Yup, Avatar’s amazing and definitely worth a watch. I went over the holidays and as we were walking into the (packed) theatre, my brother got a call from his paramedic girlfriend, who said ‘whatever you do, don’t sit in the front row- we’ve had 2 calls already for people having fits from sitting in the front!’, which is, of course, where we had to sit. In fact my first (and most amazing) experience with this new 3-D technology wasn’t with Avatar, it was with the ‘Got Milk?’ ad that played before the show… In the front row, that cow was headed straight for the back of my throat.
Of course, we all survived without help from the paramedics, and Avatar turned out to be more entertaining and engaging than I had expected. I loved the whole idea of the planet as a metaphorical and literal network, and I didn’t mind the 70’s-airbrush-van-art aesthetics as much as I thought I would (things glowin’ in the dark are fun- c’mon!) The 3-D aspect, however, was down-right inspiring. It brought to mind a passage I read in The Conversations (see previous post), where Walter Murch compares film to the history of music;
“… I think cinema is perhaps now where music was before musical notation- writing music as a sequence of marks on paper- was invented. Music had been a crucial part of human culture for thousands of years, but there had been no way to write it down. Its perpetuation depended on an oral culture, the way literature’s did in Homeric days. But when modern musical notation was invented, in the eleventh century, it opened up the underlying mathematics of music, and made that mathematics emotionally accessible. You could easily manipulate the musical structure on parchment and it would produce startlingly sophisticated emotional effects when it was played. And this in turn opened up the concept of polyphony- multiple musical lines playing at the same time. Then, with the general acceptance of the mathematically determined even-tempered scale in the mid-eighteenth century, music really took off. Complex and emotional changes of key became possible across the tonal spectrum. And that unleashed all the music of the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries: Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Brahms, Mahler!
I like to think cinema is stumbling around in the “pre-notation” phrase of its history. We’re still doing it all by the seat of our pants. Not that we haven’t made wonderful things. But if you compare music in the twelfth century with music in the eighteenth century, you can clearly sense a difference of several orders of magnitude in technical and emotional development, and this was all made possible by the ability to write music on paper. Whether we will ever be able to write anything like cinematic notation, I don’t know. But it’s interesting to think about.”
Yes, it is, Walter Murch- Yes, it is! (even though I have no idea what an even-tempered scale is)
Anyway, I’m not trying to compare advances in 3-D technology to the invention of musical notation, just suggesting how many more possibilities might exist in the world of film that have yet to be explored.
It would be very interesting to see this technology serving a subtler filmmaker than Cameron. I thought of the dope-smoking sequence between the neighbour and the main character in the Coen Brothers’ ‘A Serious Man’. Already a wonderful scene- imagine the neighbour’s cleavage popping out at you a little more than usual as you really get inside the main character’s POV, or the bottom of your glass seeming incredibly far away… Or, even… to use a different (and completely fictional) example… Say you were to disregard all rules of perspective and physics, and compose something from a purely emotional angle- a mountain range in the distance feels closer than your hiking companion because some memory has overtaken the character looking at it… Who knows? Could be perfectly terrible, or a whole new way of seeing within films…
At any rate, I admire James Cameron for what is truly an incredible achievement, and it’s given me much food for thought for my own super-secret sci-fi project.
So, thank you for the end-of-the-year inspiration, Mr. Cameron! And thank you for the on-going inspiration, Mr. Murch!
And best wishes to everyone for the New Year!