However with all that there's still been plenty of bad press and Avatar bashing, and Cameron has been quick to come back saying we are only watching out of context snippets, and what's more is that we aren't seeing any of it in 3D or the amazing big screen, high definition quality of this new CG.
So I put my expectations in check, and as I came down to see Avatar I was perhaps more excited to see what the Caledonian Sleeper train is like on the return journey than the film itself. Okay, a slight exaggeration, but I was going into the film neither bashing it nor screaming about it. Hopeful anticipation is the best description of how I felt.
Anyway, enough of that. Let's get to the real deal here, James Cameron's Avatar and the première. The event was pretty amazing, a huge blue carpet, big screens to show the trailer, and plenty of people clamouring for autographs from the stars, and boy did those stars walk the crowds.
When I entered the cinema with my golden ticket, I took a seat and we watched the blue carpet event from the warmth inside. Michelle Rodriguez was being wonderful with the crowd, Sigourney Weaver was having a hard time managing to sign one piece of paper at a time as people flung things at her. James Cameron, Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana were similarly signing things and chatting with the crowd. Stephen Lang seemed like a really warm and genuine bloke, but then he has that steely gaze for the press that you just weren't sure about.
The ladies, by the way, looked fearsomely gorgeous. Weaver is amazing, and Saldana looked stunning in her dress as she posed for the press, and very endearing with her reaction as she stumbled on the steps to the stage. Rodriguez was a little surprise, she was extremely polite and looked full of fun and gorgeous to boot. It was Sigourney Weaver, out of them all, that got the biggest round of applause at her arrival on the cinema stage.
James Cameron talked a little about the cast and the film itself. He looked genuinely excited, as did the rest of the cast behind him.
So it was time for the film. Avatar was about to begin.
The story of Avatar is a simple one, on the surface anyway. A corporation has stationed a mining colony on a distant planet in order to mine a hugely precious mineral, a mineral that is very expensive and extremely rich in properties. The largest deposit of which lies underneath the home of the indigenous population, the Na'vi.
The corporation have taken a team of mercenaries and Marines, to protect them and their mining operation, and the plan is to remove the Na'vi from their home, even through force if required.
At the same time a scientific group have been trying to get to know the Na'vi and understand them to reach some peaceful solution. However this process has been slow. They do this through genetically engineered Avatars, creatures created from a mixture of human and Na'vi DNA.
As a new batch of operators for these Avatars is due to set out for the planet, one of them is killed and it looks as though the extremely expensive Avatar will have to be destroyed. However he has a brother, an identical brother, and so he is drafted in to take his place. Yet there are problems, he's an ex-Marine that has only known combat, while his dead brother was a scientist who had trained in Avatar use and the ways of the Na'vi for a very long time.
So Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington, is chosen and sent to the planet to begin a crash course in using the Avatar. Together with his team they are going to try and find a peaceful solution to the situation.
The head of the company on the planet isn't so patient though. He's running out of time and wants to send the bulldozers, and the Marines, in as soon as possible to mine that land. He gives them an ultimatum, solve it or the miners and the Marines do.
Sully enters his Avatar and the other world with amazing results. His open minded and desire to be in the Avatar's body lead him to connect with the Na'vi like no others before him, and the story really begins.
I'll say no more than that, for this really is still the opening segments of the story, the rest is where the strength lies, and as always, no spoilers here.
Remembering that I went in not over-hyped nor under, and I'd still seen the sixteen minute preview in 3D IMAX and been wowed by it, and seen a lot of the footage online since. There certainly has been a lot released, and let me say, looking back at that footage and comparing it with what I experienced in that cinema, the two are worlds apart.
It's no secret that I hate 3D, I really do. The films I've seen it in there's just no need for it, and the 3D films I've watched in 2D have made me wonder why they've bothered to engineer an entire section that looks like some fairground ride with things wooshing and swooping at the camera. I get tired of that very easily. It's an old gimmick, and a boring one.
However people, and film-makers love it. The studios are pushing it like mad believing it a way to make cinemas unique again. I think it's merely pulling cinema backwards.
I think James Cameron believes that too, and when he's selling his 3D, he's selling something totally different. If I were to look objectively at Avatar, shot by shot, I'd be able to tell you that there are just a few moments where objects come right at the camera, but they are right there in the action and feel like shots we'd see in a standard film with an action sequence, not something engineered just for the 3D film.
Cameron, and this has always been the selling point for me, uses 3D like lighting and colouring, like costume and set, he uses 3D to build another layer onto the story and make it deeper and richer, and that's just what he does here.
Instead of creating 3D moments for you, he's used 3D to bring to life this amazing world around you and to make every shot, every moment feel more real. With this one film and one screening, Cameron has me believing that 3D could well be in every cinema and in every home within a few years.
All of the above is true with Avatar. Perhaps it had a little more impact with me because I'm not a 3D fan and this is the first time that 3D has really been used as an additional tool in the film-making rather than a main aspect of the film, that and the CG is absolutely stunning.
Now I'm not just talking about the motion captured aliens, they are incredible though, it's everything around them, and this is where CG has failed to date for me, the depth and breadth of it. For in some scenes the CG is coping with tens of creatures all behaving independently with a huge backdrop of this stunning planet, and foreground fauna with little flies buzzing past your face. There are so many levels and so much detail invested into each shot that it makes you believe that this world is entirely real, and the quality of each of these levels is faultless.
I think that's perhaps the part that blew me away the most, the fact that there's so much depth to this world and so much life.
The Na'vi themselves look and feel just like real creatures, and real people, even if they are exceptionally tall, blue and odd looking. They look real even down to the smallest of details, and again it's these details that make them seem so very real, despite their smooth blue skin, their huge and sleek stature, and how little they actually look like humans. Of course they still retain that human appearance, but it's probably as far from humans as Cameron could have taken them without breaking our belief in them being real.
He doesn't shy away from demonstrating to us how real they are time and time again, because there are plenty of reaction shots right into their faces. We see close-ups of their eyes, mouth and teeth, as they talk to each other, become angry, agitated, fall in love, and scrutinise the unknown. He doesn't pull the camera away from them at any of these tricky moments, he doesn't try to hide the places where, traditionally, the CG creatures would have come undone on the screen. He puts the camera right there, just like he would with actors in real life and films them.
It struck me that this is the best motion capture I've ever seen because it doesn't feel like motion capture. The creatures are far enough away from human for it to work, and there's so much detail and depth to them that you just believe.
In a Robert Zemeckis' motion captured film his humans are motion captured to look like humans, something to me that seems pointless, and there the final animations just don't look as real as they do with Cameron's. That's because Cameron isn't motion capturing real for real, but real for fantasy, and his CG is leaps and bounds ahead.
I think you get the idea by now, the CG and the 3D aspect are amazing, and they're there to add depth and build on the reality rather than be the focus of the entire film. In fact there were scenes where I forgot about the 3D aspect and was just caught up in the whole story.
Remember Michelle Rodriguez's line from the trailer "you should see your faces"? Well that's exactly what Cameron would be saying to that audience last night as we watched the première.
Talking of the story, this is perhaps where you will start to hear the criticism, if there really has to be any. There is already talk of it being too cheesy and of the comparisons with so many other films, mainly westerns, and with real life events sucha as Bush and the war on terror, or with any clearing of species and land you can think of. Yes there are a lot of connections and comparisons to our world and it's filled with messages, including some strong moralistic ones. However it's not over the top. It doesn't feel to me too far as Titanic did.
You may catch the messages as they come by and understand the reference and why, but you're not really going to be sitting there annoyed or disgruntled that the film is trying to preach to you (unlike Wall-E (Filmstalker review)). No, here everything, absolutely everything, is overridden by the story itself and the strength and emotional core of the film.
To put an example on this I was close to tears about four times, and those aren't the usual moments that would illicit tears, one of them are the powerful speech to the Na'vi, another is when everyone steps back from what has just happened, caught up in the moment, and sees what they have done.
Throughout the film James Cameron has ensured that the emotional side of the story, the connection, the characters and their relationships, are all at the fore, and everything else is there to support and build on that. It works a treat.
Sure some will say that the story is a little cheesy, but you know what? I don't agree. I might say that the story does have a level of predictability to it, and there are no huge surprises, but there's bags of tension, suspense, and of drama. I had clenched fists at one point, knowing what was about to happen but still being so wound up and and concerned about it, scared of how it would all play out.
However cheese it is not. It's a great story that plays out giving you what you want from a film, and so much more that you'd have expected to have seen. It delivers everything from fun and entertainment to drama and tension. I haven't felt like that after a film since the early days of seeing Star Wars, Star Trek or Indiana Jones for the first time.
Sam Worthington is wonderful in the film, as is Sigourney Weaver and Zoe Saldana. They are undoubtedly the best of this huge cast and they give great performances that help bring to life their characters, Saldana especially as her emotions during some of the more harrowing scenes are clearly palatable.
However I have to give a mention to Stephen Lang who delivers a powerful performance as as the war veteran Colonel Miles Quaritch, and during the final battle scenes he is unstoppable. His determination to keep going, to get the mission done at all costs, and to destroy Sully and the Na'vi is incredible. I loved two scenes with him in particular, the one where he shows just how far he will go to stop Sully, and the other where he shows that his mission comes over his own pain.
Before I sum up the review, I want to also mention Michelle Rodriguez. Apart from being a superbly sexy woman even in combats, she has a great scene or two during the final battle, and it's one that should have you emoting at the screen in some way, even if it is in your head.
I think I've talked enough about the film for now. It's epic. It is indeed the biggest film I've seen. The visuals, and not just some of them, but all of them, are astounding. Cameron weaves 3D and CG effortlessly throughout to build layer upon layer and give us a rich, emotionally strong and dramatic film which doesn't lose sight of the story or the characters in amongst all that technology.
Everything else serves the story and makes it feel richer and deeper, and adds such a feeling of reality to every shot you genuinely will forget what's CG and what's real - and I mean that for the first time ever.
Avatar is a stunning piece of work and raises the bar for cinema by such a degree I wonder if anyone will match or clear it in the coming years.
I highly recommend you go and see this film in the cinema and in 3D, and that's a first from Filmstalker.