Jake Sully records his diary entries with what is essentially a black plastic box with webcam. Mix of tech is a thoughtful piece. It was Jake sitting during one of the sessions, us looking through the webcam eye, that I caught myself noticing just how perfectly clear everything was, on my TV. Yay Blu-ray.

Now, Avatar is about the beauty of nature, especially the nature of this alien world that comes alive at night, through phosphorescent plant life and creatures. I still can feel Jake's awe when he finds himself playing with the plants and creatures in the firework display that is Pandora's night. And the parallel of the science lab's colourful screens and their primitive transmission of data vs Pandora and its colourful transfer of information with so little effort, is a delight in storytelling for me.

Now, almost 2/3rds of the movie is CGI and in my first few years of re-watching, I was always astounded by how seamless it all was. But this time round, I started to see the gilding on the lily. The forest, when Jake escapes from the cat-like Thanator, is beautifully done but starts to look cartoony in some scenes, especially around the native bamboo, a little too one colour, with almost no expected shading. And during Jake's arrival on Pandora, I am starting to see cut scenes from video games, which doesn't so much criticize James Cameron's film CGI as laud the advances in video game CGI movies that were made, probably because of this movie.  I am still awaiting my fully CGI movie, like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within tried to be, but maybe it is never to happen and the mixing perfected by Avatar is what the future is. Still, as Duncan Jones moves forward with Warcraft, I wonder why he is even attempting a people and monster movie if not conceiving it as mostly CGI.

A small bit that I never caught before, not knowing the history of British retailing, but the corporate goon's name is Parker Selfridge. Rather than reaching into genre history, like Ridley Scott did in connecting Blade Runner and Prometheus, Cameron reaches into real history. Oh, it could be just a name but I don't think so. Department store becomes megacorp? Could happen!

The rest of the movie, I still find myself smiling about, flaws and all. I love the destruction of the tree, the callousness of what they do, the utter distain for life other than human -- these are the Bad Guys without a doubt. Though I wonder how Trudy is not in detention after leaving the scene without firing a shot. The final battle is exciting and tragic and it must have been extremely humbling for the Na'vi to realize Jake the demon had a direct line to their goddess figure. I still like noticing that a few more of the avatar drives are working along side the liberators, escorting the remaining humans off the planet. And yes, you still have to wonder how Selfridge will put up with these savages besting him -- by coming back with an utterly mind blowing destructive force, I would imagine.

Bring on the sequels !