Tim Walker: 'Studios hope that Avatar will herald a new age of 3D cinema. I'm not so sure'

The Couch Surfer
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The Independent Culture

Why would 500 people pile into a cinema at 10 in the morning to watch 15 minutes of a film that won't actually be released for another four months? Because that film is Avatar, James Cameron's long-awaited return from non-fiction filmmaking to Hollywood. And because this was "Avatar Day", obviously. Duh.

A week ago, film lovers (including this one) flocked to hundreds of cinemas worldwide to see footage from Cameron's new sci-fi extravaganza, which was filmed using 3D technology developed by the director himself, and will – if its makers are to be believed – alter the way we see movies forever.

In 3D, at the vast BFI IMAX cinema, the footage certainly looked more spectacular than the flat, two-minute trailer that's online now. Some of the visuals are breathtaking, and I dare say Avatar is less likely to disappoint fans than The Phantom Menace, for example. That said, the plot looks more Titanic than Terminator. In fact, it looks like Aliens-meets-Born on the Fourth of July-meets-Ferngully: The Last Rainforest.

Jake Sully, a wheelchair-bound former marine played by Sam Worthington, travels to Pandora – an untouched tropical planet being colonised by Earthlings, who've found a way to control the bodies of the native "Na'vi" humanoids with their minds. Jake, in control of one of these avatars' lanky blue frames, falls in with the locals and joins their resistance against the planet's human occupation.

The studios hope that Avatar's release will herald a new age of 3D cinema. For animation, or for spectacle-laden blockbusters, maybe. And in Cameron's film, 3D seems to have a narrative, as well as a visual, function: Avatar seeks to introduce us to a whole new world, and to immerse us in it – just as Jake finds himself enveloped in the body of his Na'vi host.

But 3D is a revolution that the film industry has wrongly predicted before. I can't see it improving other genres, like romcoms or ensemble dramas. I can, on the other hand, see it becoming another way for Hollywood to polish turd-like scripts. It won't stop people staying home to download pirated films; and asking audiences to pay extra for the loan of a pair of plastic glasses isn't entirely on.

Newspapers have published reviews and star ratings for the 15 minutes of Cameron's footage we saw, as they would for any full-length film, so essentially pointless events like "Avatar Day" are an effective new weapon in the armoury of the studio marketeer. In this, at least, the film has broken new ground. But will Avatar really change the movies – or just the way they're hyped?

I recently came into possession of a brand new Sony Reader, the Japanese brand's electronic book-reading device. I'm very fond of paper, as you might imagine, but I expect I shall grow to love the thing, despite the dispiriting selection of e-books currently available – and the utterly labyrinthine process of buying a book in digital format, let alone getting it on to your computer, and from there to the Reader device itself.

The new Sony Reader Touch edition is slim and black and about the same weight as a 200-page paperback. While I'd still rather read a regular book in the bath, it'll be great for travelling; I plan to store my holiday reading on it when I go away, freeing up space in my suitcase for extra towels. It sure beats scrolling through Shakespeare on an iPhone. On the other hand, the Amazon Kindle e-reader is expected to launch here in time for Christmas, and there's a distinct possibility it'll crush Sony when it does. With the weight of Amazon's website behind it, the Kindle is as dominant in the US e-book market as Apple's iPod is in digital music.

What really concerns me, though, is not which e-reader I've chosen, but that I'll no longer be able to show off my impeccable taste to pretty girls on public transport. If all I'm reading is a metal box, how will they know that I'm sensitive and hip and engrossed in a US import copy of the new Dave Eggers?

When they start selling 3G-equipped devices in the UK, may I suggest that Sony and/or Amazon develop some sort of Wi-Fi software application that seeks out fellow readers in the vicinity and alerts people who have matching tastes. Oh, and it should also allow us sensitive hipsters to instant message one another, rather than having to make actual eye contact: "Hey, I like Dave Eggers, too! Wanna go get some FairTrade coffee?" Foolproof, no?