Friday, August 21, 2009

Avatar movie is ahead of the curve, and you usually are, too, Vanity Fair

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

This is a gentle rant brought on by Vanity Fair magazine's twitter: "@VanityFairmag Don't Be Fooled by Avatar's Lame Trailer #Avatar" a couple of hours ago. For like forever, I've been known to say that if I only had access to three magazines to keep up with the state-of-play, smarter, faster, better-informed intelligentsia, I'd pick Vanity Fair, Businessweek, and Utne Reader, and that selection still stands, but it's teetering. Vanity Fair, don't make the same mistake that Chris Anderson and his Wired made in 2006. I forgive you, but hurry up and realize that avatars are ahead of the curve. Like you. In fact, your readers are mostly going to embrace their avatarhood and evangelize about it within the next three years, and that "lame" Avatar trailer and movie are going to have something (if not a lot) to do with it.


It was 1997 and opening night. I recall whispering in the dark to my companion that if Kate Winslet's aged character "throws that damned necklace into the sea, I'm going to have to leave the theater." And she did. And I did. To this day, I have never seen the ending of James Cameron's Titanic, the all-time highest grossing film at the box office. So yes, I have questioned and even suffered visceral adverse reactions to Cameron's work.

Yesterday, I watched the teaser trailer for Avatar, slated to hit theaters this December. I've spent the better part of the last two years traipsing around virtual worlds as an avatar, so I'll confess that the poor trailer was in trouble even before I hit the "play" button. My overlayed cynical filter was as thick as the bottom of a glass Coke bottle and I fully expected to loathe it.

But I didn't hate it. Turns out that I can hardly wait to see it, and it made me want to learn more about the plot, the script and how and where it was produced. It looks as real as the island of Kauai does, which stands to reason because that's where most of it was shot.

I don't play games in virtual worlds. As Metanomics puts it, I'm all over the serious aspects of three-dimensional persistent, immersive, massively multi-player online "games," such as art, architecture, business and education. I've put up with an awful lot to be an early-adopter avatar, including lag so bad that my "character" couldn't move, umpteen flying penises and banana phones (annoying griefing devices employed by sophomoric idiots), communications so shoddy that my text chat never made it to the person or people I was trying to speak with, and hundreds upon hundreds of *crashes,* to mention only a few of the ways that I have been inconvenienced.

Things are picking up for avatars though and at a high rate of speed. Stability, scalability, tools for user-created content, communication, and collaboration are all vastly improving. The number of choices an avatar has on how to spend a quality hour consistently overwhelms me in much the same way selecting an art film to screen in Manhattan does. And just this week, industry analysts at Piper Jaffray released their forecasts for virtual goods, indicating that 2009 US revenues are expected to hit $621 million (134% over 2008), and $2.5 billion in 2013. Global revenues from virtual goods should exceed $2.2 billion this year, and climb to $6 billion by 2013. I'm old enough to remember when total online (2.0 web-based) revenues were lower than that, and how so many detractors doubted they'd rise significantly for decades. Heh.

Just two days ago I finally got around to downloading the client for the new virtual world Blue Mars that's in private Beta until... sometime real soon now (maybe in a couple of weeks?), and I can only say that I was overcome and dazzled by the life-like graphics, the rolling ocean foam, the exuberant vegetation and shadows that behaved the way real shadows do. In fact, it looked a lot like the trailer for Avatar.

Virtual Space Entertainment is just one of the developers rushing to create content on Blue Mars' gorgeous CryEngine2 platform

So wait, Vanity Fair. Please tell us why the Avatar trailer is lame?


Solo Mornington said...

I remember reading a copy of the treatment for 'Avatar' online a few years back. For all the problems you might have with Cameron, he's at his best when he creates a world, like with this movie. I was glad to get the news it was being released.

Vanity Fair could have about a million reasons to say the trailer is lame. One might be that it doesn't really reveal much about the story at all, which is a valid criticism.

The Blue Mars trailer makes me glad that someone decided to have a business plan. :-) But it also seems that the business plan involves making users into passive consumers of virtual experience, rather than the craft-economy/mad-scientist model of Second Life. I think your statement about SL being the lowest cost, highest joy creative tool will still stand after BM releases.

Truthseeker Young said...

A cannot WAIT til Avatar comes out. Granted, I'm not wiggling in my seat as bad as I am for the new Tron flick, but I'm just a dork like that...

Thing is, that trailer IS lame. It does a good job showcasing the über-CG razzle-dazzle, but really doesn't promise much more than just another action/adventure with a bit of romance thrown in type deal. And tall blue chicks. :-/

*NOT that there's anything with tall blue chicks, mind you :p

Dusan Writer said...

I suspect the Vanity Fair comment is much like the opinion of those who have seen the trailer in 3D IMax - don't judge it by what you see on a flat desktop screen, because even if you find it slightly impressive, it doesn't begin to describe the in-theatre experience.

Hmmm. Kind of like virtual worlds in general - until you get in one, you can't fully describe it.

One thing to note: James Cameron's world CLEARLY already has mesh imports. Makes me think he's able to get fast-track on the JIRA.

Sowa said...

Ok I want an avatar like that. I suppose if one were to find them for sale in SL they would be infringing copyright. I had a watchmen avatar when that came out

David said...

Hiya Bettina...

My wife and I saw Avatar last night in IMAX 3D. I agree with Dusan: you can't judge the effect outside of that experience. In a word: breakthrough. In a few more: if the story holds up.

More here.

Bettina Tizzy said...

David, I didn't read your full post as I want to be surprised, but great to hear that it exceeded expectations and is, in your opinion, breakthrough.

Okay folks. I want you to imagine the New York Times or Businessweek or Forbes twittering "It's lame," without further ado. I turn to Vanity Fair for *insights* and anyone can do better with 140 characters. If you think it's lame, get specific and tell us why it's lame.

Dusan Writer said...

Bettina the problem isn't Vanity Fair. It's Twitter! I mean, what kind of weird application is it where you're limited to 140 charac

Bettina Tizzy said...

Bah, Dusan! I thought you were a seasoned Twitterer. I KNOW you know that you can express a million ideas/perspectives in 140 characters. I'm not buying that for a second.