Saturday, August 22, 2009

REVIEW: 16 Minutes of Avatar...

So not only was this Friday the release of the BRILLIANT new Quentin Tarantino film, Inglourious Basterds, but it was also Avatar Day! 16 minutes of footage from Titanic director James Cameron's new film, Avatar, was shown, all from within the first 30 minutes of the actual film, and I must say, it was both awkward and awe inspiring. Just for different reasons. FIRST, the description of the footage (via /FILM):

The first clip begins with a Col. Quaritch, a gruff-voiced military man with scars running down the right side of his head. He walks down a hallway barking orders at recruits and informs them that his job is to keep them alive. “I won’t succeed. Not with all of you.”

Then we cut to a group of scientists, the most prominent of which is played by Sigourney Weaver. Jake Sully aligns himself on a platform, and exchanges some snarky dialogue with a scientist. She closes the platform shut, and activates it, locking his body into some sort of containment area. Surrounding the device are transparent, touch-based computers, which the scientists are using to monitor Jake’s heart. One scientists slides his hand against a computer screen and it unlocks, allowing him to carry the vital information elsewhere in the facility (smoothest use of technology, EVER).

In another room, two avatars are laid out like hospital patients. The scientists start the process that allows the human’s minds to connect to the avatars, and they suddenly come to life. The scientists begin testing out the their motor functions to see how capable they are of controlling their new alien bodies. Jake though, has no interest in waiting around for tests, and immediately embraces his regained ability to walk. The scientists try to sedate him as he eagerly stumbles out of the room.

The next set of clips take place on the Na’vi homeworld, Pandora. We see Jake’s avatar, along with a group of other avatars, examining the lush, colorful forest landscape. Jake lightly touches a large, orange flower-like plant. It immediately withers down into a small stump, and his eyes light up. He runs around touching all the plants in sight, laughing as they follow suit. Before long though, he’s staring right in the face of an agitated triceratops-esque creature that appears ready to attack. The rest of the group tells him to settle down and hold perfectly still. Instead, he grinningly provokes it, chanting and waving about for it to fight. The creature rushes toward him. Jake thrusts his arms in the air and leaps forward, stopping the creature in its tracks. It cautiously backs away, and runs off to safety. For a brief moment, Jake soaks in his victory, cheering arrogantly. His excitement soon turns into terror though, when he realizes why the creature ran away: a massive flying creature with razor-sharp retractable teeth has landed directly behind him. Realizing this, Jake turns to the group in horror. “Uh… Hold still or run?” The group hesitates a moment. “Run!”

Jake darts through the forest as fast as he possibly can, desperately trying to evade capture from the ferocious beast. Describing this action sequence (and several others that follow) in much more detail than that is fairly useless without being able to experience the visual wonder of the world on display, unfortunately, but it’s definitely a sight to behold.

We were also shown a variety of other sequences with Jake interacting with an actual Na’vi named Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldana. She’s a native who we first meet when she spots Jake wandering the wilderness with no real sense of the environment around him. She raises her bow and prepares to shoot him, but a beautiful glowing bug (that’s reminiscent in many ways of a jellyfish) seems to convince her that she shouldn’t. She decides instead to follow him, and eventually finds herself forced to interject when he stumbles into the middle of a creature-filled nesting ground. She manages to save him, but it comes at the cost of two of the creature’s lives. Happy to be alive, Jake laughs off the experience and thanks the mysterious Na’vi for helping him. She is infuriated. If he hadn’t been so foolish and ignorant of the world he inhabits, those creatures wouldn’t have had to die. She runs off, and he takes off after her. While she’s clearly experienced navigating this territory, he isn’t, and finds himself constantly amazed at what surrounds him. At one point, they encounter a strange field that glows bright colors whenever and wherever they make contact, and Jake can’t help but hop around and enjoy the constantly-expanding beauty.

The final sequence we were shown involved a cultural ritual with Neytiri, Jake, and several other new Na’vi. In order to attract the attention of a specific dragon-like creature and prove himself worthy, Jake must traverse the ledge of a cliff and confront a large group of them. “How will I know if I am worthy?” Neytiri replies: “He will try to kill you.”

Jake makes his way across the cliff and is attacked almost instantly. The other Na’vi, excluding the worried Neytiri, laugh at what will most assuredly be a quick death for Jake. He handles himself well though, and manages to get underneath the creature and grab ahold of its neck. The creature bucks wildly. Just as he’s about to be thrown off, he uses a defensive Na’vi ability that allows him to latch some small tentacles into the creature’s ear. Its pupils dilate, and then, the creature collapses into a restful state. Jake whispers softly to it, telling it that everything’s okay. The scene ends with him soaring off the cliff atop the creature, desperately trying to keep control of its flight patterns as it collides against the mountains. As the creature steadies out and Jake regains control, he stands up on its back, and for a brief moment, we see them fly over Pandora in all its beauty.

First things first, the beginning of this footage was AWFUL. The dialouge was hammy, the performances even worse. Nothing between the humans really felt real or worked in any sort of way, and there was a few shots in there that also had me laughing for not good reasons. HOWEVER, when we left the headquarters, everything changed.

So near the bginning of the film, Jake turns himself into one of the native creatures. This is when the film really kicks into high gear. The world of Pandora seems completely real, and where the real world feels so lame and hamfisted. The visuals are so lush and life like, and, especially during the night scene, the world is just absolutely breathtaking. I am running out superlatives for this part of the footage. I said this in a tweet, but not since Jurassic Park has cgi left me this shocked. It's overall a bit underwhelming just because I expected more, but overall, I'm excited. Not as much for say Where The Wild Things Are, which is a film I think will be truly transformative, at least in the way we see that style of film, where as this may just be another TECHNICAL innovation from Cameron. What do YOU think?

Go see something good!

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