Cinema Has Not Yet Been Invented: Avatar and the Future of Film

Special effects have long defined the cutting-edge possibilities of cinema, pushing the limits of both realistic representation and fantastic spectacle. With the global success of James Cameron's Avatar (2009), cinema seems on verge of reinventing itself as a fully immersive virtual experience, delivering on a promise called "total cinema" by theorist André Bazin and "the complete film" by Rudolf Arnheim. At the 2010 Family and Friends Weekend, Assistant Professor and Chair of Film and Media Studies Bob Rehak spoke about the tale and technology of Avatar as a way of framing what cinema has always dreamed of being and what it might yet become. In his lecture, Rehak examines how film theory has addressed the issues of realism, representation, and special effects; the production of Avatar; and how film theory "might need to adapt to asses future films built along the same lines and enact a similar logic of sensory immersion and digital spectacle." Through Cameron's use of 3-D camera technology and computer-generated imagery, "Avatar's audiences are undergoing the same kind of travel and employing new bodies and environments" that Avatar the narrative wants us to believe is happening to its protagonists." Rehak ultimately concludes that not only the film industry but the medium itself now stands at a crossroads, ushered in by the success and buzz surrounding Avatar and the possibility of future successes through emerging technologies. More thoughts on Avatar, special effects, videogames, film, and television can be found on Bob Rehak's blog Graphic Engine.