James Cameron talks Avatar at Comic-Con

James Cameron on Avatar set

James Cameron screened about 25 minutes of his new sci-fi film Avatar at the Comic-Con in San Diego yesterday.

Budgeted at a reported $240 million, the 3-D computer-generated epic is probably the most hotly anticipated film of the year.

It has an added aura due to the fact that it is Cameron’s first proper feature film since Titanic (1997) and that so many details have been kept under wraps.

According to Wikipedia, here is the basic premise:

Avatar is set during the 22nd century on a small moon called Pandora, which orbits a gas giant, and is inhabited by the tribal Na’vi, ten foot tall, blue humanoids that are peaceful unless attacked.

Humans cannot breathe Pandoran air, so they genetically engineer human/Na’vi hybrids known as Avatars that can be controlled via a mental link.

A paralyzed Marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) volunteers to exist as an Avatar on Pandora, falling in love with a Na’vi princess and becoming caught up in the conflict between her people and the human military that is consuming their world.

Cameron introduced the footage by asking “Who wants to go to another planet?” before screening a few expositional sequences.

Apparently they showed the main character Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington, becoming an avatar (a blue-skinned human-alien hybrid) before segueing into a series of jungle battle scenes in which Worthington and co-star Zoe Saldana fight with prehistoric-looking creatures.

Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere was one of many observers in the hall impressed with what he saw:

…it should come as no surprise to report that this taste of James Cameron’s 3-D action fantasy, set on a foreign planet and involving a primal conflict between militaristic humans and a race of ten-foot-tall aliens called Na’vi, played serious wowser.

As in “Jesus, this is something…oh, wow!…crap, this is new…oh, that’s cool…this is so friggin’ out there and vivid and real…love it all to hell.”

Cameron announced at the end of the presentation that the rest of the world will have a chance to sample Avatar in a similar way on Friday, August 21, which he called “Avatar Day.”

On that day IMAX theatres coast to coast (and, I presume, in various foreign nations) will show about 15 minutes worth of 3-D IMAX footage of Avatar to the public for free.

This is an ingenious way of spreading buzz – almost like drug dealers giving out free samples.

Anyway, Wells goes on:

I guess the footage will be shown at successive shows all day and into the night, and that some kind of ticket reservations system will be set up.

20th Century Fox will open Avatar all over on 12.18.09.

The 3-D photography that I saw this afternoon is clean and needle-sharp and easy on the eyes, and the CG animation looks as realistic and organically genuine as anything anyone might imagine, and which certainly seems to represent the best we’ve seen thus far.

6,000 people watched the show inside the San Diego Convention Center’s great Hall H, and then sat for a brief but informative presentation by Cameron, producer Jon Landau and costars Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang with a video apearance by costar Sam Worthington.

He also shot some footage of the presentation with Cameron and the cast:

Lewis Wallace of Wired reports:

So, what did Comic-Con attendees see in between the oohs, ahs and applause?

A first look at a movie formerly shrouded in secrecy; a film that builds on Cameron’s impressive cinematic track record (Aliens, Titanic, the first two Terminator movies); and a project that boasts the kind of big-budget, mind-blowing sci-fi with a conscience that a new franchise could be built upon.

In other words, Avatar could be Cameron’s Star Wars.

Avatar is a mind-expanding adventure on a beautiful world filled with plants and creatures both ferocious and whimsical.

Giant, dinosaur-type beasts; jellyfishlike creatures that float through the air; and all manner of other imaginatively bizarre beings that fight and fly through the bioluminescent, black-light forest Cameron and his talented artists have brought to life.

Perhaps the most amazing creatures are the avatars themselves: 10-foot-tall, slender blue beings, genetically engineered to look like the planet’s indigenous people, the Na’vi.

It is hard to say how well this film is going to do, but if Cameron really delivers the eye-popping visual goods some are expecting, then it could be something really special.

Avatar opens on December 18th later this year.

> Official website
> LA Times on the presentation