AVATAR Clips Lack Human Dimension

Sam Worthington as Jake Sully

Sam Worthington as Jake Sully

Just came back from the 3D IMAX screening of 16 minutes from James Cameron’s Avatar. Though it’s technically impressive, the preview left me cold emotionally. Based on the reaction of others in the theater and things I overheard on the way out (saw Linda Hamilton and Sam Worthington in the lobby), I’m probably in the minority.

Full disclosure: I’m a die-hard Cameron fan and have seen almost all his movies despite the fact I don’t really like sci-fi. That’s because he’s good at putting humans we can root for at the center of all his mind-blowing effects. The T-1000’s liquid metal body in Terminator 2: Judgment Day was brilliant but I loved the movie because of Linda Hamilton’s fierce fight to protect her son. Didn’t we all wish we had a badass mother like that? Likewise Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Aliens, and she wasn’t even Newt’s mom. And the sinking of the Titanic was jaw-dropping but the movie wouldn’t have become Box Office King of the World (still reigning) if we didn’t have Jack and Rose at the heart of the story (or should that be Heart of the Ocean?).

Which brings me to the central issue I had with the Avatar clips. Here’s the plot, excerpted from an official 20th Century Fox announcement:

The story’s protagonist, Jake Sully, is an ex-Marine who was wounded and paralyzed from the waist down in combat on Earth. In order to participate in the Avatar program, which will give him a healthy body, Jake agrees to travel to Pandora, a lush rainforest environment filled with incredible life forms – some beautiful, many terrifying.

Pandora is also the home to the Na’vi, a humanoid race that lives at what we consider to be a primate level, but they are actually much more evolved than humans. Ten feet tall and blue skinned, the Na’vi live harmoniously within their unspoiled world. But as humans encroach on Pandora in search of valuable minerals, the Na’vi’s very existence is threatened – and their warrior abilities unleashed.

Jake has unwittingly been recruited to become part of this encroachment. Since humans are unable to breathe the air on Pandora, they have created genetically-bred human-Na’vi hybrids known as Avatars. The Avatars are living, breathing bodies in the real world, controlled by a human driver through a technology that links the driver’s mind to the Avatar body. On Pandora, through his Avatar body, Jake can be whole once again. Moreover, he falls in love with a young Na’vi woman, Neytiri, whose beauty is matched by her ferocity in battle.

As Jake slides deeper into becoming one of her clan, he finds himself caught between the military-industrial forces of Earth, and the Na’vi – forcing him to choose sides in an epic battle that will decide the fate of an entire world.

Lang and Worthington

Lang and Worthington

The clips start out great with Stephen Lang, as Col. Quaritch, giving a pretty powerful speech to his gang of soldiers, explaining how his job is to keep them alive but that he knows he will fail. He says Pandora is such a hostile environment that afterwards, one might consider a vacation in hell. Lang is charismatic and tough, with a scar on the side of his head like he’d been gouged by a giant animal but somehow survived.

Then Jake rolls down in his wheelchair and we cut to him being transformed into an Avatar, a big blue creature with a tail and yellow eyes. The rest of the clips show Jake on Pandora, fighting scary dinosaur-like creatures and meeting Neytiri (voiced by Zoe Saldana). You can see some of this in the teaser trailer available here.

The visuals are stunning, especially in 3D. The wildlife on Pandora is beautiful and lush with lots of texture. But I felt like I was watching a video game, albeit one with a gigantic budget, because I just couldn’t get drawn into the story. I care about humans; I couldn’t quite relate to these strange blue creatures. Some of the Na’vi shown weren’t even that friendly, including Neytiri. I need a human guide in this alien world and a blue, virtual Jake wasn’t doing it for me.

Giovanni Ribisi & Weaver

Giovanni Ribisi & Weaver

Of course, I’m basing this on only 16 minutes of film. I’m still looking forward to seeing the movie and trust that Cameron knows how to make a good, if not great, one. I want to see more of Stephen Lang and Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Augustine (looks like she’s in charge of the Avatar transformations and an expert on Pandora’s indigenous creatures). And that battle between humans and Na’vi promises to be pretty amazing.

Did you see it? What did you think?

25 responses to “AVATAR Clips Lack Human Dimension

  1. Haven’t seen it. I don’t know of any screenings here yet.

    But I do feel the same. There’s a huge risk in doing a CGI film, and in that, Cameron might have lost a lot of the emotion that comes with a live actor… anyway, I’ll wait till I see the whole movie to judge. JC’s a great filmaker, and he might shut us up!

  2. I agree with you, PCN, on the emotional aspect of the scenes that were a part of the free Avatar screening. Although, given his track record (which you noted well) Cameron knows how to make his films resonate and reach the audience. But, I think last evening was more to dazzle with the technology that was showcased.

    When I first viewed the teaser trailer this week, it looked like many CGI generated films I’ve seen. And though that didn’t seem all that special, when it came to last night it didn’t compare at all with the 3D effects employed at the screening. Wow! It really immersed one. And Stephen Lang made such an entrance (though I shouldn’t be surprised, he overshadowed Bale in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies this summer in the supporting role).

    PCN, did you have 3D trailers at your screening? We did, and the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and the Alice in Wonderland trailers were worth the drive to South Gate, alone. Those are going to be a blast, too. Thanks.

  3. I was one of the lucky few who got to see it at the Universal IMax last night and I had a blast!

    The crowd was excited and there was that kind of buzz in the place like we were all about to see the greatest movie ever made, then the lights went down, the 3-D glasses went on… there was James Cameron floating right in front of us setting up the clip.

    Don’t know if it was everything I thought it was going to be, but I wasn’t exactly bored. The clips were a bit disjointed, but I could get the gist of it and enjoyed myself. One thing I that always concerns me is the eyes of the characters. Once they switch to animation mode, the stark reality of how animation technology just can’t get the eyes quite right is always staring you in the face. But I think they did okay with one. The theatre announced that they were selling early tickets to the December opening, but I didn’t buy. A lot of people did though.

    It wasn’t bad, but you are right, PCN, it lacks heart. Felt more like Starship Troopers with better special effects.

  4. Pop Culture Nerd

    Poncho, I would love for Cameron to shut us all up in December! I want to be blown away by this movie.

    LP13, I love SFX and chase scenes and all that stuff, as long as it’s anchored by characters I care about. Fox & Cameron should’ve realized they weren’t showing this at an E3 Expo but to regular movie lovers.

    We didn’t have any trailers before the preview (does that sound ridiculous?). I’d seen the 3D trailer for Meatballs before Up but haven’t seen the Wonderland trailer that way. The 2D version is wild enough; did the 3D version make you feel like you were on speed?

    Reader#9, the Cameron intro was cool! He made it feel more personal. And you’re right about eyes in animation—it’s hard to get them right (Polar Express, anyone?). The Avatar’s eyes were okay here but they were yellow and not exactly human-looking so that didn’t help matters for me.

  5. News to me about “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”. . . . really good news. I;m so looking forward to that. Thank you.

  6. i only saw the trailer at the theater, and i have to agree … i felt like i had seen it plenty of times before, in video games. as of now, it doesn’t look like something i’d be interested in seeing, and i was really looking forward to it, too. if it gets great reviews, i’ll probably bite.

  7. Pop Culture Nerd

    Lizabeth Ann, Meatballs is scheduled for release Sept. 18 in the U.S. All my nieces and nephews are looking forward to it, too!

    who some have, did you see it in 3D? If not, I imagine you were even more unmoved than I was since you didn’t have the technology to dazzle you.

    • @PCN: i didn’t get to see it in 3D unfortunately. i’m sure the 3D effects would’ve been cool, but my overall impression probably would’ve been unchanged. it just reminded me of an intro to “Halo” (on the Xbox) or [insert name of other sci-fi oriented video game]. *shrugs*

  8. Oh no…so sorry to hear about the lacking heart factor. I have had that problem with Cameron’s movies ever since he peaked (in my book) with “The Abyss”. Your review just confirms my worst fears about this movie…so sad…

  9. What do you mean he peaked with The Abyss?! What about T2? Titanic was awesome, too! I KNOW you cried your ass off.

  10. Now this is more of what I expected: check out the new trailer for Avatar. What do you think, PCN? Thanks.

    • Pop Culture Nerd

      I saw this the other day because they’re showing it before This Is It. I’m glad they showed more of the humans; it looks less like a video game. But it still didn’t blow me away. I like trailers that make me think, “Oh YEAH! I wanna see that NOW!” and this didn’t do it.

      What did you think?

      • I know since it was early (August), a lot of the effects (in a FX-ladened film as this one is) were not fully rendered yet. But, the sequences in the new trailer I found more compelling than what they sneaked to us, back then. Still, if Cameron doesn’t have a very good story to tell here, the FX aren’t going to mean much. It’ll be interesting to see what comes out in the weeks remaining, PCN. Thanks.

      • Check out today’s Hero Complex blog post regarding the new Avatar trailer. I did download and run it, and it offered some cool aspects to the film.

  11. Seems like this film is getting some positive early reviews. See Roger Ebert’s tweet on it?

    “One man in Hollywood knows how to spend $300 million wisely. My “Avatar” review. http://j.mp/54Y4GD

    • Hey, I was going to e-mail you about the same thing! I didn’t see that tweet but I’ve been reading a bunch of enthusiastic reviews from the trades, Entertainment Weekly and the like. I’m a little more excited now though EW mentions something I’m still worried about: The movie lacks heart.

  12. Ok, I have to say I’m starting to get excited about the movie. Maybe the marketing blitz is getting to me? They keep talking about it as a whole new experience, so I’m liking it to trying out a new amusement park ride. And I DID really enjoy T2, Alien, Titanic. So … guess I’m officially game! (unless the reviews are really bad)

    • Pop Culture Nerd

      Early reviews have been positive! I’m hopeful again, though Entertainment Weekly said it still lacks heart, which would be a big problem for me if true.

      I plan to see it this Friday and review it here so stay tuned!

  13. Well….Did you see it? Was it NOT amazing??

  14. Well…after the movie ended, I immediately thought back to try and remember a time when I had experienced such a feeling of awe before and then it struck me…yes…Titanic! I’m a big fan of James Cameron and a Scifi/fantasy geek to be sure but I’m also a film buff in general and I have to say that this movie delivered. Much of the story line was predictable and there was really not much character development but I was very much on board with the theme and though he either stole or paid homage to many books and movies (at times I was keeping count- Pocahontas and Last of the Mohicans really come to mind) he still managed to keep me interested and sympathetic to the characters because he presents this all in a fresh and interesting way. I don’t know where to begin on the effects but trust me… they were unbelievable and well worth the price of admission. I’m going to see it again in 3D. How many times in recent memory could you say you wished a movie wouldn’t end? That’s the feeling you get and I haven’t felt that way in a long time.

    • Pop Culture Nerd

      That sounds amazing and very similar to what le0pard13 thought (he e-mailed me). I was also blown away by Titanic (I cried just reading the script before the movie came out) so if you’re comparing this to that then I can’t wait. It’s so exciting when movies can transport us in the way you describe.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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