Friday, July 24, 2009

Comic-Con 2009 Update – Avatar panel

JamesCameron_Comic-ConFriday’s most anticipated panel presentation (aside from the Twilight panel) was probably for James Cameron’s Avatar. Information on the animated sci fi feature film has been kept tightly under wraps during the entire production, and the Comic-Con audience was treated to the very first public screening of footage in 3D.

Cameron didn’t skimp on clips either -- announcing from the stage that the audience would get to watch between 25 and 30 minutes of finished scenes from Avatar.

The film revolves around a human, Jake Sully (voice and performance by Sam Worthington of Terminator Salvation), who joins his military peers on the alien planet Pandora, where the plants,the native creatures and humanoid residents (the Navi) are likely to kill you.

The wheelchair-bound Jake is one of several team members whose consciousness is transferred into cloned bodies that combine human and Navi DNA. From the clips we saw, it seems that Jake eventually “goes native” and befriends/presumably falls in love with a Navi female (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek), getting to know Pandora as part of the planet instead of as invader.

The footage was technically and visually stunning, showing us the hostile alien world of Pandora in vibrant blues, greens, purples and oranges. The performance capture is well done, with the characters’ distinctly alien body language and their facial expressions coming through clearly onscreen. The 3D effect was the most crisp and clean I’ve ever seen, with minimal ghosting thanks to the improved Dolby 3D glasses.


Following the current trend of 3D movies, the scenes we viewed had minimal objects flying out of the screen at the audience. The animation was beautifully layered, especially in the jungle scenes, which gives the movie a lush, deep feel. There were some wonderful camera moves as well, with one memorable shot that starts in the forest canopy above the protagonists’ heads. The plant fronds layered between the camera and the characters give the audience a sense of great height from the forest floor and distinctly feral point of view.

Spoilers and video clips after the cut!

[bxA]Some brief notes I jotted during the screening:

First scene played
- military briefing with Col. Quaritch (Stephen Lang) as the head of the troops on Pandora
- we learn that Pandora is an extremely hostile environment and that Jake Sully is wheelchair-bound for a reason not revealed in this scene
- native humanoids of Pandora are the Navi, who use primitive but effective weapons and have naturally occurring carbon fiber strengthening their skeletons
- Quaritch memorably tells the new troops, “It is my job to keep you alive. I will not succeed.” Bluntly telling them that some of them are going to die during this tour of duty.

Scenes 26-29
SigourneyWeaver_Comic-Con - Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), a scientist and environmentalist, is introduced. She is the one who transfers Jake’s consciousness into its new alien-human hybrid body. Her consciousness is also transferred to a new hybrid body.
- These hybrids physically resemble the Navi. Are around 10 feet tall and very slender and lithe, towering over the lab and medical assistants. Jake wakes up after the transfer and he is now very tall, very blue with darker blue stripes, yellow eyes, a tail, and long black hair that is tied back into a single braid. He is comically euphoric as he discovers this new body of his.

Scene 40
- New hybrid team (including Jake and Dr. Augustine) are in the forest, which is beautiful and lush with giant orange flowers that pop shut at Jake’s touch. They encounter a huge 4-legged creature with a head like a hammerhead shark that Jake faces down . . . until a larger, far more vicious predator attacks the team and a fast-paced chase and fight scene begins.

Scene ??
- Navi female (Saldana) is watching Jake while hidden up in the forest canopy. She is preparing to shoot him with an arrow (which we’ve been told is dipped in a potent, deadly neurotoxin), when a delicate, many tentacled critter that looks like a floating dandelion-type seed drifts over and lands on her arrowhead. This affects the female for reasons we don’t understand and she puts down her weapon.

Scene 55-60
- Jake is camping alone in the forest and is attacked by another predator. The Navi female, named Neytiri, springs to action and proves that she’s a fierce, skilled warrior as she slays the creature and protects Jake. Afterward, however, she’s furious with him for acting carelessly in the forest and making the animal’s killing necessary. She says that he’s “like a baby” but that she saved him because he has a strong heart with no fear, though we can tell there’s more to this.
- Neytiri takes off through the forest and Jake follows, wanting her to teach him to live better in the forest. She refuses, but the forest lights up with beautiful phosphorescent colors and we see the Navi and the hybrids also have phosphorescent face and body markings.
- When Neytiri tells Jake that she will not take him with her to her people, the delicate critters return en masse, landing on Jake and covering him. Neytiri tells him that they are “seeds of the Sacred Tree, very pure spirits” and takes him with her.

Scene 115
- Jake has “gone native” at this point. He’s wearing Navi clothing, not military wear. He is in the company of Neytiri and some of her people.
- Jake ducks behind the backside of a waterfall and into a hidden area where many dragon-like lizard creatures live. Jake is here to claim a mount, with whom he will have a psychic bond Pern Dragonrider-style.
- Once Jake has subdued the proper dragon, he has to connect a tentacle-like appendage on the creatures head to some tentacles hidden at the end of his long braid, establishing the connection between them. After some mid-flight missteps, Jake learns how to physically command his mount.

Avatar opens in theaters in 2D and 3D on December 18th, but movie fans worldwide will have a chance to watch a 15 minute sneak peek for free in select IMAX and 3D theaters on August 21. Watch Cameron’s announcement below:

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