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 was not fortunate enough to attend an IMAX screening, I only got to watch the online trailer. While it looks interesting, the story seems a bit cliched. This appears to be a Fantasy/Sci-Fi (or Sy-Fy? lol)”Last of the Mohicans.” Guy gets a healthy dose of alien culture, takes their side, fights against Whitey. We’ve seen that before. At any rate, I still think it’ll be a pretty entertaining movie; Cameron rarely disappoints & I’m looking forward to seeing it. I’m sure he’ll give us several moments of oohs & aaahhhs & things we’ve never seen before. A hyped up movie though almost invariably disappoints on some level.

  2. With all those aliens, space ships and mechs it’s impossible to see this as a fantasy movie.

  3. @790

    Doh! What a great idea! Why didn’t I think of that??



  4. I saw the trailer as well on the big screen. Definitely not revolutionary. You can’t compare it to lotr. It’s nothing like it. The only reason people are as excited as they are is because tis is Cameron’s follow up effort to titanic

  5. There seems to be a lot of talk about how theaters weren’t full. It’s my understanding that there were a limited number of tickets, right? And could only be obtained through the website, right? So, couldn’t that mean that it would’ve been possible for tons of people in one city manage to get the tickets and have a full theater, but in another city only a few people grabbed the tickets in time?

    Saying that “Avatar Day” was a flop is a little silly considering that it wasn’t free to all who wish to go. Just free to the people lucky enough to get tickets.

    If I was misinformed about there being limited tickets, then I apologize and this entire comment can be disregarded and called crap.

  6. I don’t quite understand what justifies your description of the film as “fantasy” rather than sci-fi, but I will respectfully disagree with you and insist that the entire premise of this film makes it pure science fiction, with no element that could in any way be construed as “fantasy”. There is no mention of fantastical conjured entities, sorcery, magic, witchcraft, etc… all hallmarks of the genre “fantasy”.
    On the other hand, there are spaceships, distant planets, guns and high-tech equipment, and a setting that is quite clearly meant to evoke a distant future of ours: all hallmarks of science fiction.

    While I understand your point in a way, even if you were to remove the humans entirely from the storyline, setting it entirely on the Na’vi world, and having all interactions being part of that universe, it would STILL be a science-fiction story and not a fantasy.

    A story set on a distant planet, with aliens, and its own culture, does not make it fantasy. Even were these aliens to have a pre-industrial society, or be cave-dwellers, it would still be a science-fiction setting.

  7. @ Huggybear
    what is the border between a si fi and fantasy
    dont people use to imagine fly
    its not true that everything electronic is si fi and on the other side every magic and bow/sword thing is fantasy
    u guys really need to go and get some information about movie genre
    or whatever who cares

  8. and by the way LOTR was like a tv series but in a large scale
    7.5/10 score

  9. You know, when i first watched the teaser trailer i was not blown away by the cg but was impressed by the world and fiction of Avatar. Then i watched a 1080p trailer and started getting really excited. The larger video really does make a difference.

    But i can say that, after seeing the IMAX footage. This IS the greatest cg of any film to date; HANDS DOWN. When Sigourney Weaver’s avatar walked on screen and started talking it made the hair on my arm stand up. That has never happened to me with any movie’s cg. Not to mention the fact that you don’t even think about the trees, grass, water and everything else being cg. the first time watching the IMAX clips i just payed attention to the character models but my second time through it really started to sink in that they aren’t even in a jungle; the jungle never even existed!

    After it is all said and done, i promise, not one person will be able to deny how technically ground breaking this film is; and i wont even get started talking about the camera technology.

  10. @ Mike E

    The point of the post, Mike, is that in my viewing, when the film ISN’T focused on the humans and their tech, and is focused on the Na’vi in the jungles it plays like a PHENOMENAL fantasy film. The drawbacks were only noticed (in my viewing) when it mixed the human/tech story in.

    That’s all.

    Personally, I think people going into this film like it’s going to be its own unique world (like a fantasy film) rather than a sci-fi film (read: bound by certain genre-based expectations) they will get more pleasure out of the experience.

  11. @ Kofi Outlaw

    I totally get what you mean. While it is a science fiction story it looks like it will play out more like an epic fantasy type of film. Like how Jurassic Park is technically a science fiction film, we don perceive it as that.

    This movie is gonna be exactly what i expected. I have been thinking it would be a Jurassic park type film in the sense that it will be an experience you cannot put in a class. It is just an adventure that happens to be set on an alien planet in the future.

  12. I like to think this is an intellectual effort worth quoting to shed light onto not just this film but maybe another popular film garnering alot of attention these days;

    “It is the premise of Science Fiction that anything shown shall in principle be interpretable empirically and rationally. In Science Fiction there can be no inexplicable marvels, no transcendences, no devils or demons- and the pattern of occurences must be verisimilar.
    And now we come near the rub, for what is meant by a verisimilar pattern of occurences? Science-fiction authors try to blackmail us by calling on the omnipotence of science and the infinity of the cosmos as a continuum. “Anything can happen” and therefore “anything that happens to occur to us ” can be presented in Science Fiction.
    BUT its not true, even in a purely mathmatical sense, that anything can happen, because there are infinities of quite different powers. Science-fiction can be either real Science Fiction” or “Pseudo-Science Fiction.” When it produces fantasy it is pseudo-Science Fiction. This is because it is concentrating on the content to be signaled.
    What meaningful and total relationships obtain between a telegram and the function and structure of the telegraphic apparatus? None. The apparatus merely enables us to transmit the message, which is also the case with semantically dense objects of a fantastic nature, such as the metamorphosis of man into a bug, that nevertheless transmit a realistic communication.” LEM

    Koffi, what do you think?

  13. @pj

    “what is the border between a si fi and fantasy”

    I don’t see how that’s not clear.

    Sci Fi – Aliens, spaceships, future, laserguns, robots
    Fantasy – Elves, Orcs wizards, dragons, magic
    Scifi/Fantasy – Orcs with laser guns (Warhammer 40000) :)

  14. @ Huggybear But some might ask is it still a fairy tale if its oriented negatively? Well it certainly could be called non-classical but doesn’t it qualify as mythical at that point?

  15. Is someone seriously suggesting that there is doubt as to whether or not Jurassic Park is actually science-fiction?

    I have read a fair number of hard sci-fi books, which have taken place entirely on other worlds, with no human interaction whatsoever. Where the creation of this otherworldly society is the entire focus of the book. A number of these books have even dealt with entire societies with absolutely NO technology whatsoever. Does that make them “fantasy”? No. These books could never be defined as belonging to the realm of “fantasy” rather than sci-fi.

  16. @ Mike E

    I was trying to say that Jurassic Park is most definitely a sci-fi film but most people don’t think of it as such. I think Avatar will be the same way; a Jurassic Park/Apocalypto style adventure movie set in a sci-fi world.

    Basically, i think it will be too good to classified by one title.

  17. Jurassic Park is a mix of genres. I would call it sci fi adventure. The only thing that bothers me in this topic is calling Avatar a fantasy movie. Sure, it can have elements of fantasy. But i fail to see any trademark fantasy elements except bows and arrows, but hey, robin hood had those and it does not make it a fantasy film. Na’vi look a little like elves. So you could say that film has some elements that have some subtle resemblance to fantasy. Calling it fantasy is absurd.

  18. I think it depends on more than just some elements most people associate with fantasy. After all Mr. Spock looks like a giant elf too. A Robin Hood story isn’t necessarily set in the real world, just because it’s about Robin Hood either. It’s where the physics is controlled from. Is it controlled by morality? It’s fairy tale then. No irreparable damage can occur to the positive hero? Fairy-tale. Of course in stories that have moved beyond the normal lines and have cross-bred genres. It’s possible to give them labels like “Final Fantasy” or “Passing Fantasy” as when referring to stories like “Metamorphosis” by Kafka.

  19. the error here is in the title of the article: “…the best FANTASY (NOT SCI-FI) film…”, and the apparent premise of the article.

    There is no justification for calling the film “fantasy”.
    It IS entirely a science fiction premise.
    No element of it can be regarded as “fantasy”.

    It is rather pointless to start trying to redefine terms that have existed for this length of time. I can call a dog a cat, but that doesn’t make it one.

  20. Sci-fi or fantasy (I lean more towards sci-fi), the movie looks good to me. Revolutionary? Not from the trailer but I have not seen it on the big screen yet, but this does look like a must-see for me.

  21. But Mike; What do you call a dog that has crossbred with a wolf or a lion with a tiger?

    That’s what is happening in todays world, it becomes puzzling??? We most certainly have a choice, we can try to confront it in some way or turn our backs on it. That is our choice, INMHO that isn’t a problem. Wouldn’t you agree?

  22. @ Old Man
    I don’t dispute that there are authors/writers who are trying to blur the lines between sci-fi and fantasy, and I see nothing wrong with that.

    This just isn’t one of those cases. Calling something “fantasy instead of sci-fi” isn’t actually going to make it “fantasy”, no matter how many times one might repeat it. If someone wishes to describe this film as “fantasy” (and I don’t mean in the sense of “flights of fancy” fantasy), they definitely need to justify this sudden urge to redefine the elements of sci-fi and those of fantasy.

  23. Personally Mike, I don’t think I can tell. I’ll have to see the story in It’s entirety to tell. In any case I think we do get an interesting movie during a holiday season not always known for having something interesting to watch. ;)

  24. It+s a sci-fi movie. Period. Making it seem like anything else just makes you seem like you don’t know what are you talking about.

  25. I suppose then you could write a story where 2×2=7? Any story you could come up with based on such a postulate would be fantasy not science fiction. It is impossible to realize any kind of logical impossibility. That’s what is wrong with science fiction today; ” The abolition of differences that have a categorical character. The passing off of myths and fairy tales for quasi-scientific hypotheses or their consequences.” I don’t see sufficient information about “Avatar,” from a logical premise, to make that judgement. Perhaps you care to elucidate your insight?

  26. Fantasy was an, obviously, debatable word choice but like i said; i know what he is talking about. If the characters in apocalypto lived on another planet and were blue you still wouldn’t consider it a sci-fi film.

  27. Guys, the title was just a play on the subject of the article (meant to bait you, of course – Gotcha!)

    Avatar as a whole is a movie with drawbacks (IMO).

    The Na’vi sequences (which are very much like a fantasy film – sci-fi/fantasy if you must – are the best parts of the movie.

    All I’m saying.

  28. “The Na’vi sequences (which are very much like a fantasy film – [[sci-fi/fantasy if you must]] – are the best parts of the movie. ”

    So you’re just guessing yourself. So after seeing the big previews and bringing all your experiences to bear all you have to share is your guess. I hate to break it to you Kofi, but anybody can do that!

    “Avatar as a whole is a movie with drawbacks (IMO). ”

    You sense the problems but you can’t say how it should be done, therefore you can’t formulate a clear and pointed criticism!

    This is indicitive of the second biggest problem in science fiction, it’s really a lost art and remains a hopeless case!

  29. So, Avatar is fantasy? Ok, The Saw is a comedy, The Matrix is a cartoon and Schindler’s list is a teen movie.