Friday, August 21, 2009

[First Look] James Cameron's Avatar

I suppose by now there are a number of you who might have gotten tickets to watch the exclusive 15 minutes preview of James Cameron's Avatar. Over here in Singapore the special screenings came in the form of lucky draws, and yours truly got the opportunity to watch it being projected on the big screen in 3D. Twice.

Let's get the 3D aspect out of the way first. Perhaps the effects have not been fully done up for this preview, or there are still areas for improvement. Cameron never shied away from technology and has almost constantly pushed the boundaries for that cinematic experience, but somehow the ones featured in this preview fell short of expectations, other than very nicely rendered flora, and nastily looking fauna.

I may be jumping the gun here, but the preview allowed for a deeper glimpse into the storyline, which to me seemed a lot more similar to Dances with Wolves, where the protagonist opts to go on a volunteer mission, and comes up close and personal with a different culture, with clashes of course, through which he learns more about self, with a romantic angle thrown in as well. It didn't help that the blue alien humanoids are skilled in the use of bows and poisoned arrows, and are garbed in what looked akin to Sioux outfits. As I said I may be wrong, but that's the impression gained from this preview.

In any case I'll launch into the specific scenes shown tonight, and for those who are spoiler tolerant, read on then:

James Cameron appears on screen and introduces the movie, checking with the audience that we have our 3D glasses available. He explains that there's no much of a spoiler in the scenes to come since they are all taken from the 1st half of the film, and welcomes us to the world of Avatar where beauty and danger awaits.

First Scene
It's a military styled briefing by the head of security inside a secure compound, where we learn of the excellent archery capabilities of the humanoids on the other side of the fence. Sam Worthington's Jake, a paralyzed marine veteran appears midway through the briefing in a wheelchair, in what should be the opening scene for his character.

Second Scene
This scene shows Sigourney Weaver opposite Sam Worthington, where she packs him into a capsule and prepares for a scientific process of brain mapping the humans into empty humanoid vessels, something akin to a brain transfer or copy, and thus an avatar of the alien humanoid is born. Not much gets explained here though, and my speculation is that human soldiers get their humanoid body equivalent through a mind transplant of sorts in order to infiltrate enemy territory in what could be spying missions. We see the avatars and the humanoids up close, which is about 8 foot tall, long limbs, blue skin and a tail. Jake becomes emotionally overwhelmed when he can finally feel his feet, and can't wait to be up and about again, breaking out of the facility.

Third Scene
Set in a jungle where the platoon (consisting of Worthington and Weaver's avatars) encounters some strange creatures, such as a cross between a rhino and a hammerhead shark, and a nasty panther hybrid with 6 legs, which provide for some intense and yet noisily constructed chase sequence.

Fourth Sceme
Jake is saved by an alien, who turned out like the warning in Scene 1, to be an excellent archer and female fighter. She takes down some numbers of creatures in order to save Jake, who ends up in a scene which enabled the filmmakers to show off their very colourful and beautifully rendered garden of eden equivalent.

Fifth Scene
The female humanoid speaks about sadness and has a conversation with Jake, where it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that there's the first sparks of love and romance sown in this scene. I swear though, if there's one more movie after this where Sam Worthington's character gets told “You Have A Strong Heart”, there should be someone out there who could make spoofs out of this particular line.

Sixth Scene
Replace Dances with Wolves' iconic buffalo scene, with something reminiscent of a typical cowboy movie where the hero tames a wild horse. Similarly, Jake gets to tame his own wild mode of transportation, a winged creature in which he must assimilate with his pigtail (Don't ask). Plenty of dragon-like winged creatures pepper the landscape in his short quest to find one, tame it, and take it out on their first flight together to seal the obedience.

Subsequent Montage
What happens here is a montage of large scaled attacks between the humanoids and the human military, where I feel will again be critical of the innate war-mongering nature that stains our humanity We see huge invasions, the participation of mechas (which I feel is slowly being overused by Hollywood), and a tender moment between two lovers, before the film title came up, and the preview session ended.

All in all I'm not too impressed by both the storyline and CGI, which offered nothing cutting edge, or not seen before. Hopefully James Cameron has a lot more tricks up his sleeve that were left out of his preview and continued to be kept under wraps for the movie's big day. One can only hope for the best since these 15 minutes hardly whetted any appetite.

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