The Avatar Trailer: Oh dear

Martin's not impressed by the CGI in today's much-anticipated trailer...

A mess of the blues in James Cameron's Avatar

Here at DoG central this afternoon we were huddled around Simon’s screen to watch James Cameron finally give up the goods as the publicity machine for Avatar begins what we suspect will be an extended autumn campaign.

I don’t know how to put this, except to say that after the benchmark set by Benjamin Button, the VFX in the Avatar trailer don’t look very good.

The very first VFX shot, showing a large ship leaving orbit, had the glossy sheen of high-class CGi animation, and if Cameron is using any of the famous ‘real-tech’ that distinguished Aliens, Terminator and The Abyss, he’s sure gone to great trouble to make it look like it was made with a computer.

Things got worse pretty quick, as the trailer rapidly turned into a what appeared to be a cross between Lord Of The Rings and Attack Of The Clones

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The trailer shows us what appears to be the creation of Sam Worthington’s genetically-tailored amanuensis, a Pan-like creature initially seen as a prosthetic in some kind of incubation tank, and then revived/brought-to-life by the medics on board Worthington’s military-style spaceship. From here on the creature is CGI, and there is one spectacular, Cloverfield-style match-movement shot where a documentary-style camera walks around the creature. Thereafter things take a dive…

We get a look at an array of those power-loaders we’re now fairly familiar with; it all looks pretty Aliens by now, and all looks pretty good.

Then comes the CGI-fest in the forest, and it becomes apparent that the Pan creature, now controlled by Worthington is facing the greatest nemesis any sci-fi protagonist can hope to avoid: a Cameron-penned love-story. Worse than that, the CGI of the creatures looks like an animatic for The Two Towers. The movement looks tweened and fake, the finish glossy and Bryce-like, the eyes dead and cartoony.

It feels as if The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button never happened, for most of the Avatar footage. For some of it, it feels like Lord Of The Rings never happened.

Since these VFX have entered the most-anticipated trailer of the year, I can only assume they’re fully finished and offered as some kind of prime example of what we can expect in Avatar.

I’m sure the 3D glasses will help, and I’m curious, in fact, as to whether Cameron’s revolutionary new 3D camera has made CGI work so problematic as to preclude the very best character animation.

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I wonder, in fact, if this trailer is being released to actually tone down the incredible excitement that has built up for the movie in the last twelve months, rather than accelerate it. Perhaps we need to start getting realistic about Avatar; it’s certainly wanting realism, from today’s evidence, one or two shots aside.

Bad visual effects will not kill a movie any more than good VFX can save it, but all I can say is that the story needs to be a corker, because there’s a hell of a lot of people who won’t get to see this in 3D, and I’m beginning to wonder if Avatar is going to need the after-market after all.