Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Motion Studies: Avatar

The blue Avatar form of Jake Sully leaps in slow motion over the hull of an airship in midair as missiles are fired through the clorine-blue sky and dot the lush jungle below with smoke and explosions. He is trying to throw two grenades in to the machine so it’s wings will blow up, causing it to crash. Being a former marine, we take it for granted that he knows what he is doing, even as he grins and practically flies in the most improbable of settings; the planet Pandora. Once he lands, the motion returns to 24-frames per second. However, the idea of 24 frames as applied to this movie must be taken very lightly. What must now be noted is this entire piece of motion was viewed through 3-D goggles. 24 frames-per-second is practically irrelevant. 
Avatar is, to date, the most unconservative movie ever made. It is a progression of cinema to the point that all that is made relevant to our enjoyment of the movie, are the crazy array of colors and the sweeping, technology-empowered sentiment of the whole project. This also makes it a stunningly gorgeous piece of work, greatly enhanced if seen in 3-D. But in terms of pure cinema, there are only a few sustained pieces of moving imagery that thrill our eyes chiefly through their movement; the image described above is one of them. It follows the vague pattern established in the first several images of the movie; a reliance on very wide and fast aerial tracks that either dolly in to, or cut to, a closer image of a face, or faces, or bodies. By the time Jake Sully leaps over the airship to infiltrate the Human army he was once working for, the gimmicks come in; the slow motion is repeated several more times, and each time it makes a dead image. Avatar is filled with dead images and sentimental, predictable motion (this is to say nothing of the plot). 
But the fact that they are dead is also irrelevant. What matters specifically is the way Jake Sully leaps over the top of the airship; the heroic posture he takes that gives the image a greek hero-cum-sci-fi extravaganza tinge. What matters overall is the interaction. The entire film is in 3-D. While it is possible to view Avatar on a regular screen, it seems that 3-D is its natural form. The movie represents the pinnacle in an era of interactive imagery. The story is, appropriately, about interaction. We are interacting with Jake Sully, in motion, form and color, as he leaps across that airship. This trumps everything; the cinema, the dead imagery. Avatar is not so much a film as a grand work of interaction. There is much better cinema out there, but it is the ultimate interactive experience.