James Cameron's Avatar!

***Update:  There have been some complaints that there is no actual footage from the screening.  If we posted this, we would be violating all kinds of copyright laws.  However, 15 minutes of footage will be screened for free on August 21st, dubbed Avatar Day.  Learn more about it here.***

Yesterday, after months of secrecy and rumors, hyperbole and skepticism, and general intense anticipation, James Cameron’s personally unveiled not just a teaser or trailer, but an astounding 25 MINUTES of footage from his new opus, Avatar.  There has been a lot of buzz floating around that this movie would be a “game changing” film, and that movies would be changed forever as a result.  What do we think?  Check it out, after the jump…

James Cameron took the stage and explained how happy he was to finally be in the home stretch for this film, after four years of hard work.  After keeping the project tightly under wraps for so long, and taking a lot of flak from us space cadets in the blogosphere for doing so, he decided to put the criticism to bed by immediately presenting 7 whole scenes from the film.  He explained that he didn’t want to set them up, and that he still wanted to keep us in a little bit of suspense and let the movie reveal itself to us.  And yes, it was awesome.

This movie is, in fact, a game changer.  At least with regard to the way motion capture animation will be done from here forward.  Sure, we have to give credit to Robert Zemeckis for pioneering the technique with The Polar Express and Beowulf, but there was always this extremely uncomfortable deadness in the eyes of the characters, and they never looked quite human.  Sure they moved gracefully, and the settings looked fantastic, but there was no emotion behind anything.  Not anymore.  Now, on top of resembling the actors behind the motions, these things have feelings.  There’s curiosity, sadness, exuberance, and most definitely fear.  Real fear.  Imminent, grisly death fear.  I was sure that I was watching the actors under heavy makeup, with their faces planted onto these bodies a la Benjamin Button, but later found out that it was all motion capture.  These things look alive.

If you want to remain in a state of total media blackout, then stop here and take our word that it’s going to be great.  If you want to know EXACTLY what we saw, then read on…

  • A military colonel, played by Stephen Lang, is describing the extremely hostile environment that is this new world, Pandora.  He tells them, “It is my job to keep you from getting killed.  I will fail.”  When he turns to tell them this, we see massive scars that look like claw marks along the side of his head.
  • Sam Worthington, who plays Jake, is wheelchair bound, and examines some kind of creature growing in a tank.  Sigourney Weaver’s Dr. Augustine explains that it is a hybrid of human DNA and that of the Pandoran indiginous humanoid species, called the Na’vi. It looks like it’s part horse, part cat, with a prehensile tail, blue skin and zebra stripes.   She tells him that he has a gorgeous brain, and that this will be his avatar.
  • The next time we see Jake, he is waking up from a procedure that has transformed him into this Na’vi body.  As he regains consciousness, his excitement for his new body and the renewed use of his legs causes him to ignore all protocol and stomping out of the recovery room.  The scientists are not happy with this.
  • On the surface of Pandora, a team of soldiers in their new Na’vi avatar bodies are exploring the jungle.  Jake is exploring on his own and playing with the fauna.  Eventually he comes across a giant dinosaur/rhinoserous beast, which tries to intimidate him, but seems to be all bark and no bite.  It turns out they’re simply avoiding a confrontation with a much scarier and angrier monster hiding just behind our hero.  The ensuing confrontation is AT LEAST as intense as the velociraptor chase scenes in Jurasssic Park.
  • We are then introduced to a female Na’vi, played by Zoe Saldana.  She observes Jake as he wanders through the jungle, and draws a bead on him with her bow.  Just as she is about to fire, a jellyfish looking creature floats by and graces her arrow, causing her to stand down.
  • This female Na’vi saves Jake from being killed by two more of the dino-monsters, and prays quietly as she slaughters them.  She tells him that they didn’t need to die, and that he is acting like a baby being so loud irresponsible.  As this discussion goes on, they travel through the night forest, which is bright and alive with light.  Suddenly, dozens of the floating jellyfish surround Jake and land on him.  She tells him these are the seeds of a holy tree, a very pure spirit.  There is something very special about him, it seems.
  • Finally, we see Jake travelling with a group of native Na’vi warriors.  It seems they are training him.  They are at the top of a cliff inhabited by dozens of giant winged monsters that look like baby Nazgul from Lord of the Rings. Jake’s presence alone scares many of them off, but one of these things is looking for a fight.  While the male Na’vi all laugh at how this moron is going to get himself killed, the one female coaches him.  After subduing the monster by what seemed to be climbing on its back and sticking his tail in its ear,   the Na’vi tell him he can now fly.  “Fly?”  He asks, and immediately the monster takes off.  After an exciting albeit bumpy first couple of minutes, he seems to get the hang of it, and soars away.

More: Avatar Movie Review