Monday, December 28, 2009

Avatar 3D: How a good movie is put together

Yesterday, I went to watch the much screamed about Avatar, in its much screamed about 3D version. The awesome crowd of friends who invited me along - DK, Justin, Justin, Ivy, Gina and Mohan - would I think have heeded my demands of watching at Cathay (cos GV is so tween, Shaw equipment is so budget, and Lido is for DOM) but for the fact that they stopped screening Avatar 3D on Thursday or something (and wtf just checked and they're showing again, maybe everyone rushed to book tickets online making it slow). So for all my bitching, GV is without doubt the next best cinema around so there we went. And at least we went to GV Vivo, which again is without doubt the best GV venue in the whole of Singapore. And closest to my house as well.

I donned the 3D glasses, and apart from a few irritated adjustments, because I had specs and that made the 3D glasses sit on the middle of my nose like an uncle's glasses, I felt no need to take it off because of the fantastic new technology that doesn't give most people headaches like the older jarring red-blue ones used to (listen to Simply Geek Ep1 plug over at Tech65 plug for an interesting discussion on this and its future plug).

When the movie ended, I pulled the glasses off and found myself taking in deeper breaths than before, astounded that a whole three hours had passed like that.

So what is a good film? Like so many other questions attempting to define a positive example that a sensible majority can agree upon, the answer cannot be pegged to a single example, because idiosyncrasy can never be avoided in the quest for ultimate perfection. In that case "What is the good film?" cannot be answered. But Avatar will definitely serve well as one example of a good movie.

The story on its own isn't much to sing and dance about. As so succinctly summarized by DK, it's Pocahontas 2154AD. I say it's Pocahontas with Star Wars effects and a Lion King soundtrack. But anyway, it's nothing new. Nothing particularly bad, mind you. A plot by my rules can hardly ever be bad in its most basic form - it's the fleshing out of it that is always screwed up and over.

Before I go on about the effects, one very important point to the success of the movie is plot progression. This is how the rollercoaster ride is designed, how the adventure tour is composed. Some stories are like bullet trains - see see look wow bam kapow slash ugh blood spray sex what slap betrayal love make up make out end. Alot of things are presented, and nothing gets to the audiences' head. Some other stories are the scenic monorail rides - this here is the Quadridangus Corcilipeptus leaf, it first appeared in 2484BC, has 628 distinct veins, and ranks #38 in the chart of foliage green intensity. It gives you anything and everything in excruciating detail, and most people are drooling right after this here is the...

Avatar shows how to do plot progression well. Starting off at a decent pace, giving you a hell of a speed demon ride through action sequences, and where necessary, slowing to a near stop to let you experience the beauty of the details that would most certainly have been lost on you if you had even been cruising past it. The effort that comes from good storytelling (something I absolutely can't do because I belong to the monorail side) involves the audience member in the making of the story - one becomes part of the story journeying with the protagonist or antagonist as it unfolds, and one's emotions are being lent to the forming of the story. And that is what people describe as being sucked into the story.

Speaking of getting sucked into the story, I heard that the 3D effects weren't originally part of the equation. If you don't already know, I am an unabashed graphics whore. And if for nothing else, I would watch almost anything just to wait for good graphics sequences. Prime examples - Speed Racer and The Spirit. This is the first time I've seen 3D being used to such an extent, to its current commercial limits even. The level of depth and realism it extends to the movie just makes the best of all previous attempts seem childish and slipshod. And until I get myself a copy of the 2D version, I probably can't say this in all certainty. But I am going to say it anyway that with or without the 3D effects, this is the first time in my history of watching special effects that a movie has actually trumped a Star Wars climatic battle sequence (to qualify, modern trilogy, not classic). That said, just because it pwned Star Wars doesn't mean that Mr Lucas isn't involved in it. I know for a fact from catching the credits that Skywalker Sound was involved in Avatar, and I would be more surprised if Industrial Light and Magic was in no way involved in the making of this, once again, awesome show.

What makes a great movie? Plot. Plot progression. Emotions. Well carved characters. Good actors. Filmography. Videography. Symbolism. These are the classic factors of a great movie. Avatar may not have half these elements, but how are we to look to the future, when we are staring at the old school all the time? The progression of time and culture may have rendered some of these factors unimportant, and given weight to new and novel factors. And as far as that is concerned, Avatar takes the big juicy steak home.

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