Avatar - worst movie experience ever.

For 6 years now we've not been to the cinema, mostly because I'd prefer to have my gonads sawed off with a blunt, rusty knife than put up with the abomination that is the "cinema experience" now. But the clamour over Avatar has been huge. Every one of our friends - even the non science-fiction types - has been to see it and kept going on at us about how it was the best thing ever. My wife wanted to see it in 3D too, so I finally caved and picked up a pair of tickets to go and see it last night at the Megaplex 12 at the Gateway.
Where to start?
Well the 3D I suppose. The end result was that I felt like I'd been punched in the eyes by Mike Tyson - although I seem to be a lone voice in the wilderness on this one. It was dark and murky and drained of colour - like the projectors had 40W bulbs in them - probably because we were looking through mirrored, polarised sunglasses to watch the film. You could see what a lush, bright, colourful world Pandora was supposed to be by taking the glasses off, but of course that took away the 3D effect. I know the Navi are supposed to be blue but honestly, through the special Dolby 3D glasses, everything was different shades of grey. The only thing that had any colour or brightness to it at all was the nighttime bio-luminescence of the plant life. So I'm not quite sure what people are referring to when they say they've seen the movie and described Pandora as this vibrant, colourful world. I can only assume they were watching the 2D version. Either that or the place we went last night didn't know how to run a 3D projection system and had the brightness turned down.

Figuring I was the only person on the planet who absolutely hated the 3D thing, I had to know why, so after a lot of analysis in my head, I think I know what the problem was. Because it was 3D, I was expecting to be able to focus on anything in the scene. But that's not how it works - the film making technique still pulls focus to whatever they want you to look at, meaning if you try to look at anything else - the detail in the foreground or background, you end up with colossal eye strain. A great example was right at the beginning when Sully floats out of his hypersleep chamber and goes to his locker. I'm trying to take in the whole effect of a miles-deep spaceship in the background and the director has changed focus to the lockers in the foreground. Every time this happened I had to close my eyes. If you ask me, that sort of negates the entire point of trying to make a film in 3D. On top of that there were some really odd rendering artifacts in the film itself. Whenever a reflective surface was on-screen - a flat piece of metal or a window for example - if you looked through the left eye, the reflections appeared one way, and through the right eye they either weren't there at all, or had a completely different contrast to them. The result through both eyes was a disturbing sense of looking at two completely different images. The overall 3D effect looked like a layered Viewmaster - each layer looked flat, stacked in front of or behind some other layer. So all the people for example looked like cardboard cutouts rather than rounded figures. Given that this was an entirely CGI film, that ought not to have been the case - simply render the scene from two different viewpoints, but that's apparently not what they did.
Googling for this very problem I turned up this page which explains the issue very nicely - Look at this, not this. Particularly this section:

Examining unfocused areas of the frame in Avatar is literally quite a headache, and counterintuitive to our enjoyment of the 'baked and locked' 3D planes that we are being presented with. Knowing that depth-of-field is all he has to play with if he's not going to shoot rocks directly at us, Cameron doesn't hold back - he relentlessly racks focus in scene after scene.

So the trick to avoiding a headache when watching this movie is to be obedient, and concentrate on the parts of the shot that the focus tells you are 'important'. Once I understood this at the preview screenings last week, my headache began to clear up, but I was conscious too of the effort of having to 'zip over' to the next point of rapid-focus in order to keep up and preserve the 3D illusion.

I since discovered that 'Avatar h3dache' is one of the most googled and complained-about problems.

So the 3D was definitely a gimmick - lots of spears, guns, animals and skeleton parts pointing out of the screen at you in long, lingering "oooh look - 3D!" moments. If this is the future of cinema, they can keep it. I'm just not interested in having to hunt around the screen for the particular 3D item the director wants me to look at. For this to work, they need to film everything in maximum depth-of-field and show it with ultra-bright projectors. Sadly, because Avatar has become the biggest grossing movie ever, I suspect 3D is going to be rammed down our throats whether we like (or want) it or not.

But perhaps the shining star of last night was the whole cinema experience itself. It started off OK - I was able to book specific seats - proving that at least one cinema around here has caught up with the 1990s. The seats were comfy recliners which was nice and the 3D glasses were clean. That's pretty much where it ended though. To the rear, the woman behind me kicked the back of my reclining seat probably once every 5 minutes, catapulting my head forwards in the process. The two people to my left chatted through the whole film about how they didn't like what his sister was doing in relation to the care of their dog whilst they were away on vacation. He spent the whole film texting on his phone - with the key tones on - and she spent the whole movie flicking her phone open to check the time. Nice. To the right of my wife, another conversation was going on but I couldn't quite hear what that was about. Way up back was the obligatory "family with screaming baby". I know Utah and specifically the LDS are supposed to be a family-friendly but for fuck's sake - who brings a baby in a carry basket to a 2.5hr film? I wasn't the only one who had a problem with this - at least one other person in the audience did shout out at one point "for Christ's sake take your fucking baby outside!".
I'd sorted out seats in the middle 'alley' of the cinema (a cross passage between the front and rear sections) so we had some leg room. I'd forgotten to take into account the latent stupidity of the viewing public though as this meant that not once, not twice, but three times, some goon tripped over my feet or kicked me on the way past. When the lights were up!! Do people not look where they're going any more?
I know what you're thinking now - you're thinking "it can't have been that bad". Trust me - it was appalling. We used to go to Century 16 and I figured that maybe their catchment area was full of people who enjoyed paying to go to a cinema so they could sit and text and talk - so as well as being able to book seats, that was one of the reasons I tried a different cinema last night. But no. It's not cinema-dependent and it's not time-dependent. People evidently just don't know how to watch a movie any more. Unless they start putting RF cages around the cinemas to block cellphone reception, and enforcing a no-talking policy, it does seem to me to be a pointless waste of time and money now. 6 years ago we tried everything - matinees, different times of day, different days of the week and cinemas all over town but it's the same everywhere. Today it's worse by an order of magnitude than it ever was.

What completely ruined the evening for me though was after about 50 minutes when the entire projection system took a dump. First the left-eye image turned off. Then half the screen went pink, then everything stopped. This took them about 15 minutes to rectify (without so much as an explanation as to what was going on) and completely destroyed any sense of continuity in the film. By that point my eye-strain-induced headache was so overwhelming I actually felt nauseous (not helped by the constant kicking of the back of my seat). So when they finally did get the thing fixed, I spent the last hour and half sitting with my eyes closed listening to what was going on.

It sounded very spectacular, but it's safe to say I haven't actually "seen" Avatar yet. I was so disappointed. I really wanted to see what the visual effects were that people have been talking about but the nauseating mis-use of 3D coupled with the intolerable cinema experience meant I was sitting the dark - quite literally.

The important thing is that my wife enjoyed - nay loved it. She's able to tune out the chatting, crying and cellphones, and the person sitting behind her actually had some consideration.

Congratulations to Larry Miller's Megaplex 12 for confirming to me at least why I've not been to the cinema for 6 years. I would have expected that sort of experience if I was at a dollar-theatre. But for $11? I don't think so.


Mystery Girl said…
Hey I might've loved the movie - but having the thing break down for that long with pink sully and then frozen sully and then f* all made me realize that the model we have works for us. If it ain't broke don't fix it. Happy being six months behind - and it was $11. Colour me not impressed.
Mark N. said…
I'm one of the few that will wait until this comes out on DVD, and not in 3D. Being color retarded makes the whole 3D effect annoying to me. Not to mention if both of your eyes do not have the same visual acuity (20/25 in both eyes for example) it causes even more eye-strain. In my case I am 20/15 in one eye and 20/25 in the other, perfectly fine for day to day, but hell in 3D. And why would I want to go watch Pocahontas just replaced with blue people. I have the Disney DVD version at home...
Girl Ink said…
I'll be happy to wait for it to come out on DVD and watch it in your basement.

You're spoiling us and now we not only take into consideration the expense of the film, but whether this movie would be better at the theaters or your house...
Chris said…
Well yes - there is that :-)

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