Avatar – James Cameron is creating worlds

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I’m still thinking about Avatar from time to time since Friday’s premiere. You have to admire someone who not only can write and direct an impressive film, but also dedicates a number of years to develop and test the technology that is needed to make it all happen. “It’s not enough for him to tell a story that has never been told. He has to show it in a way that has never been seen”, said Jim Gianopulos, co-chairman of Fox, about Avatar’s director James Cameron.

In 2000, Cameron went to Tokyo to meet with Sony’s hi-def-camera division. He convinced them to help him make his “holy grail” of cameras: a lightweight, dual-lens, HD shooting wonder. The new technology would allow him to conveniently capture sharp and precise 3-D images that would not give viewers headaches even after hours of exposure.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have put as much effort into writing the screenplay. I can’t say I was that impressed by Avatar’s dialog or story. It was like a western set in space: Dances With Wolves in particular came to mind, a better movie that shares the same themes. However, Avatar’s true forte is how it manages to present an imaginary world so detailed and believable to the human eye, that you almost forget it’s all computer-generated.

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There were scenes with such powerful and majestic visuals, underlined by a suitably bombastic musical score, that I got goose bumps all over my body and tears in my eyes. Beautiful, astounding 3-D. If Gollum was a milestone in computer animation, Avatar is definitely the next big step towards creating something so life-like that it is indistinguishable from reality – even though it doesn’t exist.

Cameron had been dreaming about this project ever since 1977 when he saw Star Wars and got obsessed with beating George Lucas at his own game. To make sure the world he created would be authentic, he hired a linguist to develop the language of the  indigenous people of Pandora (Cameron even took part in the development of the language’s grammar), and a botanist to write detailed scientific descriptions of the plants he had created. The team behind the movie eventually compiled all information about Pandora in a 350 page encyclopedia called Pandorapedia. Parts of it will be published online later on.

I will likely go see Avatar again, to catch more details in the visuals. You can say what you want about this sort of films, but for almost three hours – I was somewhere else, in another world. For me, that’s priceless.