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! 😀

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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?