Written by Films

Avatar Preview

In a genius masterstroke of marketing, Twentieth Century Fox today persuaded hundreds of thousands of people to go to the cinema to see 15 minutes of footage from the forthcoming new film from James (Terminator 2, Titanic) Cameron.

And of course I was one of those who happily clicked on the free link and went along to see this footage at the sold out screening in the BFI IMAX in Waterloo. People were being turned away from the cinema when I got there. (Congratulations to the BFI, by the way, for a very well handled system of exchanging our printer tickets for reserved seat numbers in the cinema itself).

Much of the pre-publicity about this film has based around the 3D process, about which I’ll say more another time. But I will say that I run a bit hot and cold over 3D wondering to what it extent it genuinely adds to the experience of going to the cinema versus just being a gimmick that effectively minimises the impact of piracy and lets you charge the customer more.

The trailer for Avatar was released to the world online yesterday and is in cinemas today, but I’d avoided it just so that this experience was fresh. Similarly, I didn’t really know anything about the genesis of the film or the plot. I just knew that Cameron’s not made a traditional film for an awfully long time – unless you live in the world of Entourage where Vincent Chase starred in Aquaman!

So what did I think?

It was pretty spectacular for sure. The footage we saw seemed to be made up of short unedited sequences from various parts of what Cameron himself in a filmed introduction told us was from the first half of the film. The first couple of sequences took place in a familiar "real" world before the "Avatar" world took over and we were fully immersed in CGI.

We saw a series of action sequences featuring a very unusual  looking hero and heroine, and bizarre alien beasts including some kind of distant elephant and tiger creatures as well as some that were akin to pterodactyls or even dragons (a taming sequence reminded me of SF books where dragons are tamed to fly). The action was fast and the CGI top notch.

Yet somehow I wasn’t as completely bowled over as I’d perhaps liked to have been. There were a few too many "pointy" incidents where sequences had been filmed in such a way as to purely show-off the 3D. While things weren’t quite coming out of the screen in a cheesy manner, they were clearly there for no other reason than to remind the audience that it was watching a 3D film.

It’s possible that this is because Cameron has edited together lots of sequences that exaggerate this to an audience that’s only seeing 15 minutes, but it was overdone in my view.

The other issue is that while the world Cameron’s created is bizarre and thoroughly imaginative, it’s also a little – well muddy. I don’t know if it’s the 3D process and the polarising lenses in the glasses as opposed to the colour palette Cameron has used to portray this imaginary world, but it all felt like it needed brightening up a bit. I’d love to compare the same footage in 2D and 3D to see whether this is the case. Remember that I was seeing this footage on perhaps the best IMAX screen in the UK with representatives of Fox in attendance. I don’t think it was any shortcoming of the screen/cinema itself (Fox, incidentally, was grabbing video vox-pops from people on the way out. I snuck past. They were also taking plenty of photos of people wearing 3D glasses in the cinema itself).

The Cameron film that this feels closest to is actually The Abyss, which I did enjoy and is one of his better films – in particular the extended version where there was more time spent with the underwater aliens. I’ll certainly go and see this film when it comes out, although I’m not actually sure that I want to see it in 3D on the basis that it might actually sparkle a little more in 2D.

It’s impossible to judge on a film on the basis of an extended trailer, and the final film may capture my imagination to such an extent that any perceived technical failings will be irrelevant.