Question of the Week: Are you looking forward to AVATAR sequels?

AvatarQuadPoster

It just dawned on me that it’s been over four years since AVATAR was released. I remember it was quite a big deal back in 2009. I remember getting advanced screenings (this was before I was on the press list, mind you) and I was soooooo excited! I even had a countdown post like I did before Man of Steel came out. I had barely any blog followers back then either, so most of you probably never read my review of the movie. Yes, I actually loved it. Yes I know it’s basically the story of Pocahontas with blue people, but I couldn’t help being caught up in the spectacle of it all. Visually, it was a thrill that at the time, I hadn’t experienced before. My hubby and I even went to the Avatar exhibit at EMP Museum in Seattle, so yeah, I was obviously a fan :D

But it seems ages ago now. I haven’t even rewatched it in a couple of years though we did get the Blu-ray. It’s not as exhilarating visually when you didn’t see it on 3D or IMAX, and this is one of those movies where the visual does matter. In any case, I sort of have forgotten about this movie, but yesterday I saw a bunch of tweets about Arnold Schwarzenegger possibly joining Avatar 2 as a villain.

I’d think Arnie’s probably playing a general/leader role similar to Stephen Lang. It’s been a while since he collaborated with Cameron in those Terminator movies and True Lies (which I’ve been wanting to rewatch for some time!), though at this point I don’t really care. Heck, I used to actually like Sam Worthington, he was even on my list of 10 Notable Foreign Actors to Watch, but apart from maybe The Debt, I don’t really care for him as an actor anymore. Yeah, blame it on the abominable Clash of the Titans!

TheAbyss_pic

The Abyss

What I am curious about is if Avatar 2 would actually take place underwater as was reported early this year. This is what Cameron said to LA Times Hero Complex about what the setting of the sequel,

Part of my focus in the second film is in creating a different environment – a different setting within Pandora. And I’m going to be focusing on the ocean on Pandora, which will be equally rich and diverse and crazy and imaginative, but it just won’t be a rain forest. I’m not saying we won’t see what we’ve already seen; we’ll see more of that as well.

Of course they’d use the latest technology for the motion capture and stuff, that’d be interesting to see how that’d work underwater. The Abyss is one of my favorite sci-fi, which was filmed underwater. Surely the technology has improved tremendously since 1989 that we should expect something even more breathtaking.


So what do you guys think about AVATAR sequels, are you a fan of the first film? 

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Weekend Roundup: Side by Side Documentary Review

Happy Monday, everyone! Hope y’all had a nice weekend. I skipped the cinema again this weekend as it’s quite a hectic one with my hubby Ivan’s triathlon on Saturday morning and we also had people over for dinner this weekend.

But Friday night we had a chance to check out the documentary we’ve been wanting to see for a while. I posted the trailer a while back, check it out if you haven’t already.

Keanu at Berlinale

This is an insightful and thoughtful documentary produced and narrated by none other than Keanu Reeves. I’ve always thought that Keanu is one of those actors who are far more intelligent than meets the eye, and despite his stoic style, I quite like him as an actor and enjoyed a lot of his movies. Here he collaborated with Christopher Kenneally who previously worked with him as production manager in Henry’s Crime to direct the film. I think Keanu is the perfect person to conduct all the interviews, not only has he worked with a variety of directors in over 50 films, he’s also got that friendly, laid-back personality that would help make all the directors feel at ease discussing this hot-button issue. It’s nice to see Christopher and Keanu’s passionate curiosity on this topic as they asked some honest questions on both sides of the spectrum.

Oh I’m sure Nolan would be happy to continue making more 70 mm films, but man those are expensive!!

Does digital kill film?? That’s the key question that’s running through the vein of this film as it investigates the history, process and workflow of both digital and photochemical film creation. It was certainly insightful for people like me who don’t really know much about the technical aspect of film and just what it took to get a film from the set all the way to the reels being delivered to our local cinemas. It does get quite technical at times which went over my head a little, but it’s always fascinating and they did a good job presenting it in layman’s terms with simple charts and graphs. There are also some footage from participating directors shown as examples.

Keanu had a pretty impressive list of filmmakers discussing digital vs. film, George Lucas, James Cameron, David Lynch, David Fincher, Steven Soderbergh, Danny Boyle, the Wachowskis, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, etc. as well as famed cinematographer such as Wally Pfister, Vittorio Storaro, and Anthony Dod Mantle who won an Oscar for his cinematography work in Slumdog Millionaire. There’s also a fascinating interview with Anne V. Coates who edited the 70 mm film of Lawrence of Arabia! I read in Movieline.com that apparently Nolan was the toughest to get for this film, but he got a kick out of Keanu’s snail mail letter using an old-fashioned typewriter. So Nolan agreed to be interviewed during filming The Dark Knight Rises in L.A.

As a cinephile, of course the best part is listening to the arguments each of the filmmakers makes on each of the two form. It’s no surprise that Nolan and Pfister would be the biggest defense of celluloid and that Lucas and Cameron are the champions for digital. But most of them realize the art and beauty of traditional film, but yet can’t deny the power of digital, not to mention the financial benefit and convenience of being able to film scenes that were impossible to do before. For instance, Danny Boyle shared the filming of the exquisite Westminster Bridge scene [undoubtedly one of my favorite scenes in London], and how it’d have been impossible to film those without the use of digital cameras. Scorsese seemed gleeful at the infinite possibilities storytelling could go with digital technique, having just been immersed in 3D technology with HUGO. Seems to me that according to this documentary, there are more filmmakers who are more pro-digital, even David Lynch likes the fact that digital cameras allows him to film for more than 10 minutes at a time.

The film seems pretty comprehensive in discussing the merit of the two forms, it even went briefly into related aspects such as coloring and archival process. Yet it seems to gloss over what it’d all mean to the local movie theaters and the effect of the digital process affect them as more movie studios are pushing to abandon 35 mm film. My dad used to work as a projectionist before he got into film, but that’s surely going to be obsolete now, as most films are going to be projected digitally in no time.

Wherever you are in the film vs. digital debate, this documentary is a must-see for you. No matter how articulate one’s argument about 3D though, I’m still not fond of it until they can figure out how people could see 3D films without those pesky glasses. And for me, whichever form they go with, the most important thing about a movie is still and will always be, the story. I sure hope no matter how advanced film technology goes, filmmakers won’t ever forget the art of storytelling.

4 out of 5 reels


Have you seen this film? Thoughts on the digital vs. film topic?

Random Question: Which movie did you watch most often in the theater?

Sometimes an idea of a post just presents itself when you least expect it. I was just chattin’ with one of the web programmers at work via email about a project, and somehow our conversation turned to movies. He candidly shared to me that he had seen James Cameron’s ALIENS 12 times! Yep, you read that right, TWELVE times! He said he probably saw it 4-5 times with friends/family, and then the rest was just on his own. I asked him what was so special about it that warrant such a high number of repeat viewing, and his reply was that the groundbreaking special effects at the time (in 1986), coupled with the fact that he was in his early twenties had something to do with it. I pressed him if he had a huge crush on Sigourney Weaver as Ripley and he said no, but her presence certainly didn’t hurt. Ha!

Interestingly enough, James Cameron’s other movies seem to prompt repeat theater viewings, I think Avatar‘s success benefits from repeat viewings and of course the biggest one of all being Titanic. According to its Wiki page, ‘The normal repeat viewing rate for a blockbuster theatrical film is about 5%. The repeat rate for TITANIC was over 20%.” No doubt the ‘Leo-mania’ at the time was the major factor (DiCaprio was certainly the Robert Pattinson of the late 90s). I think I saw Titanic twice in the theater and I’ve got to admit, I was a bit bitten by the Leo bug at the time as well ;)

In any case, I was quite flabbergasted that someone has seen ANY movie in the theater more than three times. I think that’s probably the most often I had gone to a cinema to see the same exact film (I’m not counting a re-release that happens years later), and that was Superman: The Movie. I was a wee kid and I was so fascinated by a man who could fly that I had to see it again and again. I’ve seen the VHS and DVD version countless times after that of course, but to this day, I still can’t fathom watching that, or any other of my favorite movies for that matter, more than three times in the theater. But I’m curious now if someone out there have actually beaten my friend’s record.


Well folks, do you share my sentiment or perhaps you have actually beaten my friend’s record or close to it? If the latter, please share which movie you’ve seen the most often in the cinema and what do you love most about it.

Guest Post – Forgotten Box Office Misfires Part I

[rtm's note: Who knew that the little blue people can actually take on Cowboys & Aliens? The Smurfs and the hybrid Western tied at the box office with $36.2 mil. It's perhaps too soon to call it a flop, but given the $163 production budget for the Harrison Ford/Daniel Craig starrer, it definitely underperformed.]



With today’s bloated budget in Hollywood, when a film tanks at the box office no one really blinks an eye, for example last year Hollywood released a few stinkers: Prince of Persia with a reported budget of $200 mil but earned a paltry $90 mil here in the States; The Sorcerer’s Apprentice cost $150 mil to make but only earned about $60 mil; and Robin Hood with a $200 mil budget only made about half of that. Now some of these films actually made more money overseas so they can perhaps justify their bloated budget, but still the studios had to take a loss because they didn’t make as much from overseas earnings, but that’s a whole other discussion.

Well, here are some forgotten big budgeted films that people either don’t remember or just don’t know about. These were the films that had a huge budget for its time and some even bankrupt the studio and ruined the director’s film career:

1. Heaven’s Gate (1980): This is the godfather of movie failure, it not only bankrupted United Artists studio but also ruined the film’s director and its star’s career. The film was directed by Michael Cimino and starred Kris Kristofferson. The film’s original budget was set at around $15 mil but it ballooned up close to $50 mil. Remember, this was way back in 1979/1980 so that kind of number was unheard of. Cimino was the ‘it’ director around that time, he’d just won an Oscar for directing The Deer Hunter, which also won best picture at the 1979 Oscars. United Artists was in need of some prestige picture and also in need of some box office hits. So they figured why not try to get both by hiring a young hot director who’d just won an Oscar and the film he directed was also a box office hit.

They also hired Kris Kristopherson, who at the time believe it or not was fast to becoming the go-to actor for big-budgeted films. Well, what looked like a sure-fire hit for the studio turned out to be a nightmare. First, Cimino turned in a very long script that would’ve made the film’s runtime close to six hour, and he demanded a huge budget for it. Then when they started shooting, Cimino acted like a madman on the set. He demanded that a building be torn down and rebuilt because it didn’t match up with other buildings on the set. This of course took time and cost more money. If you want to know more about what happened with this movie, there’s a great documentary that you can find on YouTube.

So after Cimino finished the movie, he showed his first cut of the film to studio executives and it was over 4 hours long. I this cut the battle scene at the end lasted over an hour and of course the executives told him there’s no way they could release the film with this cut. Cimino went back into the editing room to trim down the runtime but by this time the damage was already done.

The media caught wind of what went on behind the scenes and ran a story of how Heaven’s Gate was the most expensive film ever made and the United Artists went bankrupt because of it. Of course all of it was true and United Artists actually sold their shares to MGM so they could promote the film. By the time the film hit theater, it had gotten so much bad press that most critics and audiences alike ignored it.

I finally watched the film last year and it wasn’t as bad as its reputation. I think this was the perfect example of how a director’s ego got in the way of his talent. I mean the film also starred Jeff Bridges and Christopher Walken, so there were some real talents involved, but the ego of the director got in the way and prevented him from making a great film. According to boxofficemojo.com, the film earned a measly $3 million! Cimino never recovered after this film, he directed a few films after Heaven’s Gate but never regained his status as an A-list director again. Kris Kristofferson also suffered as the result of this film’s failure. He never became the top leading man like a lot of people thought he would be; he appeared in a lot of films since but mostly as supporting character or a sidekick, i.e. the Blade films.

2. The Cotton Club (1984): This was Francis Ford Coppola’s first true big-budgeted film (starring Richard Gere, Gregory Hines, Diane Lane) since Apocalypse Now. It cost around $60 mil to make and it only made about $25 mil back. The film had such a high hope for the studio, they released it in December hoping it will get lots of Oscar nominations and make a ton of cash. Of course it didn’t turn out that way and I think Paramount was just happy that most people didn’t remember anything about this film . I also think it destroyed Coppola’s career as an A-list director, after this film he never get to make another mega-budget movie.

3. Blade Runner (1982): This film is now considered one of the best sci-fi films ever made and it has a huge cult following after its release back in the summer of 1982. Now it did earned back close to its budget, the film cost around $28 mil to produce and earned around $27 mil. But considering the hype of the film for its time and it starred the very popular Harrison Ford—who just came off two box office hits in a row, Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark—the film was huge failure.

Also, it was directed by an up and coming young director Ridley Scott whose previous film Alien was a huge hit a couple of years earlier. I’m sure the studio thought, ‘hey we got Harrison Ford, Ridley Scott and a sci-fi action flick, money in the bank right?’ Wrong, the film turned out to be more of a thinking man sci-fi thriller and it hardly contained any action scenes in it at all. After this film came out, Ridley Scott’s career was stuck in neutral for many years. He didn’t have another big hit until the year 2000 when he made Gladiator.

4. The Abyss (1989): The king of big-budgeted films James Cameron actually had a box office misfire, believe it or not. After two big hits in a row, The Terminator in 1984 and Aliens in 1986, Cameron got a huge budget from Fox to make this film.  It cost around $70 mil to make but only made about $50 mil. I think this film was the victim of Batman dominance that summer. Had Fox released the film at a later date, it could’ve been a box office hit. You see, the Summer of 1989 was dominated by Tim Burton’s Batman; seriously the film was everywhere that summer. Also I think another reason The Abyss was a dud was because it wasn’t an action flick but they marketed it that way. So when people actually saw the film, they were disappointed. Well of course this film didn’t ruin Cameron’s career, he bounced back right away two summers later with T2: Judgment Day.

Sources: imdb.com, boxofficemojo.com, youtube.com and Wikipedia.org


That’s the end of part I, stay tuned for the last half of the list of box-office misfires you might not know about coming tomorrow.

So have you heard about any of these stories before? Feel free to share other misfires the average moviegoers might not have heard about.

15 Directors Meme

I got tagged by film connoisseur Peter Eramo Jr. over at Magic Lantern Film to list 15 directors that have shaped the way I look at motion pictures. These are auteurs whose work I admire, even if I don’t necessarily go and see every single one of their films. Some of their work have defined my taste in movies and some are those that I could watch over and over again. The movie(s) next to their name is one of their films that stick with me the most, so here they are in alphabetical order:

  1. James Cameron (Terminator, The Abyss)
  2. George Cukor (My Fair Lady)
  3. Richard Donner (Superman: The Movie)
  4. Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail)
  5. Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential)
  6. Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy)
  7. Ang Lee (Sense & Sensibility)
  8. Michael Mann (Heat, The Insider)
  9. Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins, Inception)
  10. Martin Scorsese (Age of Innocence)
  11. Ridley Scott (Gladiator)
  12. Zack Snyder (300)
  13. Steven Spielberg (Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade, Schindler’s List)
  14. Robert Wise (The Sound of Music)
  15. William Wyler (Roman Holiday, Ben-Hur)

Well, to keep the ball rolling, I’d like to tag five bloggers whose blogs I visit often, who haven’t taken part in this yet (as of tonight anyway). And as I haven’t done my Everybody’s Chattin‘ post this week, I might as well kill two birds with one stone :D

Ok folks, don’t drop the ball, ok? And readers, feel free to share your own list in the comments section below.

Everyone’s a Critic Part 3: Reviews from FlixChatter’s Readers

Welcome to the third edition of Everyone’s a Critic series! We’ve got a couple of new contributors today, thanks guys! Here they are in their own words:

The Hangover
by Mike Beery (now how appropriate is that??) :D

It’s uncommon that one seeks out a comedy film a second time, as most of the jokes aren’t as funny twice through. The Hangover happens to be one of those films requiring a second stint – simply because you’re laughing so hard at the constant stream of bits that you miss an awful lot the first time through.

Perhaps the reason there’s so much humor in this comedy is the cast made up of 4 central characters, three of which are hilarious. The plot is simple: best friends head to Vegas for a Bachelor’s Party Weekend that goes a rye. When the three friends wake up the next morning from a night of whooping it up they find that they’ve lost the groom. On top of that they can’t remember a thing about what happened the night before.  This turns the film into a detective story. As they get closer to locating the groom they uncover more and more of their debaucheries behavior. Watching their reactions to their own behavior is priceless.

The character interaction between Phil Wenneck played by Bradley Cooper (the good looking “Player” buddy), Stu Price played by Ed Helms (the weak Dentist controlled by his bitchy girl friend) and the brother of the bride Alan Garner played by Zack Galifianakis (a simpleton ex-pedophile-like guy still living at home) is rich. They each present a different spin on the crazy situations they’re presented with. This comic chemistry is why I had to see it again. You’ll laugh at the initial gag, then if you’re careful, you’ll catch the subtle interactions between these guys as they react to some of the funniest situations caught on film.

….

Young @ Heart
by Stanley Prawiradjaja

Instead of giving review on some blockbuster (or not) movies that I watched recently (eg. Inglorious Bastards, Proposal, and Extract). I like to give my two thumbs up for an inspiring documentary that I recently watched called Young@Heart (2007). This documentary was aired free! at your local PBS (this is just to show why we should support our local PBS). This is an inspiring documentary on a group of 70′s-90′s (that’s their actual age, not calendar years) lead by a music director, Bob Cilman.

Started in 1982, the group was organized at an elderly housing project in Northampton, MA. Strive to bring happiness to the elderly through performance arts. The group would sing songs such as Coldplay’s “Fix You” or James Brown’s “I Feel Good”. I laughed and touched through their rehearsal and lost of their group members. This choir group gives them friendship, activities, and challenges as they try to sing some of the hard lyrics from rock songs. If you are looking for a good true story, look this up!

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AVATAR 3-D
by Burke Hegrenes

With three kids, I don’t see a lot of movies in the theatre. And if I do, it’s probably a “family” movie. But the more I heard about Avatar, the more I wanted to see it in the theater as opposed to waiting for the DVD release. But not because of the story. (Fantasy is not my favorite genre. I’ve only seen the first Star Wars, and I haven’t seen any of the Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter movies.) No, the reason I wanted to see it on the big screen was because I heard it was a visual masterpiece – especially in 3D. So I paid the extra $3 for the 3D and was expecting big things … big things coming at me in a way that makes me want to duck my head or reach out and grab something floating in the theatre. But that wasn’t really the case.

Don’t get me wrong … I thought the story was great. A little formulaic at times (it sometimes felt like I was watching “A Bug’s Life;” others have compared it to Dances with Wolves). But I liked it. A lot. And the visuals were great too. But I just got the feeling that watching it on Blu Ray would be just as spectacular.

So I guess this is more of a review about 3D than it is the movie. And I say 3D isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. I saw Ice Age 3D in the theatre with my kids last year, and after the movie, they all said “that wasn’t really 3D.” I agreed, and wondered if it was a bad projector in the theatre or just lame 3D effects. I’m now guessing it was the latter. My son went with me to Avatar, and after it was done he said something to the effect of “Next time we go to a movie, let’s not do 3D.”

If I go to a 3D movie, I expect the 3D gags … the kind you see at the 3D shows at Disneyworld. Yeah, they’re kinda cheesy because they make the action forced. But isn’t the purpose of a 3D movie to trick viewers into wanting to reach out and grab for something that isn’t really there? Or is it just to trick them out of another $3?

Random Thoughts: The AVATAR effect

I was at the movies Saturday nite and boy was it busy. When the windchill went as low as double digits below zero, there’s really not much one can do outside. We were there a good forty-five minutes early, but thinking Up in the Air is a few weeks’ old, we decided to wait until 10 minutes prior to showtime before going in. Lo and behold, the place was packed! We’re able to snatch a couple of seats right smack dab in the center two rows from the back (as perfect seating as you can get) just seconds before a throng more people came in. As I sat there watching a bunch of people struggling to find a decent seat, I couldn’t help wondering how many folks tried to get into a couple of sold-out AVATAR showings but ended up seeing this one instead. I mean, you’re already at the cinema so might as well catch another flix even if it’s not the one you want. I guess being nominated for several awards usually means a boost in attendance, but I really didn’t expect this type of flick like Up in the Air to be THAT busy. A colleague of mine told me that’s the only reason he and his parents went to see Have you heard about the Morgans? over Christmas break, as that’s the showtime is the closest to AVATAR’s. Now, I hardly think the Hugh Grant rom-com is the only one benefiting from Avatar’s stellar business.

Zoe Saldana as Princess Neytiri

One thing for sure though, the James Cameron mega blockbuster definitely sparks the 3-D phenomenon on the movie biz. Times Online reported that the sci-fi flick inspires 3-D makeover for major action classics (thanks Mike for the article!), with The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Star Wars being the first ones to be ‘retro-fitted’ with 3-D technology. There’s even rumors that Ridley Scott’s asked Universal Film additional $8 million to “add an extra dimension” to the film, but looks like the studio itself rebuffed the idea. I guess it’s safe to say AVATAR is changing our movie-going experience, how far that is remains to be seen. The Times article went so far as saying:

Experts now predict that 3-D will become the new multiplex standard within five years. This will be as dramatic a shift as when the “talkies” killed off silent movies in the early 20th century.

Now, as much as I’m excited to see Frodo, Aragorn, and the gang battle it out with evil Sauron in a whole new magnitude, I’m kind of skeptical how good it’d look as it wasn’t originally captured with the motion capture technology like Avatar did. An exec from one of only half a dozen companies that can turn reels of celluloid into 3-D digital movies said the demand is definitely increasing rapidly to revive their past glories, but not all 3D is created equal. “We can turn an older film into 3-D in around 16 weeks. It mostly suits action films, such as Top Gun or The Matrix, but Avatar proved it’s best to use the technology to immerse the audience in the story rather than throw things at them. This is the new, more sophisticated era of 3-D.” (On a sidenote, check out this nifty anatomy of a motion capture scene from Avatar at motion capture society website).

I agree that Avatar really immersed you into their world that I sometimes forget about the extra dimension I’m watching. Now some might complain that the 3-D just wasn’t ‘in your face’ enough like in those special showings in Disneyland, but I see it as a good thing that I no longer notice the technology as I’m being whisked away to Pandora. It was a seamless experience where I’m not constantly in awe of the science of the movie that it becomes distracting. It’d be cool if we lose the giant glasses if this three dimensional thing catches on though, it’s still kind of a bother to have this thing on my face every time we go to the movies… or at home as 3-D TV sets are arriving as early as this Summer, which I presume comes with those special glasses. Oh, another thing I’m not prepared to do is shelling out an extra three or five extra bucks on every single movie. It’s fine every once in a while, but even at $10 a pop for a regular 2-D flick is not exactly cheap.

My hope is that the quality of the story isn’t lost in all this techie mumbo-jumbo, that with every leap in technology, originality and the art of storytelling remains a priority, instead of being shoved into a corner or thrown away altogether. That’s not too much to ask, is it Hollywood?

Anyhoo, on a lighter note, apparently Avatar also sparks a whole string of fan-vids inspired by the movie, as well as the groundbreaking movie-making process. Check this one out that chronicles the Making of a Bootleg. Awesome stick figures, guys! :D

….

Back to the 3-D thing, as I just read this post on Cinematical after I hit publish. The question is: what movies should be re-released in 3-D next? My picks are LOTR, Nolan’s Batman flicks, 300, The Matrix, and the Superhero flicks such as Iron Man and Superman. Those would be cool to see popping out of the screens. So how about you folks? Any thoughts on this whole 3-D phenomenon?

FlixChatter’s AVATAR review


To say Avatar is like nothing you’ve seen before is a quite an understatement.

Back in June, I list Avatar as one of five must-see flix of the rest of 2009 and ever since then, the hype promised it to be something of an epic thrill ride. Well, I can confidently say that fifteen years after his still-unmatched blockbuster Titanic, James Cameron delivers on that promise. Really folks, it’s like NOTHING I’ve ever seen in my 30+ years of movie-going experience. I felt like a kid again being whisked to a cinematic ‘ride’ on a jaw-dropping-ly beautiful planet that is Pandora, a journey that never cease to amaze me for the full 2.5 hours of the movie running time. The movie doesn’t feel long at all, in fact, there wasn’t a dull moment from the time we put our 3D glasses on.

No wonder it took Cameron more than a decade to bring this project to light as according to Wikipedia, filming was supposed to take place after the completion of Titanic, and the film would have been released in 1999, but according to Cameron, “technology needed to catch up” with his vision of the film. That span of time also allowed the ambitious director to invent a new language (like Tolkien did in The Lord of the Rings) with the help of a linguistic expert. All that hard work and a whole lot of moolah (all $300+ million of ‘em) paid off. The first time a couple of the Avatar program participants’ took a tour of that distant planet, the female pilot (played by the fiery Michelle Rodriguez) snickered at their wide-eyed wonder, ‘you should see your faces.’  The same could be said for much of the moviegoers, as for much of the time, I too was blown away by the spectacular visuals. The world that is Pandora is so spellbinding words cannot do justice, you simply have to see and experience it for yourself. One critic said it’s as if Cameron took a trip to an real island somewhere and took his video camera out, they’re that lifelike. If it’s beyond gorgeous during daytime, it’s pure magical at night. The Pandora jungles are filled with luminous phosphorescent plants and creatures, the ethereal airborne jellyfish especially, they’re ever so graceful and downright mesmerizing. Then there’s the alien creatures themselves. Five years ago, The Polar Express used a similar motion-capture technology — where live actors’ motions are digitally recorded and then applied to 3D models — but the result was a cold, inhuman, even creepy computer-generated characters with inexpressive ‘dead’ eyes. In Avatar however, the cat-like eyes of these blue aliens actually have realistic, even emotive expressions, and their movements are seamless and graceful.

Lovebirds Neytiri and Jake Sully

Now, how about the plot? Well, I made this comment in response to ‘the five reasons to see Avatar’ posted on an unofficial movie fan site: “How about the story? All those special effects without a compelling story we can root for would be meaningless. Would I care for the Na’vi people? Empathize with Jake Sully’s journey and the predicament he finds himself in? I’m pumped to see this movie but am hopeful that there is a ‘heart’ underneath all the techie mumbo-jumbo to balance things out.” Let’s just say I wasn’t disappointed.

The story takes place some 145 years into the future. The term ‘avatar’ in our computer lingo is used to describe an icon that represents a person in virtual reality or cyberspace. But in the movie, it refers to a manufactured body which is remotely controlled through brain waves generated by a human being. Because the air in the alien planet is toxic to human body, a group of scientists led by Dr. Grace (the fabulous Sigourney Weaver) develops a procedure that allows humans to ‘drive’ their avatar whilst they’re asleep, as they’re being transported to Pandora as a 10-foot-tall, blue indigenous people. Their job is to ‘study’ the Na’vi, not simply for cultural research sake however, but because this planet is ripe with a precious mineral called unobtanium (is that short for unobtainable plutonium?), that according to the corporate honcho Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) is worth twenty million a kilo. The goal is to figure out how to get these ‘savages’ to surrender their land peacefully before they do it the ‘hard way.’ Initially, it’s an appealing mission to the paraplegic ex-marine Jake Sully, who was initially on board as a replacement for his deceased scientist twin-brother. Instead of being wheelchair-bound, he gets to freely run around, jump, fly about, and perhaps find that ’single thing worth fighting for.’ Oh, did he ever.

It’s quite evident from the trailer that it’s not exactly cinematic groundbreaking. The similarities to Dances with Wolves or The Last Samurai are palpable, but it’s not a bad thing necessarily as Cameron chose to go the ‘safe’ route of the tried-and-true tale of a soldier going ‘rogue’ as he falls in love with the people he was sent to conquer. It’s no surprise that he does, as the Na’vi’s harmonious existence and deep, sacred connection with their planet is such a contrast with the world he lives in. It reminds me of the indigenous bush people from The Gods Must be Crazy, who live such a simplistic life yet they’re far more fulfilled and happy compared to those living in the modern world. Like Jake said in his video log, there’s nothing in our world that the Na’vis want, so there’s really no ‘carrot’ to entice them to leave their beloved home. It’s a familiar but still compelling story that doesn’t take away from the state-of-the-art way it’s delivered.

The love story between Jake and Neytiri might not be as feverishly passionate as Titanic‘s Jack and Rose, but their slow-burn romance felt genuine and moving. Jake was drawn to the graceful and alluring Na’vi princess (Zoë Saldana) almost instantly, but Neytiri takes her time before she finally trusts him. It’s a worthwhile journey and makes for a rewarding pivotal scene towards the end involving the princess and the ‘real’ Jake. Another key scene is when Jake learned how to ride a banshee, this colorful flying dragon-like creature (visible in the film poster) that could very well cost him his life. That’s pure movie magic that makes you go ooh and aah with wonder, as well as an emotionally gratifying one as it was a turning point for Jake to be ‘accepted’ by the Na’vi people. Both Sam Worthington and Saldana are convincing as leads, especially the first, as he’s in almost every scene as both human and Na’vi. If I have to nitpick though, it’s the inconsistency of Neytiri’s English. Sometimes she speaks in simplistic ESL English, other times she’s quite sophisticated. The same with Worthington’s on-and-off Aussie accent. But despite that, he’s definitely got that leading man confidence. He’s a strong and manly guy but with a certain earthy quality about him that’s relatable and endearing. No doubt he’ll have a fruitful career here in Hollywood.

One thing for sure, the movie boast one of the best villain we’ve seen since perhaps The Joker. Stephen Lang as Col. Quatrich is evil through and through, there’s not a shred of compassion in that massive body-builder-ish physique. During a heart-wrenching scene involving a destruction of something sacred to the Na’vi, some people in the corporation were shown lamenting the situation, except for Quatrich who praised the pilot for achieving his task. He has no regard for the Na’vi, or their home turf. In one of the most memorable quotes from the movie, he quipped, “If there’s a hell you might want to go there for some R ‘n R after a tour of Pandora.”

The central message of the movie is obviously aimed at corporate greed, though some people will make this out to be a political statement against a certain administration. Again, this flick was conceived back in the mid 90s just to give you some perspective. At the London premiere, Cameron said, “We have this tendency to just take what we want. And that’s how we treat the natural world as well. There’s this sense of we’re here, we’re big, we’ve got the guns, we’ve got the technology, therefore we’re entitled to every damn thing on this planet. That’s not how it works, and we’re going to find out the hard way if we don’t wise up and start seeking a life that’s in balance with the natural life on Earth.” It seems that the Na’vi is the poster child for the ‘green’ alien (as in environmental, not in skin color, natch). They’re also very spiritual people. So even if I find all the new-age-y and unknown-deity worship stuff unsettling, I consider it part of the fantasy and imaginary world created by the filmmaker, instead of an agenda they’re trying to promote.

I can say a whole lot more about this movie, but I feel that the less you know about what happens the better. I’d say even if you don’t normally like sci-fi, give this one a chance just to experience it and simply to find out what the fuss is about. When you do, I’d urge you to see it in the glory of 3D as it’s meant to be (trust me, you wouldn’t want it any other way). As this one reviewer puts it, “Immersion is, I think, the new standard being set here. Very few films so completely allow you to block out the rest of the world and mentally live in a fantasyland for several hours. I’d be hard-pressed to recall another movie, outside of ‘Star Wars,’ that so fully transported me to a world that doesn’t exist.” I’m not discounting George Lucas’ work, but I have to admit Avatar did that for me much more so than the last Star Wars film I saw in the theater. I feel that Avatar brought a whole new movie-watching sensation unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, and for that reason Cameron has elevated the history of cinema up a notch. In fact, all my friends who went with me said that after watching everything ‘pop’ in 3D, watching stuff in 2D just wouldn’t cut it anymore. We’ve already made plans to see it again (and again) in an IMAX theater instead of the conventional 3D-enhanced theater. This is one of those movies that warrant repeated viewings just on the visual spectacle alone.

4 out of 5 reels

Well, what are your thoughts of AVATAR?

Counting down to James Cameron’s AVATAR

Less than a week to go until I get to see one of my most anticipated movies this year. Ever since Avatar Day back in August, I’ve been following all the buzz surrounding the James Cameron’s most ambitious project to date. Not all of it has been positive of course, lots of people have actually slammed the trailers and even dubbed it ‘Dances with Wolves with blue people.’ Cameron himself was tounge-in-cheek in his response about why the Na’vi people are blue: “… we were down to blue and green basically — and green had been taken by all those Martian movies with the little green men… So, we have big blue women, not little green men.” But one thing for sure, like the Rotten Tomatoes article said, no one can deny that the uber director sure knows how to make an entrance. The site begs the question if Avatar will live up to its hype, and ultimately make up for the reportedly $300+ million production budget, PLUS the $150 million more to market it.

So far though, the reviews have been positive. As of today (12/13), it’s earned 90% on Rotten Tomatoes with 39 reviews counted, and Cinematical also compiled some reactions coming from Twitter that’s also generally positive. For me, this is the kind of movie that would defy the critics. I will go see it regardless what they say. I liked what I saw on Avatar Day, and though I’ve resisted posting anything on the movie since the full trailer was released in October, I’m pretty darn excited to finally see this!

I’ve also resisted seeing any more movie clips as not to spoil the experience,  but I did check out this interview with the star Sam Worthington on making the film. It makes me respect Jim Cameron even more and hope his hard work pays off.

No doubt Worthington is on the brink of stardom and pretty soon lots of people (including journalists!) will know his name. Just earlier this week, Yahoo news printed his name as STEVE instead of Sam (see below). Tsk, tsk, tsk, I know he’s not a household name yet but come on, with all the hype around Avatar, you’d think they’d get the lead actor’s name right. In any case, I have not seen enough of his work to judge his acting ability, but one thing I can say is he reminds me a lot of fellow Aussie Russell Crowe in that he’s a no-nonsense dude who works hard professionally, but personally doesn’t care about being a ‘likable’ force in Tinseltown. If he plays his cards right — and makes the most of all the roles given to him — he just might be Hollywood’s hottest import working today.

US actor STEVE Worthington?? Great journalism, Yahoo!

Anyhoo, come Friday, you’ll find me & my hubby at the IMAX to see Avatar in its 3D glory. So, how about you, folks? Are you going to see this movie?

THIS JUST IN: AVATAR Full Theatrical Trailer

FINALLY! I’ve been waiting for this ever since a bunch of sites/blogs announced that the 3.5-minute trailer will be released in theaters. I wish they’d just circulate it online at the same time, alas the bootlegged version hit the web a few days ago but I refused to see it. I’d rather see the full glory of the HD version, without the Thai subtitle that some blogs have embedded.

I’ve been psyched about this James Cameron’s movie for quite a while. I’m probably one of the few people who actually dug the clips they showed on AVATAR Day last August (boy, has it been that long?). Ok so the teaser trailer was rather underwhelming, but the 3-D footage on the big screen truly blew my mind!

In any case, this new trailer definitely invigorates my interest in the movie BIG TIME. It sets up the storyline nicely, as well as reveal a bit more of the characters and the real issues brewing between humans and the Na’vi people they call ‘savages.’ The lead character Jake Sully really came into focus here. The wheelchair-bound marine gets a fresh start and finds that ‘single thing worth fighting for.’ Little did he know it would take place remote from earth, in a distant world called Pandora where he later commiserate with and eventually love. Worthington’s definitely got a screen presence in the vein of fellow Aussie Russell Crowe, no wonder he’s been offered so many high-profile roles including rumors he’d be in the 4th installment of Mad Max, the post-apocalyptic action saga.

The music by Titanic’s composer sounds rather familiar to Gladiator, but you know what, it fits the movie somehow so I’m not going to complain. This is the kind of fantastical, film spectacle escapism I go to the movies to experience. Even with some cliched bits here and there, overall the trailer fills me with a sense of wonder.

What do you think folks? Are you as psyched as I am on this one?