Review: Avatar (Avatar Day footage)

Note: My full Avatar review can be found in a different entry, this is just a writeup from when I saw the 15-minute preview of the film in mid-2009. For the full review of the movie, please go here: Dave On Film Review: Avatar

Along with what was apparently a smaller number of film geeks than was expected, I dutifully showed up at the local RealIMAX “quasi-IMAX” screen (see my earlier article on RealIMAX versus IMAX) to see 16 minutes of James Cameron’s much discussed, ultra-expensive Avatar footage unveiled, in all of its 3D glory.

I’m going to include a number of stills from the Avatar trailer to illustrate some of what I’ll talk about in this review, but I’ll start out by saying WOW, the footage was breathtaking in its crisp, alien realism and sporadically terrific with its 3D effectiveness.

avatar still 1
What I was most interested in was the story because, after all, even amazing digital effects can’t make a great movie: if there’s not an engaging story to tie it around, no-one is going to care and it’s going to be a boring demo reel, not a movie.
From the footage screened, however, it’s clear that there’s an interesting story – albeit one that’s been told and retold dozens of times in modern cinema….


Avatar is about the challenge and dilemma facing a soldier who has “gone native”. That is, their mission was to represent their own nation and culture while living within another culture and people. There are a number of brilliant films that have addressed this topic, importantly with the protagonist gaining a sympathy, liking, and eventually identification with the foreign culture, including some of my very favorites, notably Lawrence of Arabia, Dances with Wolves and A Passage to India, just to name three.

In Avatar, the setting is shockingly, dramatically different than anything we’ve seen on screen before, but the basic storyline is thus: a handicapped soldier, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), confined to a wheelchair and without any use of his legs, is stationed on the far-distant planet Pandora where “everything wants to eat you or kill you”, from the vegetation to the wildlife to the natives.

avatar still 2
The planet is so incredibly hostile, in fact, that human soldiers wouldn’t last five minutes and instead they control completely immersive “avatars”, 15-foot tall blue creatures adapted to the planet’s atmosphere and environment. The first still in this article shows Sully awakening in his avatar body and delighting that his avatar legs work perfectly.
The rest of the film footage we were shown takes place on Pandora, with the military complex left far behind and Sully’s actual human body nestled in a CAT-scan-like device deep within the medical facility.

avatar still 3
There are no icebergs, but James Cameron, director of the blockbuster Titanic knows well that without a love interest, it’s not going to be a very satisfying film experience, so Sully, in native Na’Vi form, meets and falls for a local alien female called Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). She “adopts” him (in a manner that I’m guessing is quite unlike how most of the military avatars are attacked and, most likely, killed as soon as they show up on Pandora) and leads him through a variety of coming-of-age rituals in her culture that are part of the popular “going native” (or, perhaps, “hero’s journey”) mythic tale.
avatar still 4

In one striking sequence, shown above (that’s Sully’s avatar in the center of the image), Sully must fight a pterodactyl-like creature and force it to succumb to his will and thereby become his mount, his means of air travel on the planet. Think “wrangling that crazy mustang” from a classic coming-of-age Western, but very alien, and you’ve got the gist of the scene. It’s breathtaking and the realism of the creatures, the humanoids and even the landscape rendering is quite literally astonishing.

For reasons we don’t learn in the footage that was included in the “Avatar Day” 16 minutes, the military decides to attack en masse and after learning to appreciate the beautiful, dangerous, very alien world of Pandora, we are then faced with typical military craft, gun fire, explosions, and more, all very similar to the cheesy Starship Troopers
Here’s a pic from that portion of the film:

avatar still 5

Knowing the basics of the “going native” sort of storyline, I can guess that Sully defends his alien female Neytiri from his own troops, then faces the dilemma of his human body being ensconced in the military complex while his alien avatar exists non-autonomously on Pandora itself. Will he be able to separate the two and live exclusively in his alien body? One presumes that’s the central question of the film.
I was really blown away by the 3D RealIMAX footage and found it a more intense experience than regular film, certainly the kind of experience that makes me eager to see this when it opens in December. 
That isn’t to say that there aren’t still big questions being discussed in the sci-fi and film geek worlds, including whether Avatar will look über-realistic or will the visual effects break down in certain portions, but since I’m more interested in the story anyway, I’ll wait impatiently to see the other footage and finally be able to learn how Cameron tackles a classic film story in a way that’s uniquely his own.
I’m not alone in being darn curious about this film either: The Avatar trailer has already been viewed over four million times, far breaking the record of previous popular movie trailers on the Apple site.
My thanks to a variety of sites and authors who helped with the research of this article, including Anne Thompson’s Indiewire blog, Lauren Davis’ splendid piece on io9.com and accompanying photo gallery, Pamela McClintock’s piece for Variety, and Steve Oatney’s film blog, where most of the pictures originated.
Note: My full Avatar review can be found in a different entry, this is just a writeup from when I saw the 15-minute preview of the film in mid-2009. For that full review, please go here: Dave On Film Review: Avatar

16 thoughts on “Review: Avatar (Avatar Day footage)

  1. Steve Oatney

    I’ve only got one word to say about the 16-minutes of footage… I’M GOING TO SEE THIS MOVIE OPENING DAY!!! Okay, wait, that was like eight words, sorry. Heh. See you there!

    Reply
  2. Larbi Nafi

    I was invited to Fox Studios by the great James Cameron, what i have seen was beyond what i had expected.Has been working 16 hours a day for the last sixteen weeks, no days off. He spned most of his day walking between the sound dubbing room and 3D room. Can’t wait for December 18th.

    Reply
  3. Ronn

    I’ve seen this film…IMO…this film is crap, 3rd grade 3D effects plus a waste of time and money.
    what have you you done James Cameron?
    I’m disappointed :-(

    Reply
  4. MEDE

    I SAW THE I MAX 3D THIS AFTERNOON AND FELT LIKE I JUST LIVED THRU THE EXPERIENCE, IT WAS THAT GRATIFYING TO THE SENSES, IT IS A MUST SEE AND THIS COMING FROM A GUY WHO SEE ONLY 2 MOVIES A YEAR IN THE THEATRES BECAUSE IM A DADDY OF 3!!!

    Reply
  5. Agnomonus

    December 18. The best movie I ever saw. Drove an hour to see it in 3D. I will see it again in three days – if I can wait that long. It will take a while to understand how it has changed my life. I’m ready to be a blue alien.

    Reply
  6. Rayvinlunatic

    I have to say I left the theater wanting more and looking for the sign-up sheet for the Avatar program. LOL
    this would have to be the first movie I have ever seen that I fell in love with the planet, the race (Na’Vi) I was unable to see a flaw in the movie. It was like a new age Pocahontas of sorts, The Na’Vi remind me of what we have come to know Indians of old.
    I will end this with a Cheers to Cameron and the crew, You have made me a believer!

    Reply
  7. Wakeup

    AVATAR is a total insult to American
    and allied forces fighting in the Middle
    East. So by Mr. Camerons thinking the Taliban are the peace loving folks and the US and its allies are the bad guys.
    What a insult. Its so obvious with the references to “pre-emptive attack” and “shock and awe” in this film. Way to go Mr.Cameron, way to demonize American and allied soldiers. Mr. Cameron you should be ashamed. ASHAMED.

    Reply
  8. Knowledgehammer

    I’ll be perfectly honest. This movie was an astonishing dissapointment. First off, who the F*** gives a rats ass about the CGI… it will ALWAYS get better… so much so, that it seems morons of this day and age believe a good movie is based on graphics. NO! it is NOT something new and unique, as the storyline is a rehash of every simpleton plot out there for the last 100 years. Lets get to the heart of the issues, the inconsistencies. Shall I list them…

    1. Horrible MAIN character – Played out Marine character, with no background other than ‘ he wouldn’t quit ‘, but yet not revealing anything about how in the hell a parapeligic could get recruited as a MARINE???

    2. The Economy??? – In nearly every reference to earth, they said, we killed our mother and now it seems we are raping another planet just the same. If the resources of earth are literally so dwindling, how in the hell then are we still money based in our society. Money is printed by the world banks to increase or decrease the value of it worldwide… how bad is it then that earth is a husk of a world, with everyone desperate to leave, YET, they have what seems trillions & trillions to spare for weapons, private contracted military (Who seem to work directly for the corporations), tons and mega-tons of construction equipment, and so much more… yet all I hear is about how the economy is crumbling and the main dude can’t even afford basic spinal surgery. C’mon guys…

    3. CGI the Best? – Seriously, the CGI is outstanding, but it does not make a movie that much better, if those very same characters are doing and saying stuff I have heard from disney films and the like. If the CGI makes a movie, then it must mean that every new movie that comes out with graphics equal to 2012 or Avatar are by DEFINITION, excellent movies…. give me a break. Its an animators future portfolio… thats all. I mean, SVA students in NYC can create this for college projects! lol

    4. The Villain! – Sadly, many movies are taking the leap of faith and grasping for political venues to move their concepts forward. This is no different, with a seriously Ferned Gully approach to realizing that life is all connected. So without further ado, we present the anglo-saxon aggresive… the texas ranger without a care in the world other than shooting blue coons… as the movie seems to imply multiple times in dialogue as well as appearance. He talks worse than a cartoon or video game dialogue character, h for some reason or another has no mention of earth,or why he so adamant to defend it, and never does he actually say anything other than stuff to start the war… very boring.

    5. Technicalities Galore!!!! – If the atmosphere is toxic enough to cause death in 4 minutes due to lung exposure, why then are their skins exposed during the entire movie. If they lack economy to maintain the planet earth, why then do we have private companies with vast resources mining rocks across the galaxy? If they are all connected thru a network of energy and wisdom and voices, why then did they have to fly around to communicate with the other clans.. and for that reason, why have clans anyway? If they are all woven into the cycle of life on Pandora, why then are so many left standing without a clue until big blue marine rides in on his ultra-colored dragon butterfly (Thats exactly what they look like!)

    If most of the species on Pandora breathe through gills on their chests, why then can they propel massive grunts and yowls… where is the logic of that? Why did they not reveal the nature of the ribs and massive structures surrounding the ‘tree of life’, a common theme in many, many medieval and fantasy movies and anime. Why is every species bigger than a rabbit on Pandora equipped with fiber-optic cabling in their horns or hair? Do the Na’Vi all have a tentacle growing out the back of their heads, and if so, why does it have hair braided around it in a seemingly perfect fashion when Sully’s Avatar is being grown in the tank on base. If the tribes of the Na’Vi are all linked thru a network of energy across the planet, and all tribes listen and follow the words of their spirit guide who interprets the ‘well of energy’, why did the ancient woman have to ask so many questions and why were not the other clans aware of the dangers presented by the humans. Why weren’t the plants glowing until she turned off the torch… wasnt it nighttime already? Why would humans, who are ludicrously worried about money and efficiency, spend trillions upon trillions to exploit resources sitting UNDER a native village, when it seemed that an ENTIRE PLANET was available to cultivation. They were so cheesy with the plot, they explained it was the richest source of materials within 200 clicks… meaning 2000 kilometers.

    Seriously, if you travelled millions of miles in space to reach a planet to collect resources, wouldn’t you scan the whole planet for better spots than one sitting under a whole civilization who just might cost more to your company than just time or money… maybe lives? Why, if the magnetic & energy properties of the valley of the tree of life was so distorted that instruments and lock-on wasn’t available… why then could he fight within the field without having his AVATAR transmission signal interupted by the distortion ‘flux’. Do the Na’Vi have mating organs, or it their main reproductive organ their fiber-optic connection? Because if so, it would mean that every species can inter-procreate, since they ALL seem to share the neuro-interface in their horns. If the planet has more connected synapse branches than a human brain, then why did the planet not think to defend itself with its indiginous animal population sooner than when the marine called upon its help.

    Why was every single creature of decent size loaded with 4 arms and 2 legs, yet the Na’Vi are humanoid to the core, even lacking feral claws or toe nails… which made absolutely no sense! If they are of nature, they would have such attributes… even natives of earth who dwell in the forests and jungles, have stronger teeth, nails and toe nails that protrude slightly out and are incredibly resistant to breaking. If the Na’Vi are so loving of life, why do they hunt and not live off of the natural plant life??? Even human vegans would have a problem with this ‘ eco-friendly- way of living. Why are they flying around on x-wing styles raptor butterflies…. for what reason? They have no enemies to defend against other than humans, as it seems the tribes of the Na’Vi are all peaceful to each other????? If there are entire mountains floating around, powered by the electrical current of the vines connected to them, why then did they not simply cut the vines to one of the massive floating rocks and let it simply fall to mine it??? Why are there not insects of any kind in this movie?…. a human outpost with everyone skin’s exposed, yet they are not worried about bacteria, atmosphere exposure nor local insects????

    And that’s the SHORT list of errors!

    This movie was a travesty of time, money and waste of time. The budget spent on this crap could have created schools, helped the starving or even been put to the development of technologies to help people. Instead, it was used as a means to lock people into the false idea of ‘save the planet from humans’ who on this planet are not to blame for the corporate structure surrounding them and destroying their ‘ mother’. I know many of you love saying this movie is unique, outstanding and the best there is…. but if that were true, why would they have to spend so much time, effort and money in trying to convince you its the closest thing to meeting jesus christ???

    Bottom line, it was a college project gone CGI. If anyone has an answer for the questions I put out there, other than ones defending the mainstream nonsense of the herd… I’d love to hear them!

    [Note: this comment was edited to remove obscenities –Dave]

    Reply
  9. Rayvinlunatic

    *claps*

    Wow way to speak so very liberally, did you learn that from out president himself? The only thing you have succeeded in doing here is show that you are a douche that can rip apart something that many find some happiness in during such trying times in our lifetimes. I say Cheers to Mr. Cameron for finding a way (even if it was not up to Knowledgehammer’s so very high standards) to give us people who have to work and keep our minds on things that REALLY matter a bit of fun in our lives.
    To you Mr. Knowledgehammer it is a lot sadder to think that someone with such a keen eye would waste his “Talents” over thinking a movie and not enough of his time doing something useful. For the rest of us who like to have a hour or two of our live enjoyable this movie was great as you will seen in most reviews you see. Does this mean that we are sheep? No I think it means we did not OVER THINK a movie that was very good. As for you Mr. Knowledgehammer, how about you go back to a group of your like minded D-bags and talk about why the movie “Gone with the Wind” was stupid because it had nothing to do with Wind!

    I will be seeing this move at lease TWO more times in the theater, once because I have to see it in I-MAX and once for my good friend Knowledgehammer, Do not worrie Mr. Cameron you will not loose money. ;)

    Reply
  10. Lindsay

    *sigh….. ok, let me start by acknowledging that everyone is entitled to their own opinion! And my opinion of your opinion is that it is remarkably un-educated! I would lie to state for the record, that I have maybe commented on blogs like this once or twice in my life, but you really need to be put in your place. It is clear by your analysis that you know very little about biology, evolution, and economics! Yet you feel authorized to make conclusions where this movie is concerned, wich highly irritates me! First of all, there were insects in the movie, way to pay attention! To call the Na’vi humaniod, is to insult them. I feel obligated to remind you that this was a fictional story. That said, as an evolutionary scientist with a focus on modern biology, I was impressed with the conclusions this story gave concerning the natural habitat of Pandora. You can tell that they actually worked with Biologist to assemble thier ideas. The point, that you so obviously missed is that all the living things were connected. That no life form was independant of the others. This is also true in real life, although not as obviolsy. What they were trying to do is help people to understand how much all living things are reliant on one another, and to emphasize the importance of placing value on life and not on wealth. Comments like yours make me really sad because when I saw this movie, I thought, maybe people will start to ‘get it’. Guess not. I’m not trying to be mean, but, your ignorance is damaging enough on it’s own, so don’t go spreading it around! Second, there are always going to be very rich people and very poor people! A good economy exhists when you have a healthy balance with a stong middle class. The movie got it RIGHT! In a damaged economy you will have disgustingly rich people like the benefactor in the movie, and you will have very poor people, that can’t even afford to get proper medical treatment (sound familiar). If you didn’t like the movie, then just say that! Don’t attempt to make an analysis that is deviod of fact or intelligent thought. I find it awfully far fetched to claim a movie completely devoid of religion “the closest thing to meeting jesus christ”. The lack of religion shows the intelligence of the story and your mention of it shows your lack. You should pick up some college level text books on evolutionary biology and economic megatrends, and then see the movie again! Maybe you, like myself will be deeply move by a story that shows us just how un-enlightened we really are. A story that shows us how evolved we could be if we would just see the importance of our differences, learn from our environment, and understand what true “wealth” really is.

    Reply
  11. Ralph

    Very well said. And I kinda a agree with what was said in the previous comment. It was a great movie, with great special effects and awesome plot. Everybody should see this movie. If it were even real I thing i’d like to be a Na’vi

    Reply
  12. Rayvinlunatic

    Cheer on you Lindsay!! *claps*

    It is nice to see a truly educated person giving a review of this movie.

    With that said I have seen this movie 2 more times since my last posting, and have yet to get to the IMAX theater. The only place playing it is in the next town over. With that said I will ask a very dumb question. To anyone who has seen it in both IMAX 3D and Digital 3D, is it worth seeing in IMAX 3D?

    Reply
  13. rifi

    Rayvinlunatic it is worth it to watch it in IMAX 3D!!!! i have seen it twice in IMAX 3D looks twice as amazing, Story line was good, GO watch it!, althought 3D has a darkening effect which is probably why James Camron made it very vivid. I haven’t watched it in non-3D s0o i dont know how different it looks…Mr.Knowledgehammer obviously doesn’t know how to enjoy a movie, and overthinks every single thing. Yes the basic plot has been done before, yes there wasn’t alot of detail about the background of the main character, but how do you expect to fit s0oo much into a 150 min movie? I Loved the Movie either way, i read a smart critic say “like all of James Camron’s Movies, there are good qualities that make it a very good movie and there are enough bad qualities that can make it a very bad movie, just enjoy the good and ignore the bad.

    Reply

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