Saturday, January 09, 2010

Avatar 3D

Beware, Spoilers ahead!

The lights dim and I'm sitting there with my 3d glasses wondering when to put them on, the twentieth century Fox logo begins and suddenly there it is, the 3d effect every one has been raving about and yes, okay, it looks good, even impressive. So far so good.

The film begins without any great fanfare and the first thing I'm seeing is a realistic star ship, it has a rotating habitat, drive shield, central pylon with attached fuel and cargo pods, and a couple of big sexy shuttles. We learn it takes six years of cryo sleep to get to Pandora. So far and still good.

Next we're in a base, populated by two dimensional marines and science geeks. Things are starting to crystallize into stereotypes. Mech suits walk about and the 3d effect is beginning to hurt my eyes. I've read the trick is to not look beyond the focus point but its hard because its not always clear where the focus is. The film is moving along at a crisp pace and before you know it, your in a rain forest. The hero is being chased by a giant six legged panther from hell and the 3d effect seems to work better but the eye strain is still annoying.

About an hour into the film things start to get easier but the damage is done. A low intensity head ache has bitten and is slumbering in the background, the sort that will swell to epic proportions later on. As if there were a blockage somewhere behind the eyes and pressure is building up...

I enjoyed the film, but the gaping plot holes and dodgy science were almost too much to bear. Had it not been for the 'spectacle', and I don't mean the annoying thing on my face, then the whole film would dissolve into pure absurdity.
I won't be paying to see Avatar 2 in 3d thats for sure.

First there was the morphology; all the big animals on Pandora appear to have four eyes, six limbs and breath through two holes in their chests... except for the Na'vi who are so anthropomorphic and culturally terracentric as to be ridiculous. The Na'vi have four limbs, ending in four digits (three fingers and a thumb), two eyes and they breath through their mouths. Even their teeth are set into a human style configuration unlike the double fangs of the rest of Pandora's children.

All the creatures of Avatar exist in a kind of electrochemical-biological equilibrium which means they all have long tendrils on the backs of their heads which can be connected allowing the Na'vi to exert a form of mind control over all other creatures. Quite how this neural interface is supposed to have evolved is any one's guess, but its a part of the whole nature-as-Internet idea that Cameron is pushing as the Pandora eco-system. As sci fi, this is about as plausible as your standard home made role playing game is, and that's more or less how Avatar feels; like James Cameron managed to get funding to recreate his own role playing universe... a universe apparently based on Roger Dean album covers

This brings us to the geography of Pandora; a world where mountains float, moored only by titanic roots, in some mythical electromagnetic energy field known as the 'flux vortex', but where water obeys the laws of gravity to fall and so do people who fall from their dragons/copters. Why are the mountains floating? Because its cool.

In the 'flux vortex', the electromagnetic energy field disrupts computers and other electrical appliances, all except for the essential avatar systems, the means by which human minds can ride inside genetically created Human-Na'vi hybrid bodies. Jake Sully, who is our hero, is an ex-marine (for those of you who don't already know) who's gotten the gig because his identical twin brother was a scientist, had trained to 'ride a Na'vi' before he met an untimely end. Jake, in his wheel chair can't afford new legs, so he seizes the opportunity to trek to the stars. Next thing you know, he's gone native and the story is the same as we've seen countless times before. Evil corporate henchmen do the dirty deed against new age tribesmen in order to seize a valuable mineral, known as Unobtanium, because it only exists in any quantity underneath Na'vi villages.

I once made a role playing game called 'The Ringworld'. It was based on an idea of how the Lord of the Rings would have been had I been writing it. No Elves, dragons or trolls for me; in the Ringworld, six limbed reptile predators would roam an alien rain forest hunting small telepathic mammalians who lived in mental symbiosis with each other and had airships, guns and primitive battleships, whilst a super rare metal called Blaczine had mythical properties which powered all manner of strange and otherworldly tech. I took my inspiration from Roger Dean album covers, Arabian architecture and Mayan mythology.

I called my planet Hykon II, but the humans in my games called it Darwin. One of the other names I'd had in mind was Pandora. I played this role playing game as a campaign with my brothers and my friend Rasmus in the mid 1990's, and again as an updated version some five years ago with my current role playing friends (including Rasmus). I also had a human presence (though mine were scientists monitoring a strange alien world as opposed to raping it), with armoured marines (though these never entered the actual games).

Watching Avatar was like a giant deja vu. Not only had I seen Pandora in my dreams, I'd already invented it in the early 1990's. I suspect that a lot of other people had similar games, but only James Cameron has managed to build up the technical ability and funding required to turn such mediocre sci fi into a multi billion dollar success story.

After the film I found I had no head ache, until I got home then it seemed to erupt and I collapsed into a brief coma. With hindsight, I enjoyed the film. The visuals were good, and the creature effects were excellent. I can't say if I'd like to see any more films in 3d. I suspect its a gimmick much like auto tuning and we'll see a lot of shitty films trying to use it as an edge to draw in more people. Avatar has the size and grandeur to carry the effect, at least once, but I doubt I'll care that its not there on the DVD, which I probably will buy, though not in a hurry.

Edited to add;

Brace yourself for the advent of 3d.

I've had a pain in and around my right eye all last evening and this morning. It was a curious effect, entertaining even, but not worth the extra cost and not worth the discomfort.

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