Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Avatar" - James Cameron Dreams of Electric Actors

This is the first of in a series of short posts about James Cameron's new blockbuster Avatar.

Make no mistake about it, out of the gate Avatar is a landmark science fiction film.  People may argue whether it succeeds as a work of story-telling, but no one can deny that Cameron has orchestrated a combination of cutting-edge movie-making techniques to realize a vision of an alien world in a realistic and compelling way that will serve as the standard of comparison for science fiction films for years to come.

In this regard Avatar springs into the world full-blown, much as Stanley Kubrick's 2001, A Space Odyssey did in 1968 - so different from its predecessors that it startles us, and demands we revise our expectations for the medium.  Everything that came before is revealed to have been nothing more than cardboard spaceships sporting sputtering sparklers and bow-legged actors cavorting in foam-rubber monster costumes.

It's important to keep in mind that science fiction films, as much as they aspire to be movies about ideas, first and foremost strive to fabricate believable visions either of the future of our own planet or of the landscapes of others light-years away.  With Avatar Cameron has triumphed by creating a marvelous new world for both his characters and his audience to inhabit.

In addition Avatar will likely establish itself as a watershed in the relentless march of cinema from its reliance on flesh-and-blood actors to the routine use of what may come to be called "synthetic" players.  The melding of live action and CGI (computer generated imagery) through the use of motion-capture technologies will give way to the construction of genuinely autonomous virtual actors, informed, perhaps, by the smoky voice of Marlene Dietrich or the smoking curves of Marilyn Monroe.

So, with Avatar James Cameron has allowed us to glimpse another future world, one in which the film director has become a painter of characters, methodically composing actors from a palette of performers, some living, some dead, and some drawn solely from his or her imagination.

Creative Commons License
"Avatar" - James Cameron Dreams of Electric Actors by Marc Merlin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at thoughtsarise.blogspot.com.

3 comments:

Carol said...

I agree. Well said.

Louis Merlin said...

Do you think that the development of synthetic characters is particularly apt for science fiction, or do you expect that synthetic characters will be come more common in all genres of film?

Marc Merlin said...

Lou,

I think you anticipated my answer in your question.

Current and near-term science fiction films are particularly suited for synthetic characters because they already ask for a suspension of disbelief as part of the price of admission. Audiences are consequently forgiving of shortcomings in the rendering of voice, gesture and gross body movement.

As true verisimilitude becomes attainable, the use of synthetic players will be adopted by other genres. The artist possibilities that it offers are simply too compelling.

Marc