Cameron, Knoll and Horner – Avatar

Yesterday I went out to see Avatar on what so far was the coldest day of this winter. Shows, how poor my timing is. more on that later. Much has been said about the movie already, so let’s cut to the chase, shall we?

The Visuals

There can be no question about the rich and beautifully designed environments nor any of the technical stuff used by the humans. Even the smoke and fire effects are more than decent, given they are 100% CG. Just impressive. Where the movie literally falls flat on its face is the creature and character designs. As I’ve written a few weeks ago, it’s all a bit too perfect and colorful. They all have the same perfect teeth, perfect abs, boobs and butts and there’s not a single wrinkle, not a pimple on any of the N’avi and that takes away a lot of believability. That’s particularly bad, as indeed each of them has an individual face that allows you to recognize the actor who lends his features. The situation with the faces is also made worse, because there are very, very severe differences in the performance quality from shot to shot. You can really see where the animation is based on the real actor acting it out and then others, where the animators were goofing around in front of their own mirrors, trying to fill in the missing parts. Creepy! I also don’t buy most of the other creatures. It’s just not evolutionary design in the Darwinist sense – why have lemurs with 4 arms, when they move about just the same like the ones with 2 arms that we have in Madagascar?

The Story

I didn’t have too high expectations after reading the first reviews everywhere, but luckily, it was better than I had anticipated. Yes, it was full of stereotypes and black&white painting, but it was still enjoyable within the bounds of what you could expect. That is – from every other director – but let’s not forget that this is James Cameron of Alien, Terminator, Abyss and Titanic fame. Considering, that he claims to have dreamed of this for 14 years and worked on it the last 5, it was weak. It also bothered me, that there was a bit too much spiritual mumbo-jumbo. I myself am fascinated by Hinduism, Buddhism and other religions that revolve around a shared consciousness of all living things, but directly plugging into trees and animals? At times I really thought "Oh, how practical, everything has built-in USB ports for easy data transfer.". Really a bit too much.

The Sound

You know, I don’t have a surround setup at home because my flat is too small and the walls to thin to not bother the neighbors, so I’m certainly not spoiled, but the sound work was underwhelming, to say the least. It felt flat all the time and that’s really not what I go to the movies for. I want to really know when a bullet hits left or right and I want the room to vibrate when there’s a big explosion and a 500m high tree falling! And the music… Plain awful! I find it hard to believe that some James Horner who did the ingenious Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan soundtrack (by many considered to be the best Trek score ever) and a few other good ones (I will leave the discussion, whether Titanic is one of them, open; I like it) could not come up with the ever same string arrangements and ethno rhythms that sound like those meditation CDs in the discount tray in your favorite shopping center….

Why you still should see it

Strange as this may sound, even with all its flaws, you should still see this movie. It’s not Cameron‘s return to greatness, but it is a very solid movie, after all. In those 2 hours I never felt bored and for all intents and purposes, the CG environments have to be seen to believe! For that alone, the film will very likely harvest a ton of technical achievement Oscars and the behind the scenes stuff will make its rounds on conferences, anyway. It’s just a pity, that its overall caloric value is so diminished by the weak story. If I may say so: It’s not collector’s stuff and in a few years the only thing anyone will remember, will be the exorbitant budget. Even the effects will only be relevant to insiders, as probably in 10 or 20 years many computer games will be able to generate such complex environments.

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