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Mike Cohen
Avatar
on Aug 20, 2009 at 10:57:53 pm

After over a decade without a blockbuster movie, James Cameron has been teasing us with news of his 3D epic "Avatar." Today the first trailer appeared on Apple's website, no doubt elsewhere, and I have to say...I'm worried.

The visuals, as one would expect from the guy who brought us Aliens, T2, The Abyss and yes Titanic, are stunning. The story seems interesting. But what worries me is that we will see yet another whizz bang SFX extravaganza with lots of cool CGI and a weak story.

Oh, but it has Sigourney Weaver and Sam Worthington.

Sam Worthington was in Terminator Salvation, which in my opinion, falls into the whizz bang SFX bonanza category. Not good.

Oh, but big budget effects movies are for your eyeballs, not your brain.

Sure that may be the case with Transformers, Phantom Menace and GI Joe. But this is James Cameron. While I could live without the cheesy love story inserted into Titanic, one must admit that once the iceberg hit, it was riveting.

So we'll have to wait for December to determine if Cameron has succeeded in creating another classic for the cinematic ages, or just another SFX bonanza.

Mike Cohen


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Chris Poisson
Re: Avatar
on Aug 21, 2009 at 1:53:48 pm

Jeeze, for a moment there I thought you were talking about the stupid little photos of ourselves we use on these sites, but you point to a potentially greater concern. Let's just cross our fingers and hold a good thought...

Have a wonderful day.


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Tim Wilson
Re: Avatar
on Aug 22, 2009 at 1:26:44 pm

Here's the trailer at Apple.com.

The trailer is kind of interesting, but the most "exciting" parts can't translate to this format. One is the joining of live action and CG. The other, of course, is 3D. The theory, anyway, is that this is the first epic narrative whose use of 3D is simply one storytelling element among others, such as color, music, and lighting.

Cameron feels strongly enough that it works that he and the studio have taken an unprecendented step: they're showing 16 minutes of it FREE at IMAX 3D theaters this weekend. Tickets were given out by lottery, so we'll hear soon enough how well it works. The filmmakers are taking the gamble that they'll have 4 months of building anticipation...rather than impending doom.

On THAT level, I'm cheering for them. On the regular "am I going to like this movie?" level, I'm not so sure yet....



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Tim Wilson
Re: Avatar
on Aug 22, 2009 at 2:10:45 pm

From Variety this morning: "Also on Friday, 20th Century Fox announced that the online teaser became the most viewed trailer ever on Apple.com. The first look drew over 4 million streams, breaking the previous record of 1.7 million."

Jim Cameron would be the first to tell you that money is no way to judge the quality of a movie...but my guess is that there's going to be plenty of money to go around from Avatar...

Any guesses what the previous record-holder for an Apple.com trailer is? Maybe the "first" Star Wars?

And hey, doesn't that tall blue guy in the Avatar trailer look a little like Jar Jar Binks?


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David Roth Weiss
Re: Avatar
on Aug 22, 2009 at 3:35:14 pm

[Tim Wilson] "Cameron feels strongly enough that it works that he and the studio have taken an unprecendented step: they're showing 16 minutes of it FREE at IMAX 3D theaters this weekend."

Compare that to G.I Joe, which had no advanced press screenings by order of Paramount, and there is hope.

David Roth Weiss
Director/Editor
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
Los Angeles

POST-PRODUCTION WITHOUT THE USUAL INSANITY ™


A forum host of Creative COW's Apple Final Cut Pro, Business & Marketing, Indie Film & Documentary, and Film History & Appreciations forums.


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Tim Wilson
Re: Avatar
on Aug 22, 2009 at 8:07:06 pm

Not to belabor the point, but some early reviews of the screenings are rolling in. Several of the raves noted in this article come from people who specifically mention how disappointed they were in the trailer. :-)

"And it's not even a continuous 16 minutes," Cameron said. "There are a number of scenes, about three or four minutes apiece. And the idea was to let people come in and really sample the quality of the goods."

No surprise, the AP coverage above is pretty shallow, and mostly positive. I was far more impressed by the blog notes at Entertainment Weekly. (Also no surprise: not that every word is gold or anything, but I'm a proud charter subscriber to the magazine, and love the website too.)

I didn't see the preview of course, but the writer there rings true when he says:

Avatar is, without a doubt, an audacious motion picture, and I tip my hat to Cameron for having the cojones to try to pull this off. Nevertheless, I predict moviegoers won’t be able to completely surrender themselves to this movie’s appearance. I think we’re all going to be watching Avatar from a distance, desperately trying to figure out why a film with such mesmerizing visuals still doesn’t feel quite right.

Although web comments to ANY mass-market publication tend to be inane, if not insane, and any movie with even a vague possibility of fanboy love tends to draw morons like flies, the comments to this piece also ring true: people were mostly very impressed with the look, less than impressed with the overall experience, and not all of them will be rushing to see it. There seemed to be about as many "I'm glad I saw it but I can't take 2 hours of this" responses as "omigod the best thing I've ever seen." Sounds about right, right?

Anyway, this is no doubt going to be a billion dollar-plus event, and it will without doubt rewrite the rules for CG storytelling. If you're curious, the EW piece is an entertaining, thoughtful read.

A final note about what technology IS and what it AIN'T: Cameron is one of the most famously nerdy gear guys ever. Much of what he has been doing since Titanic is pushing the boundaries of production with documentaries, notably with 3D. He co-developed a camera system that could finally do exactly what he wanted it to do.

Its core: the Sony F23, shooting 1920x1080.

Especially interesting to me: his rig can in fact work with virtually any camera, but 2K is where it's at for now...and quite a bit further down the calendar....and, in practice, 2K and 1920 are interchangeable. Indeed, note that Monsters vs. Aliens was rendered at 1920x1080, with some very slight tweaks for IMAX.


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Paul Thurston
Avatar
on Aug 22, 2009 at 11:41:58 pm

Hi everyone. I'm sure some of you are aware that EW articles are sometimes just PR.

Having said that, the question remains... why show only one reel and out of order sequences? Well... My gut feeling says there are no more sequences to show... they haven't been rendered yet. Gulp!

Should the Co-Chairmen/CEOs of Fox Filmed Entertainment be worried... nah. The story is fun.


-----------------------------------------------
Paul Thurston
Producer
Chile


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Scott Cumbo
Re: Avatar
on Aug 24, 2009 at 10:58:22 pm

I thought the trailer looked pretty cool and I can't wait to see the movie in 3D. I haven't disliked any of his movies yet and i know he wouldn't spend 4 years on something that was just eye candy with no story.

Scott Cumbo
Editor
Broadway Video, NYC


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Tim Wilson
Re: Avatar
on Aug 25, 2009 at 1:13:19 am

That's a great point, Scott.

My wife and I were kicking this around, and named some of his movies off the top of our heads. Titanic, Aliens, Terminator and Terminator 2, and The Abyss -- visually lush, entertaining, and in their own ways, very moving. Spectacular (in the sense of spectacle), yet intimate.

So after some hesitation following the trailer, we're now really psyched.

Now, while we're on the subject of James Cameron, 3D, spectacle, etc. -- I just noticed that, as a producer, he's in pre-production for Fantastic Voyage!


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Stephen Smith
Re: Avatar
on Dec 23, 2009 at 5:57:49 pm

Has anyone seen this movie yet? Was it any good?




Stephen Smith
Utah Video Productions

Check out my Motion Training DVD

Check out my Motion Tutorials


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Tim Wilson
Re: Avatar
on Dec 23, 2009 at 7:11:13 pm

I just happened to have made some notes for my wife and I. We're major pop-culture nerds, especially around movies and TV - charter subscribers to Entertainment Weekly and Premiere, I read Variety and The Hollywood Reporter every day, etc. She and I also used to review this stuff for a living. So I like tracking what my (former) peeps are up to.

These are of course people who got paid to see the movie...and one reason why reviews tend to sound a little wearier than your own views is that they have to see EVERYTHING. You as a "civilian" might see one or two movies a month that you really want to see - I can tell you from experience that seeing 20+ movies a month, 18 of which you'd never see under any other circumstance, is a soul-sucking experience. I'm amazed that ANY movie gets positive reviews, just because reviewers are so beat down.

As a result, it's popular to piss on reviewers as clueless, or out of touch or whatever. Although any individuals maybe they are, as a body, nobody gets more enthusiastic about movies they like....which is why their yea-saying can sound more out of touch than their nay-saying.

Factor that in however you'd like, but they're by and large going NUTS over Avatar: 94% positive at Rotten Tomatoes, and "Universal Acclaim" at Metacritic, where Avatar is the highest-rated movie of the year.

Anyway, I've copied some blurbs from people I trust:

+++

Avatar is dizzying, enveloping, vertiginous ... I ran out of adjectives an hour into its 161 minutes. New York Magazine

Avatar is an entertainment to be not just seen but absorbed on a molecular level; it’s as close to a full-body experience as we’ll get until they invent the holo-suits. Cameron aims for sheer wonderment, and he delivers. Boston Globe

I had the feeling coming out of this movie that I haven’t felt since maybe I was eleven years old in 1977 and I saw Star Wars for the first time. - At the Movies/New York Times

The film vibrates with the excitement of discovery and awe. Not just for the sight of six-legged rhinos and butterfly-hued dragons, but for the thousands of hours of work that unite here in a creative epiphany. - Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Avatar's shock and awe demand to be seen. You've never experienced anything like it, and neither has anyone else. LA Times

Twelve years after his triumph with Titanic, Cameron has successfully made a digital blockbuster feel as warm as an old-time movie, where blood temperature was more important than pixels. Toronto Sun

James Cameron's long-awaited sci-fi epic is every bit as wondrous and imaginative as promised. Prepare to be amazed. - Hollywood.com

A quantum leap in movie magic. Watching it, I began to understand how people in 1933 must have felt when they saw King Kong. Chicago Reader

"Avatar" is all-enveloping and transporting, with Cameron & Co.'s years of R&D paying off with a film that, as his work has done before, raises the technical bar and throws down a challenge for the many other filmmakers toiling in the sci-fi/fantasy realm. - Variety

It extends the possibilities of what movies can do. Cameron's talent may just be as big as his dreams.- Rolling Stone

Avatar is thrilling, exciting and, best of all, something new that your eyeballs didn't even know they very much wanted to see. New York Observer

James Cameron's Avatar is the most beautiful film I’ve seen in years.- New Yorker

There are visionary filmmakers - and then there's James Cameron, who pushes the envelope of what is possible on the screen every time he makes a film. He doesn't do it nearly often enough. Hollywood & Fine

An astonishing, breathtaking masterpiece. Cameron did it! It will easily surpass Titanic's box office. I think Cameron created a few new colors.- Films in Review

Be prepared to see it multiple times on the biggest screen you can find. - Film Journal

The movie is gorgeous, funny, fun, and engrossing in a way that a lot of movies aim for but few achieve.- Premiere

Mr. Cameron's singular vision has upped the ante for filmed entertainment, and given us a travelogue unlike any other. Wall St. Journal

...a stunning masterpiece. Filmcritic.com

Avatar is James Cameron doing what he does best – blowing things up with awesome special effects, while tying the set pieces together with a story worth telling. The king of the (sci-fi) world is back. Long live the king! Sky Movies

The best picture of 2009, one of the best films of the decade and, really, one of the best movies I've ever seen. Montreal Film Journal


A fully believable, flesh-and-blood (albeit not human flesh and blood) romance is the beating heart of "Avatar." Cameron has never made a movie just to show off visual pyrotechnics: Every bit of technology in "Avatar" serves the greater purpose of a deeply felt love story. - Hollywood Reporter

This is, simply put, one of the most beautiful movies you’ll ever see. Premiere

Embrace the movie -- surely the most vivid and persuasive creation of a fantasy world ever seen in the history of moving pictures -- as a total sensory, sensuous, sensual experience. Time


+++

And reviewers are supposed to be cynical! Again, as a body, nowhere near the case. And, as I mentioned, when they're enthusiastic, they're more enthusiastic than average, just because they see so few movies that actually engage them.

From what he told me, I think that Ron's experience could roughly be summarized as "all of the above." Anybody else?

tw



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Ron Lindeboom
Re: Avatar
on Dec 23, 2009 at 7:51:15 pm

Kathlyn and I *loved* Avatar on the Real-D 3D screen here at the Park Cinema in Paso Robles.

Kathlyn said it best in her comment as we left the theater: I want to live in that world.

It is the most visually stunning fantasy epic I have ever seen. It is almost overwhelming to see everything that is happening in this movie.

And the thing that was quite remarkable about it, is that the filmmakers worked very hard to not go over the top in the 3D immersive visuals. They are, for the most part (with a few forgivable momentary failures), the way that 3D would be in our normal visual range. There are very few "jump out and grab you" elements, and the few there are, are elements which would play that way in real life because they are supposed to.

The 3D is far more subtle than the heavy-handed approach used in 3D movies up to this point.

I loved the story and thought that it was a well executed morality tale about the destruction of indigenous cultures -- and doesn't just beat Americans for the atrocities, but is pretty even handed and weaves in elements of cultures from around the world. This is a human atrocity, not an Americans-only event. There are elements from African cutures, the Aborgines of Australia, Mezzo-American, as well as North American. There are even a few nods to long-gone cultures like Druids and Picts.

I thought it was very well done and was quite visually convincing.

I heard no one speak as we left the theater who said anything bad. Everyone was pretty much in agreement that the film intelligencia will likely crucify James Cameron, but the public will fill his wallet -- yet again.


Best regards,

Ron Lindeboom

Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil are located in the same individual.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
- Antoine de Saint Exupéry


First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
- Gandhi






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Tim Wilson
Re: Avatar
on Dec 24, 2009 at 3:40:38 am

[Ron Lindeboom] "Everyone was pretty much in agreement that the film intelligencia will likely crucify James Cameron"

Please see my post above. This is the best-reviewed movie of the year, by a long shot.

And over the course of his career, Cameron rates higher among reviewers than Scorcese and Speilberg.

These are hard numbers, not theories. There are sites that collect these things, complete with links. You can read for yourself, but I'll save you the trip.

94% positive reviews for Avatar at Rotten Tomatoes from their "Top Reviewers" (New York Times, LA Times, Roger Ebert...who gave it his very highest rating, btw...Boston Globe, New York Magazine, Chicago Sun Times, Film Threat, Times UK, Wall St. Journal, Slate, etc. etc.).

Metacritic is another review aggregator, where the average grades for Avatar add up to a score they call "Universal Acclaim." Its overall score is the highest of any movie in wide release.

The archive at Rotten Tomatoes goes back further, so I looked at other Cameron scores:

Titanic 84% positive
Abyss 85%
Aliens 100%
Terminator 100%
Terminator 2 97%


To put this in context, critic's darling Martin Scorcese won his first Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for The Departed, which I have to agree, Scorcese's best movie by far.

It's score? 92% positive. LESS than Avatar.

Goodfellas? 89%

Casino? 70%

The only one of Scorcese's pictures to score higher than Avatar is Taxi Driver, at 97%....kinda hard to argue with that one...but even Scorcese's top score only ties Cameron's third-ranked picture. Cameron ranks higher on peaks, higher on average.

How's this for a kick in the pants - Speilberg only got 97% positive reviews for Schindler's List!!! A little more than Avatar, but LESS than the acclaim Cameron got for Aliens and Terminator.

Once you look at the actual reviews being written and add them up, James Cameron is doing better than Scorcese or Speilberg. How much better can he possibly do than THAT?

So please tell anybody who asks - the intelligentsia are mostly pretty intelligent. Certainly about Avatar, where they completely agree with you.


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Mike Cohen
Re: Avatar
on Dec 27, 2009 at 10:14:50 pm

Since I started this thread, let me jump on the end - this film is a masterful creation for the ages. Eye candy? Yes. A compelling story, as sci-fi goes? Absolutely. Mainstream entertainment? Possibly. My theater in blue-collar Waterbury, CT was filled with kids, families, baby boomers and even a few crying babies (perhaps it is hard to get a sitter this time of year) - I would call that mainstream.

Even without the last act, this movie stands as a monumental achievement. Heck, even without the 3D I think this would be a great ride. But the subtle use of 3D is not what I was expecting (although having read the 3D issue of the Creative COW magazine, it is what I thought I could expect). Gone are the days when 3D was used as a gimmick to get people to the theater. 3D is now a filmmaking tool just as CGI and steadycams are. Use it to enhance the story, but only as needed.

Bravo Jim Cameron.

Mike Cohen


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David Roth Weiss
Re: Avatar
on Dec 27, 2009 at 11:08:25 pm

I saw Avatar on Christmas Eve day, and, while not perfect, it is definitely well worth the ticket price, and a must see for everyone, especially those in all facets of of video and film production.

As far as what I think was imperfect:

1)I would have chopped out about 20-minutes from act-2, and about 10-mins. from act-3.

What I liked the most was:

1) Stephen Lang's performance as "the heavy" (BTW, he despises the term "villain" that people have used to characterize his role). I've been watching Lang's acting for years and he never disappoints. His big fight scene puts Iron Man and every other comic book film to shame.

2) Cameron creates imagery that brings to life many of the great comic books and great sci-fi posters that I've ever seen, in ways that are, at once, both derivative (in a good way) and refreshingly new and realistic.

3) Cameron successfully borrows from many great sci-fi films (including his own), such as: 2001, Terminator, and Alien, while making it all seem new and better.

David Roth Weiss
Director/Editor/Colorist
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
Los Angeles

POST-PRODUCTION WITHOUT THE USUAL INSANITY ™


A forum host of Creative COW's Apple Final Cut Pro, Business & Marketing, Indie Film & Documentary, and Film History & Appreciations forums.


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Dwelb Fwibben
Re: Avatar
on Dec 28, 2009 at 12:08:11 am

I think that Mike Cohen nailed it. Avatar shows that 3D doesn't have to be a gimmick. They used it so subtly that at first, I was rather disappointed. But they eased the audience into the full effect over time, never drawing full attention to it until it was quite believable. Nothing jumped into your face and nothing was gimmicky.

As Mike said, this is 3D the way it is going to be used in the future, to enhance movies, not over-amp them.

I will go so far as to say that Avatar is one of the great sci-fi films of all time, in my opinion.

Dwelb Fwibben


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Stephen Smith
Re: Avatar
on Feb 1, 2010 at 8:03:51 pm

Okay, you talked me into it. I went to the local Imax theater and thought it was really good. The 3D was so cool. Even simple shots such as the static one in the beginning where they are getting ready to land and you see a row of people has such amazing depth. I imagine we will see a lot of movies coming out in 3D very soon.




Stephen Smith
Utah Video Productions

Check out my Motion Training DVD

Check out my Motion Tutorials


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David Roth Weiss
Re: Avatar
on Feb 1, 2010 at 8:11:23 pm

[Stephen Smith] "Okay, you talked me into it. I went to the local Imax theater and thought it was really good. The 3D was so cool. "

Okay Stephen, now read my new post about Avatar at the top of the forum comparing IMAX 3D to Read D. Then, go see Avatar projected in Real D and tell us if you prefer it as much as I do.

David Roth Weiss
Director/Editor/Colorist
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
Los Angeles

POST-PRODUCTION WITHOUT THE USUAL INSANITY ™


A forum host of Creative COW's Apple Final Cut Pro, Business & Marketing, Indie Film & Documentary, and Film History & Appreciations forums.


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