SDCC 09: Hunter’s Thoughts on the Presentation of James Cameron’s AVATAR

     July 24, 2009


If you thought the toy images from yesterday were cool, just wait until you hear about the  TWENTY-FIVE MINUTES of footage shown today in Hall-H. Plus, find out how you can see this footage, in a theater, for free.

Read on to find out all the details and click here to read Matt’s thoughts on the presentation.

3:22 The audience is massively applauding and James Cameron hasn’t even hit the stage.

3:25 Cameron is on stage. Lots of claptrap talk. Namedrops Rodenberry, Kubrick, and Heinlein as influences.

3:27 they’re showing us 25 minutes of footage!

Cameron: “How many of you have ever wanted to go to another planet?”

The footage begins with a pair of military boots clomping on the floor as Steven Lang’s character explains the violent realities of life on Pandora. His face has a massive scar on it that appears to be from claw marks. He comments that most of the people in the room will be dead in short order.

Next we see Sam Worthington as he gets ready to join his brain with the Avatar body. Sigorney Weaver has a nice moment as a scientist who butts heads with Worthington’s character.

And finally, after years of speculation we finally see a Na’Vi in motion. And, I gotta say, I was impressed. The eyes and facial movements took a moment to get used to, but as soon as Worthington’s Avatar wakes up and starts walking around (significant because his human form is disabled) I stopped looking at a special effect and started looking at a character. It’s not photo-realistic at all, but it is fascinating to look at and Worthington’s voice conveys a lot of joy.

avatar_behind_the_scenes_james_cameron.jpgCutting ahead in the film we are offered the chance to see many of the creatures from the toy display as a group of Avatar soldiers walks through the lush jungles of Pandora. The action is visceral and the beasties move with weight. It’s otherworldly and very reminiscent of John Carter of Mars. The 3D means that the camera moves on a very smooth track, even during the most intense moments, which is strange after a half-decade of all-shaky-cam-all-the-time, but the composition is solid and the 3D is deep and involving instead of gaudy and annoying.

Somehow, Worthington gets separated from the other Avatars and runs into a Na’Vi who is about to kill him until a creature that I can best describe as a flying squid touches down on the tip of her arrow. In a series of short scenes we see how this female Na’Vi protects Worthington and begins to draw him into the native culture of Pandora.

Finally, we see a sequence of Worthington attempting a Na’Vi rite of passage as he fights and tames a dragon with the help of a rope and the dragon equivalent of catnip.

The footage is immersive. Those worried about a Sin City or 300-style world can rest easy, the filmmakers have crafted a world with depth and breadth. The characters interact fully with their world. Many of the plants even glow like underwater creatures when they are touched. Cameron has clearly paid close attention to the alien world at the bottom of the ocean and included details in his vision of Pandora.


3:56 Cameron, John Landau, Sigorney Weaver, Steven Lang Zoe Saldana come out.

3:58 Lang gives a speech in character, explaining the perspective of the government within the film and setting up the conflict between the earthlings and the Na’Vi.

3:58 Saldana is gorgeous and eloquent. However, it seems like she is reading a script. In fact, everything about this panel has been heavily scripted.

3:59 Worthington does a video hello.

Weaver on working with Cameron again: “The moth came back to the flame”

Saldana trained in horseback riding, weight lifting, wushu, and dialect coaching.

Cameron did lots of research, down to the composition of the atmosphere. The head of linguistics at USC created the language. There was also a movement coach to train the actors in a totally alien type of movement.

avatar_movie_image_james_cameron_and_sam_worthington.jpgMilitary appears to be the villain in Avatar which is uncharacteristic of Cameron who’s films have generally been very conservative. Earlier he even referenced Heinlein as an influence. (Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers which as been criticized as a fascist piece, most notably in the movie which spoofed the original more than it adapted it).

Cameron and Arnold have discussed a return to acting, but it doesn’t seem like there is anything solid at this point. The ball appears to be in Arnold’s court.

No Michael Bein for Avatar.

The questions here are just as bad as in many of the other panels, but the fans do less gushing.

Digital Domain was the root of Avatar because Cameron wanted to push the company, which he was running at the time. Gollum was a big inspiration for the feasibility of the film.

Weaver admired her science teachers in high school and they inspired her in her role here.

The film felt like a “rain cloud ready to rain”. The movie seemed timelier now than when he wrote the treatment over a decade ago. The film seems like a battle between the human industrialists and the Na’Vi, but since there are only humans to watch it. The Na’Vi represent the best parts of humanity, the parts we aspire to while the industrialists represent us when we fail to reach our potential.

Cameron is gonna take over teathers on August 21 and show footage of the film for FREE, all over the world. I-MAX 3D screens and normal 3d screens.

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