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Trailers

New Avatar Trailer

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Slightly more narrative in this new trailer for the James Cameron sci-fi epic that opens worldwide on December 18th

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Thoughts

Avatar Day in London

Avatar logo

Yesterday at 10am I went along to the free Avatar Day screening at the BFI London IMAX.

This was part of Fox’s marketing effort to build buzz for James Cameron’s first film since Titanic and what is reportedly one of the costliest productions of all time.

An unusual promotional event held at cinemas around the world, it saw about 100,000 viewers, who had signed up for free tickets online, get shown an extended preview of the film on IMAX screens in 3-D.

But what exactly is Avatar all about?

It is a sci-fic tale set in the future that has been filmed on cutting edge 3-D digital cameras that produce stereoscopic images that simulate human sight.

James Cameron and Sam Worthington on the set of AvatarThe story centres around a former marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who was wounded and paralyzed in combat on Earth and is selected to participate in the Avatar program, which enables him to walk and travel to Pandora, a jungle-covered extraterrestrial moon filled with different life forms.

It is also home to the Na’vi race, a tall humanoid species with tails and blue skin. As humans encroach on the planet in search of minerals, Jake becomes part of a program by which he can live through the genetically-bred human-Na’vi hybrid known as Avatars.

The Avatars are living, breathing bodies that are controlled by a human “driver” through a technology that links the driver’s mind to their Avatar body. On Pandora, through his Avatar body, Jake can walk once again through his new alien body.

Sent deep into Pandora’s jungles to scout for the soldiers that will follow, Jake discovers more about the planet and meets a young Na’vi female, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) who he soon becomes attached to.

Amanda Nevill of the BFI and Chris Green of Fox UK gave short introductory speeches before they started the presentation.

A 50-foot-tall version of James Cameron appeared in 3-D, welcoming us to ‘the 22nd century’ and said that he wanted to offer more than just a trailer, explaining that we were about to see 15 minutes of the film (all taken from the first half of the film, so there were no major spoilers).

Here is how it broke down (if you don’t want to know what happens, then stop reading now):

1. The first shot was of boots walking along the ground whilst a voice says “You’re not in Kansas anymore” and we quickly see that it is a military officer (Stephen Lang) talking to his cadets. The music accompanying this is Journey to the Line from The Thin Red Line soundtrack by Hans Zimmer – which I’m guessing a temp track whilst the score has yet to be completed. The officer tells them that they’re about to be deployed on the planet Pandora, where “everything that walks, flies or squats in the mud wants to kill you and eat your eyes for jujubes.” While he’s speaking, we see the wheelchair-bound soldier Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) enter the room. My initial impression was that the depth of the image was something I hadn’t seen before and it took a little getting used too.

2. The next sequence showed Jake lie on a machine that looks like a futuristic sunbed which is then inserted into what looks like an ultrasound machine. A scientist (Sigourney Weaver) is talking him through a procedure that will see him wake up in the body of his Na’vi avatar: a tall blue alien and he seems pleased that he can walk again.

3. The third sequence cuts to the planet and follows Jake (in his alien body) on a jungle-like planet as he’s told how to deal with the planet’s free-roaming population of strange dinosaur like creatures. The environment is pretty rich in detail and reminded me a little of the landscapes in a previous WETA creation – Skull Island in King Kong (2005).

4. A night time sequence on the same planet, we see Jake, separated from his group, get rescued from a dinosaur attack by a female Na’viwho fights with a bow and arrow. I’m pretty sure this character is Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldana). Jake thanks her but she is angry and dismissive.

5. A daytime sequence with Jake and a group of native Na’vi, including Neytiri, on a mountain by a steep waterfall, where a flock of winged creatures are nesting. Jake tries to tame it and has to wrestle one to the ground and puts something in its mouth which calms it down. The female warrior shouts that he must take his first flight on its back to bond with it. Jake and his new creature then go tumbling off the side of the waterfall in a giddy sequence. This was impressively cut and shot and gave a glimpse of the epic feel Cameron is going for.

The very final images were a shortened version of the trailer before it all ended.

My initial impressions were that the scenes were a little too short to make any kind of sweeping prediction about the film.

I was perhaps expecting slightly sharper image quality (along the lines of The Dark Knight in IMAX) but then this was shot on digital cameras rather than on IMAX film, so perhaps that was an issue.

However, there was definitely enough to pique people’s interest and I suspect Cameron is saving the really juicy sequences for the proper theatrical release.

On the subject of the trailer, it was released on Thursday and seemed to be the main talking point in the queue beforehand. I wanted to avoid watching it before I saw the IMAX footage, but here it is in case you didn’t catch it.

According to a press release from the studio, it is now the most viewed trailer of all time on the Apple Trailers site, with over four million streams in its first day, shattering the previous record of 1.7 million (and this isn’t taking in to account the official and unofficial plays on YouTube).

The online buzz – from what I can gather – hasn’t been that positive with some people saying out that they think the alien design is a tad goofy (Jar Jar Binks and The Dark Crystal have been mentioned) and others have pointed out visual similarities to Ferngully, Delgo and even Dungeons and Dragons.

My guess is that this backlash (of sorts) is something to do with the way Avatar has been ‘pre-sold’ in marketing terms with hype about how it will revolutionise cinema with its astounding never-seen-before visuals.

Given the buzz and publicity the 25 minute preview at Comic-con got, Fox were presumably hoping that all was well in the long Avatar marketing campaign.

But selling a movie isn’t what it used to be and given the quick, online global dissection of anything produced by movie studios it was perhaps inevitable that the first Avatar trailer would struggle to live up to expectations.

However, let’s just hold it right there. The Avatar trailer is (or is perceived to be) struggling to live up to the hype. It says something about the modern movie business that this is the case.

The major studios have been willing to embrace this pre-release hype as we have seen in recent years when genre films (like Iron Man, The Spirit and Watchmen)  have all had big pushes at Comic-con.

This is the bizarre but now fully accepted practice of having a press conference, screening trailers and doing a full schedule of press about a film that isn’t even finished.

My guess is that Fox will be a little disappointed with some of the online reactions to the Avatar trailer but I think Cameron deserves to be cut some slack – shouldn’t we wait to see the actual film before passing judgement like this?

You know the one with the proper story which gives proper context to the images seen so far?

In this current age I guess keeping everything top secret until opening day isn’t an option but part of me wonders if movie studios could learn a trick or two from Apple.

They keep everything secret and by the time Steve Jobs unveils the latest i-Whatever the fever pitch has built to a frenzy bordering on the religuous.

Would it be impossible to release a movie like an iPhone? And is the current drawn out cycle of hype a help or a hindrance? Does it even matter given the many millions of dollars Fox will use to blitz conventional media outlets (TV, print & radio etc) in December?

It will be interesting to see what Fox does from now until the release. Aside from geeky community complaints, I’m guessing the major issue they have to address is what Avatar is (or means) to the wider public who don’t follow the minutiae of fanboy buzz on Twitter.

Categories
Trailers

Trailer: Avatar

The trailer for James Cameron‘s upcoming sci-fi film Avatar, which is released worldwide on December 18th.

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Directors Interesting News

Peter Jackson and James Cameron at Comic-Con

Peter Jackson and James Cameron took part in a ‘visionaries’ panel at Comic-Con recently where they discussed the future of films and filmmaking.

Here are video extracts from the session:

> Peter Jackson and James Cameron at the IMDb
> Official Comic-Con site

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News

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