Unless you’ve had your head in the sand for the last few weeks, you’ve probably heard of a guy called James Cameron, the director of a little film called Avatar. Ok it is probably the biggest film ever made: It is rumoured to have cost more than £186 million and has pushed the technological boundaries of computer generated films and indeed cinemas. The Sun has said that Avatar will change cinema forever, but is this really true? Is Avatar the future of cinema?
Avatar has literally reinvented 3D film; Cameron had to invent his own cameras to film it. It cost a lot of money but it is probably the most visually stunning film ever made. It has wowed critics and cinema goers alike – there was a standing ovation as the credits rolled when I saw it. To be frank, it is nothing short of epic. The digital 3D presentation was amazing, it had such clarity and detail that brought a truly exotic new world so close you really feel you are there experiencing the story as it unfolds.
So how is this astonishing 3D experience possible? A specially designed digital projector projects separate images for the left and right eyes onto a silver screen. You have to wear some very ‘trendy’ glasses that filter out the left and right images so that each eye sees only one image. Your brain then reinterprets the image as a three dimensional image. It is technology that was actually driven by James Cameron; his cameras were used to film My Bloody Valentine 3D as a test of the technology. No single person has pushed 3D in cinemas more.
But to what end? The 3D effects in Avatar are visually astounding, but the film suffered from a relatively dull story. Avatar is a bit like Pocahontas meets the Matrix. It is a story about an oppressive invasion of a beautiful alien world where the natives are perfectly attuned and at one with nature. And this is where I believe Avatar falls down. The Na’vi are just too perfect, they are peaceful and happy and don’t suffer from global warming, or taxes, or rising petrol prices? If you compare the Na’vi to the aliens (prawns) in District 9 who are irritable and grumpy, the prawns are much easier to relate to and are therefore much more likeable. District 9 even has a similar pretext, Humans are seen as the oppressive bad guys and the aliens are who we want to side with. Avatar takes itself too seriously and misses out on the comedic moments that made films like Star Wars so great.
Don’t get me wrong, the story is not bad, it just could have been better. Avatar is a goodfilm and if you have not already seen it, you really should, if not to just experience the epic scale of the film. The amazing creatures and luminescent plants are both stunning, awe-inspiring and completely believable. The computer animations are almost perfect and you really do forget that almost 60% of this film is CGI.
I saw Avatar in 3D, but I think besides the wow factor, the film would have been just as enjoyable in 2D and I will be watching it again when it is shown at Union Films (in 2D).
This brings me back to the question: Is Avatar the future of cinema? I don’t think it is. The 3D effects in Avatar are amazing, but nearly all other 3D films are computer-animated concoctions for kids that I have no interest in seeing at all, let alone in 3D. If you have seen Avatar in 3D, you will know what I mean as our senses were assaulted by a multitude of trailers for said films so packed with 3D gimmicks that I started to get disillusioned by the whole idea. Their storylines appear to be concocted purely to make small children scream or try to catch things as they fly out of the screen towards the audience. It iss cheap story telling for visual thrill, they are the films you will have forgotten by the time you get home.
You have to remember the reason cinemas are so keen on 3D is that it is incredibly difficult to make pirate copies of 3D films, and even if it could be done, no one has 3D televisions in their homes. Real cinema is the magic of 35mm celluloid, it is the cinematography, it is the story telling and when you make something like Avatar that is not so much about these things anymore, then is it really cinema or has it become something else entirely?
I really do hope that 3D is just a fad just like it was in the 80’s with the red/blue glasses. No one wants to watch TV through a cheap, tacky and uncomfortable pair of glorified sunglasses so why would you want to watch films that way? It’s distracting and that is not what cinema is about. If you don’t believe me, come and see Avatar at Union Films in 2D. I promise it will be just as enjoyable, just as emotional and a whole lot cheaper than seeing it at the Odeon…(Shameless plug.)
Jacob Deane is the head projectionist at Union Films. He loves cinema and the magic of celluloid. Union Films is the cinema of the Southampton University Students’ Union and is 2D only. For now…