Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Killing Me With CGI

So the hype these days is all about James Cameron's Avatar. Honestly, I don't know much about it other than the trailers show a whole lot of computer generated imagery (CGI). Which I suppose is in keeping with the synopsis... Avatar is set during the 22nd century on a small moon called Pandora, which orbits a gas giant, and is inhabited by the tribal Na'vi, ten foot blue humanoids that are peaceful unless attacked. Humans cannot breathe Pandoran air, so they genetically engineer human/Na'vi hybrids known as Avatars that can be controlled via a mental link. A paralyzed Marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) volunteers to exist as an Avatar on Pandora, falling in love with a Na'vi princess and becoming caught up in the conflict between her people and the human military that is consuming their world. But I'm skeptical. Haven't we learned from Jar Jar Binks? Done well, and sparingly, CGI can be a great thing. Off the top of my head I can think of some great CGI. The Abyss, one of my all-time favorite movies (and coincidentally a James Cameron film) has wonderful moments of CGI-- most notably the "water tentacle" that is controlled by the underwater alien life. Cameron also hit a home run with Terminator 2: Judgement Day. But even in the hands of a skilled director, CGI can kill a film. The Matrix is one of the most original films of the last decade. It had everything from an inventive plot, lots of action and terrific effects. When that movie ended I though I can't wait to see more of this... and then, they screwed it up with waaaay too many special effects. By the time Matrix Revolutions came around, I just wanted to be put out of my misery. And the list goes on. The Hulk brought us a ridiculously over-sized green monster that was never convincing on screen. Van Helsing made the Frankenstein monster look ridiculous. Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull... well, that was just torture topped with aliens. And do I even need to mention the wreck that George Lucas made of "Star Wars?" So the question becomes, can a movie, that isn't animated, survive being primarily CGI? Will this be a hit or a miss? ((The audio on this sucks on my computer. But it's the only new trailer I can seem to embed))


Charles Gramlich said...

I will probably watch it. I remember the Final fantasy movie, which I guess was mostly CGI. I thought it was interesting although not a great movie. Avatar does look there is a story there, although it's an old chestnut transplanted to an SF setting.

Movies and video games come ever closer together.

Nick said...

I think, if there's a problem with Avatar, it won't JUSt be the overuse of CGI effects, it will be the poor design of the aliens. Giant blue smurfs is the running joke. I'll hold judgment until I see the full movie, but can't Hollywood design believable alien lifeforms? Just look at the diversity of animal life on planet Earth for inspiration. How many flourescent blue creatures do we see running around?

SQT said...

Charles, whether I see this one will really depend on the reviews. I didn't waste theater money on Terminator Salvation or G.I. Joe thanks to early reviews. It'll be interesting to see how this one does.

Nick, they do look kind of smurf-like don't they? Hellboy looked more convincing to me. But I guess we'll see.

Stewart Sternberg said...

So I said to my friend MOFO, "You know in 1980, we would have seen this trailer and drooled. We would have collapsed on the floor and had seizures, and then we would have quit our jobs, packed our bags, and set up a tent outside the local theater to wait two months until the premiere. Now? Now we're blase about such spectacle. Maybe we're not teenage girls anymore. Maybe we need to rediscover our magic in the 'Twighlight' series."

Mofo fixed a steely eye on me. "That's why I need to kick your ass, Mofo."

Mofo and I share a common nickname.

"I'm sorry, Mofo."

I stopped and thought about it. "Maybe the problem is that we don't have a reference point in Avatar. The entire thing is CGI, it's like a cartoon, but too real. Combining live action and animation is always a gamble."

Mofo nodded. "No reference point."

"Of course, we won't know how immersive the experience is until we're in a theater. If we are constantly trying to critique the animation and ignore the story and the character development, then Cameron has failed."

"Like with Titanic."

"Don't swear around me, Mofo."

SQT said...

"Twilight" is a swear word if every I heard one...

ShadowFalcon said...

I wasn't to sure but now I'm really looking forward to this. Fingers crossed its more the just CGI.

btw death by special effects - 2012

Kimberly Unger said...

The best CGI is the stuff you don't notice. By cleanly splitting the CGI from the live action (which is what seems to be going on in most of the trailers) Cameron has given us a vehicle that will allow us to slip from one to the other without as much jarring as you get when CGI meshed with live action goes bad (a-la GI-Joe, Godzilla, etc.)

The bits I've seen thus far have been supremely handled, but we know from harsh experience that trailers often show the best of the best and the other 1hr 40min can simply suxxor. I'll go see it, there have been just enough instances where the story has transcended the technology where I'm willing to give Cameron a chance at my $15, but I'm not expecting something other than a visual extravaganza at this point (which, to be honest, would be worth the $$ to me personally).

Carl V. said...

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this movie. It does seem very CGI heavy, with effects that seem very CGI-ish, if that makes any sense. I think the trailers make the movie look heavy-handed and preachy as well. I hope that is more because of the way the trailer was cut together and not the reality. I don't need yet another movie to push war, environmentalism, etc. viewpoints down my throat.

SQT said...


I couldn't agree more.