Saturday, August 22, 2009

An Early Look At: James Cameron's "Avatar"

So I managed to get passes to that free Avatar screening. I really didn't get it. It was 15 minutes long, started with the dude from Daily Planet telling me to put my glasses on, and the cloaked bald kid with wind powers never showed up at all!

Alright, I'm just joking.

James Cameron's Avatar is an upcoming fantasy film which takes place on a bizarre alien world, and is not to be confused with M. Night's The Last Airbender.

Knowing next to nothing about the film save for the general premise and what a few of the toys looked like, I didn't know what to expect from the free 15-minute show in Imax 3D.

After a brief introduction from the director [he basically says, "Here, have this instead of a trailer"], the audience was treated to a series of clips from the first half of the movie - "no major spoilers," as Cameron's 3D image put it.

Avatar takes place in the 22nd Century. There's some kind of hostile and very dangerous alien world called Pandora which a military unit will be visiting, but the audience doesn't know why. The world is inhabited by creatures who fight with neurotoxin-poisoned arrows and they really don't sound friendly! One of the humans is a marine in a wheelchair by the name of Jake. From what I understand, he's the main character.

I had a very hard time watching that first segment due to the 3D. This ain't no blue-and-red-plastic crap - this Imax 3D actually works! It just takes a while to get used to, and until I did, the image seemed blurry and I felt rather dizzy. But once I got used to it [which didn't even take five minutes], I had no problem at all enjoying the scenes in stunning 3D. Small details like floating leaves and 3D subtitles were particularly nice touches.

Anyway, Jake travels to some kind of lab on Pandora, where he has his mind technologically transferred to the body of one of the strange blue Pandorian creatures. The creatures are taller than humans, have large yellow eyes, a tail, stripes, and look rather feline. [Other humans undergo the same procedure; perhaps this is how they survive on the dangerous world.] The characters referred to Jake's new body as his "avatar," the new being that he controls. In his strange new body, Jake is able to do things he couldn't in his human form - such as use his legs. He is free from his wheelchair, and proceeds to ignore orders and leave the lab.

Outside, the 3D really shines. The dense jungle is brought to life and the creatures look even more terrifying. A note to parents - the giant creatures of Pandora really do look creepy, and I imagine that a scene in which Jake is chased by a huge predator would terrify children, even if it wasn't in 3D.

In his new body, Jake makes contact with the blue creatures, one of which he's currently using, and the following scenes suggest that he becomes part of their tribe, or learns their way of life. Jake is how the audience learns about the world of Pandora - they must watch him struggle with creatures and customs of the world.

In one scene, Jake tries to catch himself a winged flying dragon-like creature, with help from the blue Pandorans. In order to control the creature, they have to link minds. This is done by him first physically subduing the beast and forcibly inserting the tentacles from his long hair into an opening on the dragon's antenna.

Yes, I watched a blue furry rape a dragon -- in glorious 3D.

The last 30 seconds of the screening was a fast-paced montage of other shots from the movie - the humans arrive, and they bring their tech. Trucks that look like the Warthog from Halo, mechs and aerospace fighters that look like they were lifted from the G.I. Joe: Sigma 6 line.

What I saw was impressive because the 3D was so good, but also because the world of Pandora was so beautiful. The huge jungles, the strange life forms, the unusual rock formations, the glowing green flowers in the night - it's an alien world, all right, and it sure looks like one.

I couldn't help but get a video game feeling from what I saw - hero takes on this "avatar," explores a strange world, learns new skills, and probably will have to save it from the bad guys. Sounds like pretty much any game I've ever played.

The free screening was great, but I'm more indifferent than curious, or excited. I know slightly more about the movie than I did going in, but still not enough to care. Let me guess, this alien world is threatened by the humans instead of the other way 'round - oh no, the tables have turned! Admittedly, 15 minutes of footage taken from other several scenes can't do the movie justice. It looks like an epic fantasy adventure with sci-fi elements, and the 3D is great. But I really don't like nor care about the blue furries, nor the actor who plays Jake. But hey, that's just me.

James Cameron's Avatar opens on December 18th.

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