Avatar May Be The Best Fantasy (Not Sci-Fi) Film In Years

Published 6 years ago by , Updated June 8th, 2011 at 7:38 am,

avatar header new1 Avatar May Be The Best Fantasy (Not Sci Fi) Film In Years

So OK, I was one of the fortunate who managed to get the Avatar official website working long enough to snag tickets to Friday’s “Avatar Day” IMAX preview screening event. Attendees were treated to 25 minutes of footage from James Cameron’s upcoming “sci-fi epic,” which has largely been touted for its supposed-to-be-revolutionary CGI f/x.

So did Avatar live up to the hype? Yes and No.

First, there has been a lot of “what’s the big deal” talk surrounding the online release of the Avatar trailer. Some have felt let down but others (including us here at Screen Rant) have noted that the larger the version of the trailer seen on your PC (higher and higher resolution versions) the better it looks. This is a film that was absolutely designed for the big screen so watching the trailer on a computer monitor can’t do it justice.

Another item: There was a rumor that come December Avatar would ONLY be showing at IMAX theaters that hosted the Avatar Day preview footage. Not true – Avatar will get a wide IMAX distribution, so if a nearby IMAX theater didn’t have the preview, don’t worry about not seeing it in December on a mega-screen near you.

Now – a quick rundown of the screening:

We got about five scenes (if I counted correctly) that I’d say cover about the first half of the film. The scenes were screened in what seemed like chronological progression, starting early with Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) wheelchairing himself around the human military base. Col. Quaritch (Stephen Lang) is comforting the troops with a warm speech about how some of them will die under his command. We see Jake interact with Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) and learn of his disdain for medical science telling him his limits. The CGI environments are so real it’s hard to tell what’s not, but the 3D effects in the live-action scenes are hardly revolutionary.

Scene #2  In the lab where Jake is being (uploaded?) into his Avatar body. We see him trying it out for the first time, stumbling and knocking into things and feeling the rush of it all. The scene ends with Jake busting out of the room and taking off down the hall pursued by some nervous military doctors. It’s readily apparent that while gorgeous, the CGI Avatars don’t quite feel 100% flesh-and-blood real as was hyped. Darn. (Or it could be that they’re not quite done rendering and this is not the final product.)

Scene #3  Jungle scene where Avatar Jake (I’m officially dubbing him “Javatar”) and (I believe) Dr. Augustine in her Avatar body, are confronted by an alien rhino thing that is stomping the ground like an angry bull. Jake gets into a growling match with the beast before we get the old “there’s a scarier monster behind you that made the first one run away” shtick. A chase through the jungle with the scarier monster ensues and the film gets a little gimmicky with the 3D. I’m still not impressed and getting a bit worried: could Avatar be all hype?

Scene #4  Nighttime in the jungle. Javatar (now all alone) is being attacked by a pack of alien jackals. Into the fire light jumps Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who dispatches the pack of beasts with deadly ninja grace. Then she yells at Jake for causing their deaths by being stupid ‘loud, ignorant of everything around you…like a baby.’ In the end she cops to saving his ass because she likes him. Watching the two motion-captured actors onscreen as two creatures sparking chemistry by the fire light, I’m finally starting to feel the magic of what Cameron has done.

Scene #5  High on a floating cliff (again, the environments in this film are spectacular) where Neytiri and a Na’vi warrior party are taking newbie Jake out for an initiation/rodeo of sorts. Jake’s task: corral one of the alien pterodactyls perched on the rock and break it in as a steed using some weird Na’vi mind-meld ritual. It takes Jake a few near-death tries (an impressive sequence) but he does manage to mind-meld with the creature and fly off into the cloudy sky on its back. At this point I’m REALLY feeling the magic: Avatar is something special.

While the CGI visual effects are undeniably impressive, I feel they’re inevitably going to be the most disappointing aspect of the film – specifically for the viewers who are coming to the theater on that hype alone. Avatar is advanced work, technically speaking, but human imagination is a fickle thing and real actors standing alongside NBA-size blue aliens is still too difficult a sight to accept as “real.”

avatar1 Avatar May Be The Best Fantasy (Not Sci Fi) Film In Years

However, Cameron really has set a new standard for what actors can play onscreen: Worthington and Saldana’s Na’vi characters look fantastic, move and breathe and even blink like living creatures and are never, ever, soulless or empty. Cameron’s new motion-capture technology effectively turns CGI into high-grade digital makeup for the actors, and the results are DEFINITELY revolutionary in that respect. This Christmas the Screen Actors Guild had better thank James Cameron for adding a whole new dimension to their repertoire.

Seriously though: the scenes of Jake out and amongst the Na’vi were truly epic, IMHO. Had Cameron made the film a 100% motion-capture CGI flick about the Na’vi living on Pandora, then Avatar would undeniably be the greatest fantasy adventure to come along in years. The Na’vi seem to have a fully realized culture, language, politics, history – everything you expect from the alien peoples of great fantasy entries like Lord of the Rings. Unique animals, tools, mysticisms… I could go on.

Who knew James Cameron had so much Tolkien in him?

The irony is: everybody is looking at Avatar under a microscope right now, hoping for the greatest f/x film ever, as well as a strong sci-fi story (in the Cameron tradition) to anchor it. I personally think the film has impressive f/x when it mixes live actors and CGI characters, a reliable (read: cliched) sci-fi premise framing it, yet an awesome, epic, goosebump-inducing fantasy story at its core. And in those “total fantasy” moments – when the film loses itself in the wondrous world and alien race it has created – Avatar plays (and looks) like another James Cameron classic.

At this point the studio would be well-suited, I think, to spend their last few months (and dollars) pushing this film as a revolutionary fantasy (key word! key word! key word!) that audiences everywhere need to just sit back and experience. No more pushing the new f/x; no more trying to assure the sci-fi geeks that you’ve done right by them. No more hype. Open your mind, and enjoy (most of) the ride through a brave new world.

avatar posters Avatar May Be The Best Fantasy (Not Sci Fi) Film In Years

Worthington and Saldana set new standards for CGI characters

Avatar (at its best) is fantasy brought closer to life than ever before. And although I have to see the finished film to cement that assessment, I’m feel pretty confident in saying that I hope that is exactly the kind of mindset you bring with you to the theater on December 18th. In the end I think you’ll be more happy for it.

Did you attend “Avatar Day?” What was your reaction to the footage?

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  1. This is getting ridiculous. Avatar is a clear-cut science fiction movie.

    In fantasy there is magic being used by seemingly normal folk without any real science behind it other than that’s how it works. Conjuring up items or creatures with nothing but a staff or incantation is an element of fantasy. If it’s done using an interdimensional portal machine, or a quantum storage device that has an infinite amount of space then it is sci-fi.

    Science fiction is fiction based on scientific reason. If the Na’vi are telekinetic (not saying they are) due to superior brain power, or have super strength, acrobatic ability, or powers beyond human, but not beyond science, then it is sci-fi.

    Fantasy is stuff that happens because those are the rules of the world and universe that it is set in. It can’t happen in our universe, but can in theirs or if the rules of our universe are tweaked for the purpose of the story (Eg: Harry Potter).

    Though if you really want to argue about it right down to the definition then just look it up and you’ll find that they’re both very close in definition and many experts on literature will tell you that they technically are in the same category. Right down to the true definition by word, sci-fi and fantasy are nearly same, but in our culture, the genres have defined themselves as being separate.

  2. Sorry, but that movie clearly is SCIENCE FICTION.

    Science Fiction = future, aliens, technology (whether plausible or not!)

    Fantasy = past, mythical creatures, magic

    The required plausibilty of technology in SciFi is a fantasy of its own. If stuff is explained scientifically with the FICTION, it’s Science Fiction. If they claim it’s good ol’ magic, it’s Fantasy! It’s as simple as that.

  3. As has been said, quite clearly I think in this thread, even removing ALL humans and human machinery from the short clip we see, there’s not much in this trailer – if anything at all – to make one say “ah, fantasy film” rather than science fiction.

    As a matter of fact, my first reaction is “alien worlds, cool! a science fiction film”.

    There are no elves, no magical happenings, no unexplainable arcane phenomenon, etc…

    So all in all, I think this trailer shows what promises to be one of the better SCIENCE FICTION films of the last few years.

  4. Geez, guys – step back from the trees and look at the forest, will you?

    I guess all this could have been averted by just changing “fantasy” to “fantasy-like.”


  5. Vic, I believe it would be pseudo-science fiction then. Read my first post again, please.

  6. @ Everybody,

    Fine, you know what, when the film comes out and people go on and on about “How the movie had drawbacks but the Na’vi scenes were wonderful – like being transported to another world” Maybe more of you will understand what I mean.


  7. It’s also meant to say “Approach this film more like a fantasy film and it’ll make the experience more enjoyable.”

    What’s so wrong about saying that?

  8. “Like a fantasy film” meaning: open-mind to a new world experience. Because the film is essentially about that: a guy who literally loses himself in a new world experience.

    Get it?

  9. Maybe if you guys didn’t write articles just to get people to bite than maybe all of this would have been avoided.

  10. Yeah, i also have that feeling that this article is here only for one reason – to provoke people. If the title of the article isn’t as ridiculous as it is, this post would have 60 comments less.

  11. Well I just hope everybody realizes I’m not demanding that “Avatar” has to be fantasy or science fiction. Actually Kofi has a point I’ve wanted to make for a long time. I Want better purer science fiction. Not Final Fantasy all the time. That takes discipline of story. That takes developing a sense that can tell what’s likely and what isn’t!

    Hybridizing is fine, it’s just if that’s all you get, will you be able to recognize or be able to see a pure science fiction story? To see one, somebody has to be able to make it. More than that though, if no one cares, as Wickamo so concretely contends, no offense Wickamo, then it will die, maybe even before we do.

  12. Speaking of Final Fantasy, so is that Fantasy or Sci-Fi???

  13. Guys, come over to this side of the fence then come talk to me. 8)

    Actually it HAS sparked a lively discussion, hasn’t it? :-D


  14. This article is not some empty provocation.

    I saw the Avatar Day screening, I’m reporting what I saw and my reaction to it.

    My reaction was: ok sci-fi film that really shines when during the fantasy world moments of the Na’vi in that luminescent jungle.

    That’s how I feel. Why so many of you are SPAZZING over that, IDK.

  15. OH wow Kofi, give it a rest already…. Is your ego so big that you can’t just take your lumps and The Kudos by the way, and let it be??? Reread what transpired and think about it. If you want further discussion drop me a note and I’ll elucidate!

  16. @Ken J
    Final Fantasy, sci-fi or fantasy? I say CRAP, but that’s just me. :-D

    Kofi has the right to his opinions, guys. Some people say Star Wars was fantasy, or Star Trek, but that’s just the way they feel. Why does it even matter?

  17. @John

    LOL, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I liked Final Fantasy at all, I was just curious what genre people consider that with all of this sci-fi versus fantasy talk…

  18. @Vic,
    “Geez, guys – step back from the trees and look at the forest, will you?”

    Are you referring to the Fangorn Forest in the Lord Of The Rings FANTASY films,
    or the forests in SCI-FI film Avatar?

    Please specify!


  19. So, no input on if Final Fantasy is fantasy or sci fi? Afraid what your answer will imply?

  20. @JessSayin

    Funny boy. :-P


  21. @KenJ

    Final Fantasy, in my opinion, is fantasy. Though it may have some elements that use the physics and science of our world, it also uses elements that are impossible by the laws of science. LOTR is obviously fantasy, but it also has some physics and science of our universe. Guns could easily be put in that world (fire still burns, and Gandalfs fireworks are proof that the technology is there), but just because guns are frequently used in sci-fi movies wouldn’t automatically make LOTR science fiction.

    Science Fiction can bend some rules of science and can keep being sci-fi as long as there is a rational scientific explanation behind it. Time travel isn’t proven, but the science is there. The theories make sense.

    And I could easily stretch it to make another point, but if I say the one word then I might start something terrible.

  22. Guess I should’ve gone with the generic tagline: “Avatar will transport you to another world!”

    Then everybody would be behind it. LOL.

    Seriously though, it is an amazing experience seeing the movie and in the end it’s one of the few times you genuinely need to be in the theater and pay top price for IMAX.

    Even if the film fails you the experience won’t – does that make any sense :-|

  23. So the minute we get pseudocatters on lizardbirds and Final Fantasy relateds it’s a fantasy film, not sci-fi, sort of the same Halo-braindead Titan A.E.-ish sort of thinking? I guess science fiction is still not good enough for you people as soon as you think a film’s good enough not to be. If the blue aliens were riding hoverbikes and pulling stuff beyond the capabilities of Tarzan or Mowgli, I bet you wouldn’t give it a minute. But honestly, as much as a muddlefan like me has seen, it doesn’t look bad. I wish big names like Cameron were courageous enough to do more for an orthograde alien like these ones that change their skin colour, add a tail and a couple of minor facial features. Feline? Not even digitclaws or real fur. Call me if someone ever comes up with a decent Ringworld or Man-Kzin movie… this stuff looks good, but groundbreaking, Avatar is not.

    And for the record, folks, it’s sci-fi. Go wipe your ass on someone else’s fandom.

  24. this is getting stupid a good movie is a good movie who cares if its anything………………………………………..

  25. Well their are people that care. Yeah a good movie is always appreciated, I can live with that, and more power to you. :)
    I also want Science Fiction that really is Science Fiction. It’s false to say, well its Science Fiction, when theirs no science there! How would you like buying a Snickers candy bar and getting a stalk of celery instead, when you peeled the wrapper back?? You would really be upset if you payed $11.00 U.S. for it.

    Rant off… ;)

  26. I like AVATAR movie so much
    in practical it may not be true
    however i like it so much
    the director,Jame comeron , is so bright
    Pls do again movies like AVATAR