How I Learned to Stop Hating and Love the Uncanny Valley
Warning: The following post is little more than an incoherent rant. Read at your own risk.
That tears it! I'm officially tired of hearing about this stupid movie! This hype is driving me nuts, and we're still a good 4 or 5 months away from its release! I just read an article claiming that it'll "change the face of cinema forever." Really? Avatar? Granted, it is an English rag, they probably think Guy Ritchie changed-the-face-of-cinema-forever too.
Anyway, after reading about how James Cameron is going to single handedly alter the course of cinema history using nothing but his bare hands and a velcro suit covered in ping pong balls, I figured, "I might as well watch the stupid trailer." And I did. And I have to say: For shame geek world. This is what you're all getting excited about? Far be it from me to point out that the Emperor has no clothes, but this thing looks like garbage! Naked, parading-down-the-street garbage! I know, I know, trailers aren't the same as seeing the movie... it could be very different. I've hated the trailers for many movies I ended up loving (Finding Nemo, I'm looking at you!). BUT everyone in the world seems to be losing their shit over this trailer, and I just don't get it! There is a mythical 15 minute screener that was showed at ComicCon and select IMAX theaters... but unless the 15 minutes features an entirely different alien race that doesn't look like a glowing, zombie-eyed version of a furry's wet dream, then I'm not sold. Neither is Roger Ebert-who knew I'd ever agree with Roger Ebert?
First complaint: completely unnecessary and disappointing CG. We've been dealing with this for years now, and there's been some minor grumbling. But overall, modern day CG has been lapped up by movie going audiences. Sure they can complain about the appearance of characters like Jar Jar Binks-but that's because they hate the character to begin with. But people seem unable to accept the truth that Gollum was, in fact, a glowing, plastic monstrosity.
James Cameron has promised us that his movie would be different-he had created CG characters that were "photo-realistic." (apparently he's never seen a photo?). At this point, I almost don't care about bad CG anymore... the film industry is so enamored with its own technology that they can't see its downsides. That's fine. What's offensive is that the aliens in Avatar are blue skinned dudes with spock ears! There's absolutely no reason they need to be CG. None. Haven't we learned from Guillermo Del Toro that makeup almost always trumps CG? Why is it we always seem to forget how powerfully a well done makeup and costume job can sell a character. Maybe in a decade, CG will finally actually look right... but for now, people need to accept the fact that motion capture is a just a scenic tour through the Uncanny Valley.
Secondly (and I'm sure alot of you will disagree) can we finally give up on 3D? Yes, yes, its cute and fun when the Muppets at Disney World seem to come alive on screen, but in an actual movie, 3D inevitably falls flat (Hey-Oh!). At it's best, 3D is little more than a cute gimmick... at it's worst its a distracting, headache-inducing pain in the ass. Hollywood keeps trying to convince us that it "really works this time!" And, again, they are so enamored with their toys that they fail to realize they still don't work the way you want them to! I could complain more about 3D, but I haven't seen the actual 3D used in Avatar, and I'm open to the slim possibility that it may change my opinion about the whole ridiculous gimmick. Anything's possible.
Now that we're done with the form, let's get to the content! Really Mr. Cameron, this is the story you've been working on for 20 years? For a movie with so much hype, you'd think there'd be more of an attempt at giving us a unique story. Instead, we get another "noble savage" tale? Ignoring Dances With Wolves, Pocahontas, FernGully, and others-wasn't there a movie that came out a year or so ago that seems to have the exact same plot... you know the one... no one saw it... Oh yeah! Terra! It looks like basically the same movie. I guess James Cameron is lucky no one saw that. Even Cameron himself admits: "I don't know whether it will be a great film from a narrative and critical standpoint, the experience of Avatar will be an experience unlike any other movie.." Way to sell it! Really sounds like he's putting all his eggs in the "oooh-lookit-that" factor. Also, haven't people realized by now that the whole "noble savage" concept is just condescending, liberal racism?
I guess so much of this hype stems from the fact that he's supposedly been working on this film for 20 years. Ironically, if this had come out 20 years ago, it probably would have been pretty great and unique. But let's be honest guys, it's James Cameron. I love the first two Terminator movies, The Abyss, and Aliens as much as the next guy, but it's not like Stanley Kubrick or Orson Welles is returning from the grave to deliver us his true masterpiece. And hasn't enough time passed for us all to admit that Titanic really wasn't that good. It didn't change cinema like everyone wants to think, it changed cinema marketing. A 13 year old girl could enjoy the same movie as her 46 year old father-that's all that's special about Titanic. So let's quit acting like Cameron is some movie messiah, and Avatar is his Second Coming. On second thought, don't worry about it. Let the hype machine do its thing-it'll only make the inevitable letdown that much richer to us early adopting cynics. Rant over.