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I’ve seen a few new movies in the months since my last post, but there’s really only one worth mentioning.
Being the movie fanatic that I am, I frequently prowl the back alleys of movie gossip sites and heard about this particular feature a number of years ago. After the success of Titanic, James Cameron basically fell off the face of the planet, and I figured he was suffering from the same fear that plagues all successful artists… how the hell is he going to follow THAT?
But that isn’t what really happened. He spent his time working on a couple of documentaries (low-key, of course), but he’d also started production on something he’d written almost a decade earlier, an idea that was too far ahead of the technology at the time. He wrote AVATAR and ended up putting it away in a drawer, only to pick it up many years later, blow off the dust, and think… Hey, this isn’t so bad!
And so it began. Production started and whispers of a new mega-budget Cameron project started to circulate (even now, no one really knows how much it cost, but many believe it is the most expensive movie ever made, so over $300 million!). People kept talking about the kind of technology being developed and pictures leaked of actors wearing strange costumes. Everyone in the industry was buzzing, and that buzzing eventually turned into a frenzy late last summer when the first trailer debuted.
I have to admit, when I first saw the trailer I thought it looked a bit… dumb. Well, not necessarily dumb, but I didn’t really know what to think of it. Not much of the story was explained (it was a TEASER trailer, after all!), and the visual effects didn’t look right. Little did I know that it was the limited viewing capabilities of our home computers (even though my monitor is high-def) that was the problem. BUT, even though I wasn’t overly impressed the first time I watched the trailer, I watched it again. And again. And many more times over the following months until the theatrical trailer was released, and by that time, I’d started to become a little, well, OBSESSED.
Cut to the week leading up to the release of the movie. Everyone is talking about it, critics are raving, and you can’t turn on your TV without seeing a dozen or so commercials every hour. I talked my friend Francine into seeing the movie in 3D with me on opening night, even though we expected a huge crowd, and I probably lost a good handful of Twitter and Facebook friends because I could talk of little else.
Now, I have a confession to make. I am a HUGE Titanic freak (sounds redundant when you think about it, doesn’t it?), and it is probably the worst kept secret that I am deeply in love with Kate Winslet… Couple that with the fact that the Terminator franchise is one of my all time favorite storylines (T2 is one of the most incredible movies ever, and I WAS named after Kyle Reese from T1 after all), and the fact that he also directed the hilarious True Lies, I was definitely a James Cameron fan. But now, my liking of him has escalated to an unhealthy level.
We went to the theater early (only about 2 hours), expecting to see a swarm of people (I was there for when people were lining up for the midnight release of The Twilight Saga: New Moon back in November, and was expecting similar lines), but was disappointed by the seeming lack of bodies. We didn’t even get in line right away, and opted to sit in the game room for a half hour or so because we weren’t really worried about getting bad seats at that point. All of this was an ominous sign. I knew AVATAR was the most expensive movie ever made, and I feared for Jim’s reputation if it didn’t open with smashing numbers. But then a queue started, and we diligently and patiently waited for it to snake its way into the theater.
I wear glasses, so having to wear 3D specs over them has always been difficult. I’ve never watched an entire feature length movie in 3D, but did see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in IMAX, and the last twenty minutes of the movie were in 3D (which was my first real experience with 3D where it wasn’t kitschy), and it was annoying for that short amount of time, so how would I feel after over two and a half hours?
Honestly? I forgot I was wearing them. Well, after the disconcerting sensation of depth perception for a MOVIE wore off! I was disoriented for maybe the first five minutes, but after…
For those of you who don’t know what AVATAR is about, it follows the story of ex-Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who is recruited by a company to fill in for his recently murdered twin brother. Jake’s brother was a scientist and worked closely with the avatar program, training for years to operate an avatar body and learning the native language of the Na’vi. His involvement meant millions of investment dollars, and because the avatar bodies are made from the DNA of their host mixed with the DNA of the Na’vi, Jake is literally able to step into his brother’s avatar, something no one else can do.
He is transported several light-years away to Pandora, where he is quickly recruited by the person in charge of security, another ex-Marine, Colonel Quaritch, to be his spy on the Na’vi, to learn their ways and feed him useful information on how they might eventually fight the native population.
But what Jake couldn’t have foreseen was the level of intelligence the “savages” have, or the peace loving and spiritual insight that is their very nature. He manages to get accepted (for the most part) into their tribe, thanks mostly to Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who believes she can see his good heart and pure spirit. Jake falls in love with Neytiri and the Na’vi People, so when Quaritch decides it’s time to move and destroy the spirit of The People, Jake has a very tough decision to make: stand back and watch it happen, or abandon his own race and fight alongside the Na’vi.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. The visuals are unparalleled. I’ve never seen a movie with so much CGI work look so photorealistic. That’s thanks to the team over at Weta Workshop/Weta Digital in New Zealand (owned by my other favorite director, Peter Jackson, who’ve done visual effects work for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Chronicles of Narnia movies, King Kong, X-Men: The Last Stand, Jumper, The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), just to name a few). They were heralded for their work on Lord of the Rings, but they have progressed to GODS with AVATAR. The transition from real to CGI is seamless, and when you have a human standing next to a Na’vi, neither looks fake. What’s most impressive was the emotion they were able to capture from the actors, from small facial movements, to the depths of their eyes. If any digital effects company in the world could’ve pulled this off, it was always going to be Weta. When I saw LOTR for the first time, I was mesmerized. And if anyone has seen King Kong, pay special attention to the end of the movie when you can LITERALLY see the light go out of Kong’s eyes when he dies. Beautiful CG work. And, being the crazy movie fan that I am, I have watched ALL of the special features for the LOTR movies, King Kong, and The Chronicles of Narnia, so know the depth of detail they put into their designs that we can’t even SEE on screen.
Also, the 3D enhances your experience of the movie tenfold. I haven’t seen the movie in 2D. Hopefully they’ll find a way to release the DVD in 3D as well, because I can’t imagine watching it any other way. The way it just immerses you. Who would’ve thought that just adding depth perception to a movie could create such a difference!
The thing that I liked most about the movie is the thing people have spoken about least, and that’s the acting. Sam Worthington as the lead is great. This was the first movie I’d seen him in (he was previously in Terminator: Salvation, but I wouldn’t see that until after AVATAR), and I was impressed with him. He’s great with the action, but he could also be passionate and sensual when needed. He’s a commanding presence, so it takes no stretching of the imagination to see him leading a Na’vi army against The Sky People.
But the person who most impressed me, the performance that stayed with me long after the credits stopped rolling, was that of Zoe Saldana playing Neytiri. It’s a testament to her performance that I FORGOT I was watching a nearly naked, ten foot tall alien with yellow eyes and a zero waistline. The raw emotion that radiated from her, the sadness in her eyes, the joy on her face, the power of her voice… whatever the scene, she never gave less than her A-Game. AVATAR was just nominated for NINE Academy Awards, yet Zoe wasn’t nominated for best actress. I think this was a HUGE oversight. EVERY SINGLE SECOND of Neytiri’s performance was done by Zoe. They didn’t record voices for this movie and then Weta spent the next three years doing the animation, these actors suited up and motion-captured their entire performance. Meaning Zoe had to train for months beforehand so she was lithe enough to be a believable Na’vi, had to learn their native language, had to fight, to cry, to love. Every miniscule movement on their faces was captured and 100% reproduced on their Na’vi counterparts thanks to the amazing technology James Cameron and his crew invented. Don’t believe me? Check out this video:
All in all, a worthy movie of all the attention and money it is making. This was truly a magical experience for me, and if anyone hasn’t seen it in 3D in theaters yet, you cannot imagine what you are missing.
Film Score: 12 out of 10.
Kyle W. Kerr
As I was looking at new trailers, I stumbled across these! Behind-the-Scenes featurettes for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince!
Anyone else looking forward to this as much as I am?
Kyle W. Kerr
01/10/08 | Idiot Mode, Movies, Making Of | 2 Comments
This picture has been making the internet rounds, and I just HAD to share it with you guys.
It appears to be a production sketch of the monster from the upcoming movie Cloverfield, showing a scale measurement of the “beasts” as compared to the Statue of Liberty and a person.
This is almost as “scary” as the “alien” from Signs.
A mutated humpback whale? Really?
Do you guys find this scary at all? I mean, if it were real, yeah, but as a movie monster?
I think that the parasites (also shown) are way scarier than the whale.
Tell me what you think!
Kyle W. Kerr
It’s probably the worst kept secret these days that I am in love with the movie Atonement.
In the movie, there is one of the most amazing tracking shots I have every seen; a five minute long shot through complete and utter chaos… there are soldiers marching, singing, fighting, shooting horses (obviously, they didn’t really shot them… but it looks incredibly realistic!), and pretty much just going stir crazy all over the place. It’s a right miracle that they were able to pull it off in one go.
I am posting two clips below. The first is the actual scene from the movie. I honestly don’t know how long this clip will be up for, so you should check it out while you have the chance. The second clip is a little piece on how they created the shot.
(The behind-the-scenes Dunkirk footage runs the first five minutes of this video.)
Again, I can’t stress how amazing a movie this is. It is being released in more theatres every day, so check your local theatre for show times.
Kyle W. Kerr