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Making It Pretty Doesn't Pay (Well, Technically It Does, But Not In The Right Way)

December 30, 2009

avatar.jpgJames Cameron's massive CGI blockbuster epic, Avatar, is a gorgeous treat for the eyes. The lighting and water effects take digital animation to a new level of brilliance and delicacy. When you view the film in 3D, as I did a couple of days ago in a Chicago multiplex, you feel completely transported to a fantasy world. I don't think I have ever seen such incandescent flora, sinewy fauna, and shimmering surfaces in an animated feature to date. The movie really does take the artform to a whole new visual level.

But as is so often the case with films of this ilk, producers throw money at special effects at the expense of the basics. While Avatar titillates the eyes, it addles the brain with its nonsensical, cliche-ridden plot, trite characters, and thinly-veiled, heavy-handed political morality.

The folks involved in making this film should learn a lesson or two from Pixar Animation Studios. Pixar's filmmakers understand that unless you have the fundamentals of story in place, you will never have a great movie on your hands, no matter how wizard-like your special effects. Films like Ratatouille, Toy Story, and Up will endure and even become classics because of their unforgettable characters and clever writing. The animation supports these elements and brings them alive. The story is never in service to the special effects.

In Avatar, and many other CGI movies like it, the reverse is true. Ultimately, the movie will probably go down in history as no more than a footnote in the development of CGI technology.


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