Avatar: The Water Way, the movie we’ve been waiting for thirteen years, is finally upon us: on December 14 it will be released worldwide. Years ago, still hot, a few hours after seeing Avatar, we all said it would change the history of cinema, and it really was.
Avatar: The Way of Water, the film we’ve been waiting for thirteen years, is finally upon us. In fact, on December 14, James Cameron’s new work will be released worldwide. Thirteen years ago, still hot a few hours after seeing Avatars, we all said it would probably change the history of cinema. That has probably disappeared in the meantime: Avatars made the history of the Seventh Art, e Avatar: The Way of Water will do it again. We’ve waited a long time to see this film: thirteen years are a long time for us, who are eagerly waiting. That’s not a long time to James Cameron, a director who creates his works only when everything – him, the story, the technologies – are ready. Cameron had dreamed of the world of Pandora since he was a little boy and, at school, he drew a world in which those blue beings lived. As a director, the idea of Avatar already had it back in 1995, but the technology of that time was not yet ready to create the Na’vi on the computer as Cameron had in mind.
Immersion in a new world
Waiting that long actually made sense. Because Avatar has arrived on our big screens in a visual form of great impact. It was a joy first for the eyes and then for the heart or the brain. Avatars it was, and still is, the film to be seen at the cinema par excellence, the only way to fully enjoy the film in its three-dimensional version, the one for which it was designed and created. What James Cameron created is a vision that allows you to immerse yourself completely in a new world. And which confirmed stereoscopy as an expressive means capable of putting itself at the service of a story and giving it expressive strength, and not a simple technological gadget from an amusement park. Cameron’s is not 3D with objects hitting our faces, but has a depth of field that makes us feel surrounded, embraced by images. We still remember when, after the initial preambles, we first saw the night scenes in the fluorescent forest, made entirely in computer graphics. We were blown away.
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3D: a window on the world
In addition to James Cameron’s great imagination, therefore, one of the strengths of Avatars it was 3D technology. The director of photography, the Italian Mauro Fiore, used the 3D Fusion Camera System, a system capable of shooting images that blended perfectly with those created on the computer by WETA and ILM. Cameron’s conception immediately seemed very different from what 3D had been considered up to then: he was experienced as something more, an effect in itself, like throwing objects towards the public. For Cameron the 3D it is a window to the world, a world for us to enter the narrative without calling attention to itself. The system had been tested by Cameron in his two “marine” films, Ghost Of The Abyss and Aliens of the Deep. Precisely from these films came new ideas for the world of Pandora: Cameron had observed the phenomenon of some life forms that in total darkness give off flashes and shine with their own light. This is where the idea of Pandora’s Fluorescent Forest came from.
A new performance capture
All that time from 1995 to 2009 made sense. James Cameron didn’t want to use prosthetic makeup to make his aliens of him. The rubbers placed on the face, in fact, do not allow to modify the distance between the eyes and their dimensions, nor to change the proportions of the bodies and their dimensions. There performance capture, which is used to capture the movements and expressions of real actors, allows all of this instead. Na’vi eyes are twice the diameter of human eyes, and are spaced farther apart. Aliens are slimmer than humans, are larger, and their hands have only four fingers. Also, in the 1990s, computer-generated creatures still didn’t have the photorealism needed to look believable. As late as 2005, computer graphics had the problem of the “dead eye“, that lack of brightness in the eyes of the characters that you had in the first films made with the performance capture. That way the characters didn’t really feel real. But that of AvatarsFinally, it was a new kind of performance capture. We were used, up until then, to actors wearing suits with markers and other markers on their faces. They were the famous dots which, detected by the computer, created a mapping of body and face, the reference points on which to recreate the movements of the digital creature. With Avatars a new system was inaugurated performance capture to capture facial expressions, based on images: the actors were made to put a device on their heads, with a small camera, turned towards their face. This camera was able to record their every slightest expression, every movement of their muscles. But above all that precious movement of the eyes, which has never happened before.
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Performance capture: expressive characters like humans
Avatars was this, he had amazed us for that exceptional use of the performance capture. If technology was finally really able to capture every slightest expression of the actors’ faces, including the eyes, the result was indeed virtual characters, but who had something profoundly human and real in them. The technology, in Avatars, had finally managed to perfectly blend the human aspect with the technological one: the characters are created by the computer, but they are also in all respects the actors who impersonate them. More than 3D, this is the real revolution of Avatars: with the computer you can create expressive characters like humans. Already with the Gollum de The Lord of the Rings there was talk of a possible Oscar for “virtual” characters. The results of Avatars they make us think even more that it would be a necessary thing.
Technology for a cinema of the past
But technology would be useless without the soul of movie. Yes, because Cameron’s is a technological and modern package, but it is used to revive a cinema of the past, the classic Hollywood blockbuster, which from the adventure cinema of the Thirties and Forties, that of King Kong and the exotic and pristine worlds, reaches up to the seventies and certain science fiction films. The plant of Avatars is profoundly classic: the breath, the rhythm, the music, the narrative twists (ours are coming…) and, yes, even the simplicity of the plot and the underlying ingenuity are those of a cinema of the past. In Avatars, a film that looks like nothing ever seen before, however, there is no shortage of quotes. We have always seen Star Wars and Jurassic Park, and it is no coincidence, because George Lucas and Steven Spielberg together with Cameron are a sort of sacred triad of spectacular cinema made in the USA, they are the greatest creators of worlds in Hollywood. And we also found Titanice Aliens – Final Clash (the combat armor-robots) by Cameron himself.
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War and Ecology
Avatars it’s spectacular cinema, it’s great entertainment, it’s visual bombast. But, be careful, it is a film where messages are not lacking at all. There is, in the history of Pandora, a strong critique of US imperialism. Do you remember that sentence? “We try to give them education, medicine and roads, but they like mud”. That’s what the Terrans say about the natives of Pandora. It is a speech that could have been made by the Americans in those areas where they intervened to “export democracy”. Let’s not forget that the years of Avatars they were those of reprisals against terrorism and military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. But in Avatars there is also a strong ecological inspiration. A theme that, today more than ever, is relevant, and that we hope to find again in Avatar: The Way of Water.
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