Picofarad #20 movie review

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Avatar (2009)

Directed by James Cameron
Running Time: 162 minutes

Once upon a time, there was a familiar movie plot in which a white man would encounter a savage, brown-skinned tribe which knew little of the modern world. He would befriend them, become one of them, and steal the heart of the bravest and most beautiful woman in the tribe. With his superior knowledge, he would teach the tribe how to fight back against an overwhelming threat. He would annoy the tribe's previously best warrior, but ultimately the warrior would accept his superiority and work with him.

Of course, in these enlightened days, no one would ever, ever dream of making a patronizing film like that. For a start, the natives here are blue, not brown. And certainly no one is spouting racist talk about men barely evolved from apes; the Na'vi have tails, which takes them firmly out of the realm of higher primates. So there.

Yes, yes, you say, but the big deal was all about the visuals, and how are they? Well, the vast amount of processor time consumed by the effects certainly shows. There are many beautiful and realistic-looking sights, and it deserves every award it has gotten or will get for cinematography.

But they still haven't solved a few things, like the fact that no amount of processing will cover up the fact that if you do motion capture of a person walking or running, and then map that to someone with different proportions, it doesn't look right. (Kudos to the director, though, for having apparently realized this and tried to avoid shots in which it would be painfuly obvious.)

And there we hit on the reason I can't even enjoy Avatar for its visuals: because it's all cut-and-paste underneath, and I couldn't stop noticing it. The mine is copied exactly from an open-pit copper mine. So are the trucks. Those floating critters are immature jellyfish. That nasal arrangement on some of the flying fauna is a dead ringer for some Wayne Barlowe artwork. The mounts in their aerie are using movements copied from bats. (Possibly the exact same footage of bats used for the dragon in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.) Hey, look, a titanothere! And so forth, and so on.

In the end, Avatar has proven that big-budget photorealistic CGI mixed with live action has the potential to accomplish great things. If someone could put that together with a few original thoughts, that would be a movie for the ages.

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