My thoughts on AVATAR Day

AvatarQuadPoster

The buzz surrounding James Cameron’s AVATAR flick goes on and on. Whether people like what they’ve seen so far or not, the marketing machine at Fox, including Cameron himself, know that any buzz is better than none at all. According to HDRoom.com, its trailer debut is the most watched on Apple.com trailer site, drawing over 4 million views its first day of availability. Most of you probably already know by now what this supposedly groundbreaking sci-fi flick is all about, I’ve blogged about it around Comic Con time last month and it’s been on my radar ever since.

After the ticket distribution fiasco where the Avatar site server broke down most of the day, I’m surprised that between my hubby and I, we ended up scoring 4 tickets to the free 15-minute sneak peek at the Rosedale IMAX. We arrived exactly 45 minutes prior to the screening as the email confirmation told us to, so I was sort of expecting a long line and hordes of people at the theater, but there’s none of that. It was just another Friday night at the theater, in fact, the place wasn’t even very busy. They’re pretty strict in checking the email confirmation. We had to show our photo IDs and they made sure our names were on their list. They also told us to get our snack or take bathroom breaks prior to going in as they won’t allow us to re-enter once the preview starts. Sheesh, it’s as if we’re about to see some top secret government footage or something.

In any case, once they whisked us in, the preview started with James Cameron’s introduction—in 3D no less—to what we’re about to see. He assured us that most of the footage shown are in the first half of the film, so there’s no spoilers. Thus, I don’t consider my summary below a spoiler, but if you’d rather not know anything about it before you see it in December, then read at your own risk.

The six clips shown were separate scenes much like the deleted scenes in your DVD, instead of a complete scene that runs 15 minutes in length. Here’s the breakdown:

Clip 1:
There’s a military briefing, and the movie protagonist, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) enters in a wheelchair as a Colonel was delivering a speech to warn the soldiers of the dangers in Pandora.

Clip 2:
Jake is in a lab with Sigourney Weaver’s character, where he observes a Na’vi creature in a blue tank, which based on the trailer is what he’d end up looking like. Weaver’s character Dr. Grace tells Jake to lie down in an MRI-like machine. Jake appears agitated or overanxious—well if you were in his shoes, you’d be, too—but the doctor keeps telling him to keep his head down for the procedure to work.

Clip 3:
Jake wakes up as his avatar, in the Na’vi body complete with a long tail, and so excited he could move his legs and walk again he ignores the lab technicians’ orders for him to sit down. In fact, as he’s barely able to control his own body, starts knocking everything over and tells the people on the other side of the glass, ‘this is great!’ before storming out of the room.

Clip 4:
We’re transported to Pandora, a 22nd century world on a distant alien planet filled with 1,000-foot trees, exotic, near fluorescent forests, fearsome predators and an indigenous people known as the Na’vi — tall, blue humanoids who are peaceful until provoked. Dr. Grace and Jake’s avatars are facing a gigantic rhino-like animal. With Grace’s direction, Jake’s able to ‘tame’ the creature, but suddenly a bigger and meaner creature appears and a chase through the jungle ensues. Jake tries as he might to outrun the obviously vexed and hungry beast, and the action sequence is pretty intense and keeps me on the edge of my seat.

Clip 5:
Jake is once again hunted by another creature, this time it’s a wolf-life lizard thing-y. A female Na’vi called Neytiri (voiced by Zoe Saldana) saves him but when he thanks her, she gets kind of irate and tells him in rather primitive English that he’s ignorant and stupid, and that she doesn’t intend to kill the creatures. Asked why she didn’t just let him die, she softens up and tells him that his heart is strong and fearless, but then gets piqued again and tells hims he’s stupid like a child, leaving Jake looking quite perplexed. I guess male/female mixed signals still exists even in a futuristic distant planet, huh?

Clip 6:
Jake, Neytiri and a group of Na’vi people gathers in a path underneath a waterfall as Jake prepares to tame a dragon/pterodactyl. He asks which one of the large group he’s supposed to take, and Neytiri tells him that it’s one that tries to kill him. Just like a cowboy trying to tame a wild horse, Jake undergoes back-breaking struggles to get the creature still enough for him to ride on top of it. The agonizing process is proven worthwhile as he’s finally able to fly off the edge of the cliff, and actually ‘steer’ it to fly straight.

The preview was met with a somewhat reserved applause, not the thunderous enthusiasm Cameron is hoping for, surely. I personally think it’s a much better experience to see it in 3D than seeing the trailer on my Mac. I haven’t seen a lot of movies in 3D, the last one I saw was Superman Returns a couple of years back, but even that was only partly shot in 3D. So I slightly dread that I’d get a headache watching even the 15-minute preview in the 3D environment. Fortunately, I was so immersed in it once the preview started that I actually forgot I was watching something in 3D, that’s how seamless and well-made it was. Not sure how they’ll distribute the movie with less than 400 IMAX theaters in operation worldwide though, or whether people would be charged the IMAX price to see it. In any case, this flick is definitely one that takes advantage of the three dimensional technology to the fullest, and best viewed and appreciated in that environment. No wonder a lot of people, including me, were underwhelmed by its trailer released online last Wednesday, the richness of the visual and the lush color scheme just didn’t translate as well without the 3D aspect. The jungle environment with its fluorescent trees and glowing plants/insects are just breathtaking to look at and the flying sequence is just magnificent to behold. Kudos to Cameron, the whole thing looks pretty darn realistic and blends the real world and CGI seamlessly.

Sam Worthington & Zoe Saldana as Na'vi creatures
Sam Worthington & Zoe Saldana as Na’vi creatures

The expression of the Na’vi humanoids were pretty lifelike and their movement graceful, which is important to help the audience to see them as more than blue cartoon figures. Which brings me to my hope for what the actual movie to be. So far I’m rather indifferent about the Na’vi creatures and there’s little info about them to feel otherwise. But as the story centers on the battle between them and the humans who invade their territory—with Jake trapped in the middle of it—it’s crucial that we care for these characters, or the grandiose of all that computer technology will fall flat. My hope is that in the actual movie, I’d come to understand the journey of Jake and the whole Na’vi race and be blown away by the story as much as the visual spectacle. Based on what I read about James Cameron’s vision of the movie, he too seems to understand there’s got to be more than high tech mumbo-jumbo to get people hooked in this, that it requires a well-written story to take a curiosity-driven hype to something worth watching or further, a memorable epic. So even though this high-tech stuff has been the only angle he’s taken to promote the movie, I expect that the final result will be far more than that.

In conclusion, I was feeling ‘meh’ after seeing the debut trailer, but the sneak peek sort of get me excited and optimistic again about Avatar. So in that regard, it did what it’s intended to do. But for now though, I’ll let this subject rest on Flixchatter until the film actually comes out December 18th.

So those of you who sees the trailer or the IMAX preview, care to share your thoughts?

AVATAR DAY update!

avatarlogo

Woo hoo! All that waiting and persistence finally paid off. I got confirmation from Fox Films earlier today that I got two tickets to see the 15-minute FREE footage of James Cameron’s AVATAR in IMAX 3D this coming Friday.

Well, I was thisclose to write a post about my frustration about getting the tickets. I had set my alarm at noon CST yesterday, but it turned out the tickets were to be distributed at noon Pacific time. Alas, the server apparently crashed, probably from high demand, so for the next five hours, I must’ve checked the site at least 50 times and kept getting an error message. Curses! Considering all the supposedly state-of-the-art and trailblazing film making technology to make this movie, apparently they couldn’t operate a decent server for mere 24 hours?! But just as I was about to turn off my machine to leave for the day, apparently I still had one of the Avatar site on one of my browser windows open and voila! suddenly the site was up and running. By the time I had registered for my tickets, there were still about 140 some tickets left for both 6 and 7 pm showings at Rosedale AMC & IMAX, but this morning they’re both sold out!

The marketing for this flick is really gearing up big time. Apple trailers site has already put up a countdown for the trailer release in 1 day, 10 hours and 3 minute from the time I publish this post.

I’ll be sure to give y’all an update on this. Can’t wait to see what all the buzz at Comic Con was about. The geek in me is psyched and downright optimistic.

I wish I were at Comic-Con right now!

Avatar teaser image
Avatar teaser image

I’ve always wanted to check out the annual San Diego Comic-Con convention! With the increasingly popular comic-based flicks the past few years, it’s no longer just for comic geeks. A plethora of movie enthusiasts mob this convention, eager to see previews of highly-anticipated flicks and perhaps even get a chance to meet their fave actors. This year’s highlight seems to be James Cameron’s AVATAR (well, to non-Twilight fans at least). At the Avatar panel yesterday, Cameron himself and some of the cast members (including Sigourney Weaver & Zoe Saldana) were there to unveil a 25-minute footage of this groundbreaking flick. Boy, would I love to have been there to see that!

Sam Worthington, who plays the lead, appeared via a video message from the set of Clash of the Titans, so I got to hear his thick Aussie accent for the first time. The 32-year-old actor, who beat out hundreds of established and unknown actors for the role, is what Cameron called an ‘old-school tough guy.’ “We were making a $200 million-plus movie and it’s all about the journey of one guy, Jake, and he’s in every scene in the film, from beginning to end. It all hangs on that one piece of casting,” Cameron said at the Australian In Film event last May where he presented the Breakthrough award to Worthington. Perhaps Avatar will do wonders for his career the way Titanic did for Leo DiCaprio?

Here’s what I learn so far about the plot:

Jake, a paraplegic soldier, participated in an experiment involving an alien planet called Pandora, to assume an “avatar” – a half human, half alien host body. Now that he’s able to walk again, he’s then unwillingly sent to establish a human settlement on Pandora, where he finds himself battling humankind alongside the planet’s indigenous Na’vi race.

This ambitious, big-budgeted, digital 3-D sci-fi epic has been a four-year labor of love for Cameron. He’s collaborating with Lord of the Ring‘s director Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital visual effects company as a consultant for the super complex CGI process.

Ok now, there’s always a risk all those special-effects mumbo jumbo and visual marvel would trample over character development, but according to a few of those who were lucky enough to be at the conference, that doesn’t seem to be the case here. According to Screenrant, that careful balance between strong CGI and character-driven storyline is what separates Cameron’s works from other sci-fi flicks out there. “Jim is always about story first,” Worthington said about Cameron whilst promoting Terminator Salvation. “He’s a very actor-friendly director. You can put all the bells and whistles you like, but if it’s not about revealing something about the human spirit, people are going to tune out.” That’s very promising indeed.

Cameron declared August 21st as “Avatar Day” as the filmmaker will be previewing 15 minutes of FREE footage on every imax theater worldwide! Leave it to him to spearhead this kind of genius marketing idea, I’ll definitely be setting my calendar to see that! You can catch a glimpse of what I presume is the ‘hybrid’ creature on the Avatar official site. Awesome!

The film opens wide December 18, 2009.