Why 'Avatar 2's New Footage Looks Like Trash
To prove that he didn’t just embezzle billions of dollars to spend on more shipwreck expeditions, James Cameron recently unveiled the first trailer for the new Avatar sequel, which is apparently called Avatar: The Way of Water and not, as we were expecting, Avatar$. Those of us who weren’t at CinemaCon will have to wait a little longer to see the footage but judging from the online buzz, it looked pretty … meh.
In a taped preamble, Cameron claimed that he was “pushing limits even farther” by filming the sequel in a “high frame rate.” In this case, The Way of Water was shot at 48 frames per second, while, traditionally, movies are 24 frames per second, giving them a more cinematic (and less of a “Best Buy demo video”) look. But clearly, Cameron wants his Avatar movies to be as “immersive” as possible, and, short of hosing audiences down with Pandorian ocean water, he’ll do anything to achieve that.
But the high frame rate (or HFR) gimmick has been attempted with feature films many times in the past. Take director and special effects wiz Douglas Trumbull who pioneered a new 70mm film format back in the ‘70s called “Showscan,” which was projected at 60 fps. Trumbull planned to use Showscan for the virtual reality sequences in his 1983 sci-fi movie Brainstorm.
Unfortunately, theaters didn’t want to pay for the upgrade unless “all the studios shoot this way,” while the studios didn’t want to make more movies in Showscan because no theaters were equipped to show it. So Trumbull’s plan was ultimately scrapped. More recently, Peter Jackson made his Hobbit trilogy in 48fps – and it was weird as hell. Sure, the 3D was better, but everything else looked like a Middle Earthian Telenovela – not to mention that the added visual information exposed the phoniness of all the props and costumes.
The unforgiving frame rate was later adopted by Ang Lee for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Lee shot the drama at 120 fps, which is … a lot. But again, since no other movies were doing this, Lee’s preferred version was only screened in “half a dozen” theaters globally, only two of which were in the U.S.
Lee later shot the Will Smith movie Gemini Man in 4K, 3D, 120 fps – but unfortunately, “not a single screen could show the film exactly as Lee had intended.” Obviously, the potential popularity of a new Avatar movie might help to proliferate this technology, but it remains to be seen if it will ever really catch on. Part of the reason why movies may work better at a lower frame rate is that, while our eyes perceive reality at a higher rate, 24 fps creates a separation between the real world and the movie, allowing our brain to “accept the artificial conventions of the acting and the lighting and the props.” Hopefully we can all get past this hurdle and once again believe in the magic of a $250 million FernGully remake.
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Top Image: 20th Century Studios