Avatar = "Apocalypto" + George Lucas

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 22 2009 11:08 PM

Avatar = "Apocalypto" + George Lucas

More than 100,000 people were expected at IMAX movie theaters Friday night for " Avatar  Day," a 16-minute sneak preview of James Cameron's science-fiction epic. In what the New York Times called an " audacious marketing ploy ," 20 th Century Fox made an extended trailer for the film which is due to be released in December into a major theatrical event with ticketed showings on more than 100 screens. Yet despite all the hype (and all the hype about the hype), the screening I attended in midtown Manhattan was only one-third full.

It's too bad; I would have liked to see how the footage played to a crowd. The smattering of viewers at the AMC Empire theater watched in near-silence as the CGI-heavy, three-dimensional action sequences played on an enormous screen. No doubt some were put off by the movie's cornball heroes. As I watched a tribe of blue-skinned cat people wearing loincloths and glitter makeup wrestle their way through an enchanted forest of savage beasts and glowing jellyfish, I couldn't help but wonder whether this is what Apocalypto might have looked like had it been directed by George Lucas.


Much of the ballyhoo for Avatar has focused on Cameron's supposedly groundbreaking technical innovations , which may account for the film's estimated $240 million budget. (In March, a writer for Time  wondered whether the revolutionary special effects might "be the thing that forces the theaters to convert to digital .") Here's what I can tell you based on the trailer: The 3-D effects do look pretty darn good they're easy on the eyes and do a wonderful job of immersing the viewer in the film's alien-jungle psychedelia. My only complaint is that some of the off-planet scenes suffer from a rather pronounced dollhouse effect, with the real-life sets and human actors appearing weirdly small.

I'm less sanguine about the computer graphics. The scenes shown Friday were almost exclusively CGI: animated feline humanoids doing animated flips as they hurled animated spears at animated dinosaurs. I'm sure the algorithms used to construct these battles were as sophisticated as any in the history of filmmaking but everything still looked a little off to me. The movements were too smooth and slippery, like Yoda's cartoonish acrobatics from Star Wars . For all Cameron's technical wizardry, the digital characters in Avatar remain lodged somewhere on the far slope of the uncanny valley .

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate



Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.