07 February 2010

Avatar – 2D vs. 3D

Yesterday (6 February 2010), I finally broke down and spent the extra dollars and time to travel 3 towns over to watch the Real 3D version of James Cameron's "Avatar."

I thought that after two months in theaters that choosing to attend an 11:55 AM viewing would afford a relatively empty theater. Whenever a new hit movie comes out, I purposely avoid watching the film for a few weeks. Packed movie houses are no fun for me.

My sons and I arrived a full ½ hour early, only to step up to a long ticket line. After buying our tickets shortly before the show sold out, I surveyed the audience. Most of those in line and the audience did not look like the typical sci-fi going set.

I considered that the recently announced Oscar nominations were directly responsible for this resurgence in attendance. The confused look and desperate scrambling of the staff seemed to verify my suspicions.

As we walked into the theater, I was immediately discouraged to see that the only available seats were near the bottom. I considered asking for a refund and waiting another month but decided to tough it out.

With our Real 3D glasses in place, we were ready to see if the technology lived up to the hype.

Before I begin my review of the technology, two things:
  • I already viewed the 2D version when it first came out. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, I didn't find it really offered anything unique or revolutionary to the sci-fi genre. Overall, I thought the dialogue was downright cliché and that world and creatures of Pandora still looked too animated for me to completely suspend disbelief.
  • I strongly believe that "Avatar" would have been all but ignored by the Academy had it not been produced by one of their darlings - James Cameron.
The First Ten Minutes Were the Most Painful
If I included the 3D movie trailers, this subheading should read "The First Fifteen Minutes." As I donned my glasses, my eyes went buggy. Instead of a clearly focused 3D experience, I felt immediate strain on my eyes and the images were in double vision around the periphery. It took about ten minutes into the movie before the double vision went away, but the eye strain remained.

Space Scenes Weren't Any More Impressive
As Jake Sully emerges from stasis, a few drops of condensation coalesce before my eyes. The stasis chamber was quite a 3D extravaganza (but my eyes still hadn't fully acclimated to the glasses).

The camera then pans out to reveal the ship on which Jake is traveling and Pandora with all its accompanying planets and moons. This was my first moment of feeling letdown by the hype. The entire space scene lacked any extra depth. It looked exactly the same as the 2D version.

Errors Were More Obvious in 3D
There were several incidences when I noticed glaring errors in the 3D version that I hadn't noticed in the 2D version. Most obvious is when a character's hand will move straight through another object, like the floating seed pods or plants.

Also a bit too obvious was the absence of movement of some plant life when others moved. For example, as Jake and Netiriyi are talking while walking on one of those mammoth tree limbs, the leaves are blowing in the breeze. The ferns and other vegetation near their feet, however, stand still.

The Loss of Scale
When the Omiticayan shaman fails to successfully transfer Grace's soul into her avatar, Jake's avatar holds the deceased doctor's hand. The Na'vi are a giant people, so Grace's hand looks like a toddler's when Jake holds it. Later in the movie, Netiriyi holds Jake's human body and he reaches up to touch her face. The difference between their hand sizes reduces greatly, his hand looking only slightly smaller than hers.

The Errors Were Forgivable
The thing that makes Cameron's attempt at improving the 3D experience is that the technicians put much more effort into how much detail they provided. Unlike the 3D experience of yesteryear that favored obvious objects (like traveling bullets and pointing fingers), Cameron's team gave most all objects the 3D treatment.

The amount of effort involved to pull this off is intense and costly, so I can forgive Cameron for the minor technical errors.

The Little Things Were the Most Impressive
I had anticipated much more focus on the objects used in the battle scenes. On that front, I was mildly unimpressed. The little things, though, were the best. In particular, rain drops, ash from fires and the floating seed pods were by far the most realistic, the most 3D. Several times, I wanted to brush away the ash cinders.

Real 3D Is Just One Step Closer to True 3D
Overall, the Real 3D technology is an improvement to the red-and-blue 3D that preceded it. However, it still missed the mark for me.

The strain on my eyes was even more pronounced than when I watch a red-and-blue format. In fact, one day later, my eyes are still sore. My sons didn't report any such strain, though, so it might just be me.

When it comes down to it, I don't think I'll ever truly be impressed by 3D technology until it no longer requires the use of special lenses. Only when holographic technologies have been perfected will 3D movies come to fully satisfy me. Although Real 3D is a cool experience, it is merely one more step toward a True 3D experience.

Overall, I feel that the 3D version of "Avatar" is more of a ticket price-raising gimmick. I do not feel the same as all my friends who stated that something must be lost in the 2D version. When it comes down to it, a movie's story must drive you, not the technology used to present it.

Would I recommend the 3D version over the 2D version? Sure, why not? It will only be in theaters for so long, so why not check it out and see if it lives up to the hype for yourself?

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