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. I didn’t see the IMAX footage, but I did see the trailer. Even in the highest HD quality it still reminded me of Fern Gully and Delgo. Pretty graphics and gimmicks like 3d might get people to sit through your film, but probably won’t get them to love it. Very worried about this one…

    That being said, I’m trying to keep an open mind. My plan is to act like I don’t care until the day of release.

  2. I avoided the screening because I want to be surprised .
    Is this also playing in non 3D theatres?
    It would have to be wouldnt it ?
    Pity he didnt just go with motion capure,
    I HATE 3D .
    I might be more interested in it if it were someday possible wihout the glasses .
    But I will certainly still see this film.
    It Looks Magnificent.
    Thanks for the report Kofi.

  3. “Col. Quaritch (Stephen Lang) is comforting the troops with a warm speech about how some of them will die under his command.”

    I can’t be the only one who read this and thought of Zap Brannigan in Futurama telling the troops, “Soon you will be fighting for your planet. Some of you will be dying for your planet. Some of you will be forced through a fine mesh screen for your planet. They will be the luckiest ones of all.”

  4. I think I am one of a few people who have no interest in this movie, it is just not one I am not impressed by.

  5. I didn’t get to see the footage, but thanks Vic for the update on all the information, I’m totally ready to see this new world.

  6. @anakin

    Yeah, I’ve been hearing that – funny considering how there was so much traffic to the ticketing website that it crashed…


  7. I think it’s important to remember that what we were given in the trailer on Thursday was actually a teaser trailer, not a full trailer. Everyone I’ve showed the teaser to has been blown away.

    Seems to me the vast majority of the public, which is most of the people that will see this, don’t care about the technology. Most normal citizens don’t even know who James Cameron is, or directors in general. Are we bashing something that doesn’t need to be bashed here? I know we’re all here because we love films, but Avatar will be a success. It’s kind of strange to think it wouldn’t be, and I’m not sure where that opinion comes from. It’s a huge, beautiful film, with explosions, almost naked people, cool graphics, a fun story, and some big name actors. Of course it will be successful.

    And I would have to agree that the 15 minute screening cements the film. The teaser trailer, while gorgeous, just doesn’t give the impact of a full theater screen with 3D glasses. And to those who don’t like 3D, cool. You don’t like it. So don’t go see the movie. But just so you know, as Kofi stated, it’s not a Muppets 3D movie. This is James Cameron for goodness sake, I think we can all rest knowing it’s not a gimmick. The 3D really only serves to add visual depth to the scenes, and it really works. Kofi’s right, you really do feel like you’re there with the characters, especially the scene with Stephen Lang walking up and down the aisle giving a speech to the troops.

    Very impressive. The marketing hasn’t really started because it doesn’t make sense to start this early. It’s a Christmas movie, so expect a huge push starting in October, and then heavily into November and December. There will be PLENTY of rave review quotations in the TV ads starting the day Avatar opens.

    Can’t wait!

  8. After watching the trailer, the films plot is pretty much revealed. (IMO)

    Human gets second chance to continue serving his planet.(Earth)
    He’s sent to an alien world that is involved in a military situation.
    He’s transformed into a hybrid infiltration soldier to become a better tool against the Navi.
    There’s a problem with the transformation, he begins to empathise with the Navi.
    He falls in love with another Avatar. He then turns on his own (Humans), and leads the resistance against them.
    Tragic ending, loss/ redemption. The end…

    That’s what I got out of the trailer.

    The Navi look pretty realistic but will the kids find them cool enough to collect all 20 of the action figures?
    Who knows,,,? Its clear that this film is going for all ages with the toys and crap. I’ve read there’s even going to be a clothing line… PG-13 is a certainty.

    The hype for Avatar is over board and strictly a online phenomenon at this point. I think one reason some of the IMAX theatres were empty was due to the trailer coming out before the screening. Not to mention its easy to go online and get tickets, but to then actually drive miles to see a chunk of a film that’s coming out in a few months, is another.

  9. I am cynical about two things that seem to be the newest trends in Hollywood-making everything 3D (very bad for the brain, I’m thinking, as I’ve heard numerous reports of migraine-like headaches being induced by it) and using CGI in place of real people. I think the blue people (the only Avatar I will acknowledge is Aang) would have been lovely, sensuous creatures if they were portrayed by real actors. My opinion of course.

  10. Glad to see I’m not the only one who recognizes some cliches in the plot. Evil human governments, primitive yet culturally enlightened aliens, badass icequeen hunter chicks, etc.
    Sounds like things we’ve seen before…

  11. I keep hearing about people having headaches from blog sites like this. Yet me and like 8 of my friends all went to see UP in 3D, a lot of them wore prescription glasses under the 3D glasses, and NONE of them had any complaints about discomfort or anything… Guess we’re just a lucky bunch or what? I didn’t notice anyone leaving the theater holding their head or complaining about a head ache either, strange…

  12. While I loved the screening, I really wish there wasn’t that much hype around the film. Yes, it’s amazing, but most people will find the final product a let down because of that. I too found some parts a little cliched. Especially when Jake bursts out after being linked to his Avatar and later when he realises there’s a bigger monster behind him than the one he’s facing. And there were also some issues with the print, because sometimes it changed quickly from 2D to 3D.

  13. If I want the IMAX headache I’ll sit in the front row of my local theater.

    IMAX and 3D, are such gimmicks to me. I can see how some people get headaches from all that REM trauma.

    Just give me a good movie I don’t need a cinematic reach around of technology slammed in my face.

  14. Look s good, but so do a lot of CGI game intros these days, I’m pretty sure this movie will be a huge success but to me, personally, it’s just another CGI movie.

    I’m not that impressed, guess it all comes down to the hype involved.

  15. I was excited at first, but the trailer made me less so, like one poster said, the idea seems like something out of Fern Gully. I hate being preached at, and here we have it again, “ign’rant humans” coming in and stomping all over some new place. It’s a worn out message. I’ll wait till video. Oh well.

  16. Like the rundown of what you got to see, but it seems a bit much to see 25 minutes from somewhere around the first half of a film and shower it with praise as having such a great story.

  17. Haggislaw, I agree with your idea about body suits like the Predator movie. Audiences were able to accept the Predator alien b/c it was created as a live character (meaning not CGI) and thereby was not a distraction to our brains. That is my frustration with this film. It is the fact that there is an overwhelming amount of CGI. I have said it before in another post, programmers can only do so much and they would have to work for years on a few scences just to make them almost perfect. It is the reason why this movie cost so much to make, most of the money is being invested in the programers. If you look at Cameron’s best sci-fi film, Aliens, it did not have a single CGI and Cameron was able to pull off the creature effects flawlessly. Body suit Navi actors intermingled with CGI Navi for more complex action scences would have been the way to go here. I think Cameron is trying to do something that has never been done before and that is what I respect him for as a director. One last thing. The idea of this film being original does not come across this way. It pulls from Aliens and other movies, video games and even books, that makes this film NOT original in its content. Having said that, it is a different slant on a genre or story we have all encountered too many times but expressed with some fresh ideas. This is why the reaction to this film is not all that b/c Cameron set himself up by saying it is the benchmark in f/x and an original story. Don’ get me wrong, I am a Cameron fan and always will be, but he should have gone to his roots and injected this film with the appropriate amount of CGI to fill in the gaps and he would have blown it out of the universe.

  18. I must hand it to Cameron. Once again he has outdone the rest of hollywood. FX and story will blow everyone away with Avatar. It’s the new Star Wars (the original movies not the newer ones).

  19. “Avatar May Be The Best Fantasy (Not Sci-Fi) Film In Years”

    You mean of course since the LOTR trilogy. Because judging from the trailer there’s NO WAY this is touching Tolkiens’ work, or Weta Workshops’ work for that matter.

    It looked like a kick-ass video game to me. Sorry guys, I’m just not feelin’ the magic.

  20. @ Matt


  21. This trailer is so underwhelming. The landscapes, machinery, and various cgi bits all look…standard. Run of the mill. Far below the hype critics have been fanning. The characters/avatars/heroes? They look like crap. Like Polar Express, or Beowulf, they look like the soulless abominations they are. After watching this trailer, I’m more inclined to wait til the 2nd or 3rd week after Avatar debuts before catching it.

  22. Vic I think its time for this to be a SR poll,,,

    Are you excited based on the Avatar trailer.

  23. Hi,
    i will go and see this film in theaters, AFTER I’ve read few more critics and reviews and know what to expect. the trailer was not exciting or fresh in any way. I am NOT looking for another CGI ‘new hope’ kinda of film, and on a PC screen, this trailer felt more like a george lucas film than anything else.
    However – this is james cameron, and i simply never trust trailers. they’re fun to watch, but i never base my going/not going to see a film on them.
    If a movie is a work illusion, a movie trailer should be termed ‘fuzzy mirage” or if you will – a cubed illusion. ;-)

  24. too me, some of yalls opinions based off 1 teaser are sad.

    My reaction: Ok, so because I got there so early I was actually the first in line at the Dallas Texas IMAX showing. It was fun talking with other fans in line about what we were about to see.
    The footage was….. Breathtaking. Totally realistic and totally incredible. I bought every second of it. Now I loved the trailer in the first place, and I can understand some peoples opinions of how some shots looked CG. but seeing more interaction between the characters definitely raises the bar to the next level and doesn’t come close to the trailer. The fluidity and motion was of Jake’s Avatar was PERFECT. The bio luminescent forest was beautiful. My brother actually got chocked up for a second on more than one scene seeing how beautiful it was! Someone else said “this is going to be the best movie of all time”. The music that plays on the Avatar website is what is playing when Jake lays onto the lab bed, just something I noticed. Amazing facial animation, you experience what they experience and feel what they feel. The overall depth of the movie is crazy. It just feels like another world completely and its hard to describe, so I wont lol Seeing him wrestle with the banshee had me on edge for some reason. I don’t know it just sort of draws you in to the scene cause it feels incredibly real.
    I can say 100% now in full honesty, that all the haters out there calling it cartoony and fake and “Epic Fail” are literally, and I mean literally wrong. There is no such thing as opinion on this subject, there is only fact, and the fact is that this movie will be awesome. Oh yeah, the 3d was outstanding lol. I totally forgot about it cause there was so much to look at and take in.
    James Cameron has done it again. But this time, at least from the 15 minute footage, It is a perfect emotional masterpiece that I cant wait to experience again : )

    ps. Saw G.I Joe afterwards because we were already at the theater with nothing better to do. Ill say this much, after seeing Avatar, G.I Joe is what I used to wipe my butt after Avatar made me crap my pants

  25. Lol Aaron and welcome to Screen Rant… ;-)
    I think its becoming clear that the IMAX/3D footage is superior to the 2D trailer,,,