Friday, December 18, 2009

Review: Avatar

Halfway through James Cameron's 300 million dollar opus Avatar, two of the major questions I had coming into the film were answered for me.

1. This film was going to indeed be a groundbreaking achievement
2. The story was not doing it for me and I was not feeling very attached at all to the main characters.

There was a lot of hype put into the buildup for this one. I am a huge James Cameron fan (Aliens is my 2nd favorite movie of all-time) and I'd put him on my top 5 list of film directors living today (look for my full top 10 list over the holidays). The first trailer threw me for a loop. I didn't expect the aliens in the movie to look like tall blue fawns with tails. Something about it all didn't seem right. Then I saw the second full trailer a month later. The full spectacle of that trailer left me wanting more and I no longer was affected by the blue creatures (the alien race called the Na'vi in the film). Then the early reviews came and the majority of them were VERY positive. I decided to see the movie as soon as possible, viewing it at 12:01 AM this morning with my friends Jono and Omar.

Overall I'd have to say the midnight screening and the theater experience was worth it. Avatar is an epic film that needs to be seen on the big screen and ONLY in 3D. The sheer depth and detail in the CGI and 3D visuals is literally mind-blowing. My brain and optical nerves hurt a bit on the drive home after the end credits. Cameron sucks you into the crazy world he has imagined and immerses your senses making you feel as if you really are on Pandora (the fictional planet the film takes place on). The characters are really secondary to the spectacle of the alien world. Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana (who now stars in two of the best movies of 2009 - Star Trek being the other) and Sigourney Weaver are all game and give respectable performances but as a viewer, you simply find yourself gazing at the visual body of work put forth by the gods of cinema at Weta Digital. In my review of District 9 (the front runner for the JR Best Picture award of 2009), I mentioned how Weta has completely raised the bar in the visual effects department for all movies. With Avatar they set that bar even higher and manage to make a 3D-phobe (I'm not a big fan of the gimmick) actually enjoy and appreciate 3D technology. Weta makes a fictional planet come to life with a translucent gamma of color and imagery. The 3D is done very subtly too and does not fall victim to the tried and true technique of throwing objects out from the screen at the viewer for the shear shock value of doing so.

Is the film too long? Yes (I had slight moments of nodding off a bit around 2 AM despite downing a 5 Hour Energy). Have elements of the script been borrowed from other films? Sure. Are there cheesy moments throughout the "love story?" You bet. But all of that shouldn't detract from the technical achievement here. I recommend this to everyone who enjoys going to the movies in the theater.
This movie must be seen in 3D and the hook that the industry is going to love (until 3D TVs are mass produced) is that you HAVE to go out to your local theater to experience this type of movie in an optimal environment. Simply waiting for the DVD or Bluray will not cut it. This is not a perfect film and thus I have to give it 4 out of 5 JRs. Star Trek did not have the same whiz-bang effects but did have a very solid and engaging plot that puts it a notch above Avatar.

The mass amount of money that Cameron put into this film is actually justified in my book. He really did take movie making to a whole new level. Hopefully with the right screenplay he (or another capable director) can build upon this technical foundation that Weta Digital has provided and produce some awe inspiring motion pictures in the future. The sky really is the limit now in cinema and even though Avatar has some major flaws, James Cameron has done his job in changing the game once again.

One Year Anniversary

NOTE: I saw Avatar last night. Look for a full review post later tonight.

It was a cold day in Mclean, VA exactly one year ago today when I started this blog. Looking back on my early weeks of posting I would post 2-3 posts a day in a flurry of activity. Since Rebecca was born and my job became more demanding, things have slowed down considerably. I still very much enjoy having this avenue to be able to write on a regular basis and keep a running journal of my life in the process. 248 posts in and I still enjoy firing up a new one.

I know I have some loyal readers but I feel my overall reader base has shrunk over the past year. I suppose this is chiefly because my blog is too broad in subject matter. I don't focus on a specific them like some others blogs I follow.

A year into the blog, I'd like to ask my readers what they'd like to see more/less of from Blog! There it is...? I'm not saying I'll actually change to meet their requests but I am interested in hearing whether people are still following as closely as they used to in the beginning.

For those interested, here is a link back to my first post (which covers snow in Vegas, ahead of the snowstorm we're about to have in NOVA a year later).

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Zoom In and Enhance

One of my pet peeves when it comes to television and film is how easily Hollywood makes it seem to magically improve image quality. How many times do you see a group of techies on a show or in a movie huddle around a computer and try to improve an already grainy piece of video. I'm sure there are some advanced software programs out there that can improve image quality but it's near-impossible to blow up and image and increase detail by adding magic pixels that didn't exist before.

All that being said, Hollywood is still fascinated with the concept and this terrific montage is a great example of much screenplays rely on this type of "technology." I guarantee we will be seeing this at least once or twice on the upcoming season of 24. Complete with Jack barking "enhance this Chloe, we're running OUT. OF. TIME!!!"

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Google Text to Speech - Fun With Audio

Google's latest innovation (you can't help but love a company that seems to put out new services and features on a near-daily basis for FREE) is the text to speech component of Google Translate. The translate service has been around for a while and lets you quickly translate entire web pages between a number of languages. The new speech component is pretty cool in that it allows you to send a query directly to Google which will return a customized MP3 file that plays what you typed.

Of course when I first came across this and noticed the charming British voice that speaks your text, I immediately thought of throwing a few swear words in there to see what she did. The Google speech dame does not filter her voice and you get EXACTLY what you type. You can now send customized greetings directly to your friends using the query method. I put together a quick and dirty form that allows you to type in a name and hurl a random insult at the person. This only works in Google Chrome (seriously, if you're using any other browser you're just daft). See if you can hear all 8 random insults:

Type your full name here:

Warning, some of these clips are NSFW..

For more translation services (or to mess around with audio), visit Google's Translate page (if you choose English to English translation, you'll be able to click on the audio version below for small sentences).