Friday, December 11, 2009

Effects wow but story limps in `Avatar'

The movie is also a notable advance for performance capture, which is how the Na'vi were created. As was done with Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings" and King Kong in "King Kong," the Na'vi were made with cameras and sensors recording the movements of the actors and transposing them onto the CGI creatures.

Seldom has this been done in a way that captured the most important thing — the eyes — but Cameron employed a new technology (a camera rigged like a helmet on the actors) to capture their faces up close. The green, flickering eyes of the Na'vi are a big step forward, but there's still an unmistakable emptiness to a movie so filled with digital creations.

SHOOT: That's why story is all important. Still think a lot of people will watch this for the novelty aspect.
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When a film brashly asserts that it will change moviemaking forever, one feels the urge to either take its "king of the world" arrogance down a notch or hail it as the masterpiece it claims to be.

But — and forgive us if this sounds too much like the dialogue in President Obama's war room — what if there's a third option?

James Cameron's 3-D "Avatar" has all the smack of a Film Not To Miss — a movie whose effects are clearly revolutionary, a spectacle that millions will find adventure in. But it nevertheless feels unsatisfying and somehow lacks the pulse of a truly alive film.

"Avatar" takes place in the year 2154 on the faraway moon of Pandora, where, befitting its mythological name, the ills of human life have been released. The Earth depleted, humans have arrived to mine an elusive mineral, wryly dubbed Unobtainium.

It's this sense of discovery — in Pandora, in the wizardry of the filmmaking — that makes "Avatar" often thrilling.

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