I have to say, first and foremost, that I went into the Avatar screening today as a fan. Plain and simple. I can’t say anything to the claims that this will change how movies are made, I’m not an expert at dissecting production or writing or directing. When I go to a movie, my expectation is simple: I have to like it.
I loved Avatar.
16 minutes of 2-3 minute clips was all we had, and I didn’t want it to end. When it was over, I felt like only a few minutes had passed, I wanted to be back in that world. Seeing it all in IMAX and 3D was an experience I don’t think the trailer can ever hope to replicate. I may not know particulars about how the movie was made, but I can easily say this was some of the best CGI work I have ever seen.
As for the clips themselves…I was caught up in it. There were a few groans every time a clip came to an end. Everyone wanted to know more.
“My job is to bring you all back alive,” a scarred commander says to a group of soldiers as he briefs them on Pandora, the dangerous fictional land Avatar is based in. “I can’t do that.” This is our introduction to Pandora, described as a place worse than hell, where every single thing alive wants to kill you. As commander addresses his men and gives us some exposition on Pandora, Jake Sully wheels into the room.
(Intermission as I profess my love for Sam Worthington.)
Jake is our hero, and he’s going through the avatar process for the first time, taking us along with him. As a paraplegic, Jake’s obviously thrilled when he first wakes up as his avatar. He doesn’t listen to a word the doctors are saying to get him used to the body, destroys half the infirmary then bounds out in childlike glee.
Next, Jake, Sigourney Weaver’s character and another soldier I assume will be Jake’s buddy in the film face down a few creatures. It’s the first clip in Pandora, and this is just – it’s stunning. It’s beautiful. From the animals to the people (and I can’t think of them as anything but, they’re so amazingly done) to the action scene where Jake, previously all bravado, is chased by a giant animal that wants him as a snack. He runs and runs, and in a gorgeous bit of action the animal bounds after him, one arm outstretched, almost about to take him down- and end scene.
We’re treated next to a night scene where Jake meets Neytiri, Zoe Saldana’s character. She beats a pack of dog-like animals away to save him, killing one of them, and reacts with anger when he tries to thank her. This is our first taste of the obvious differences between the genetically made human avatars and the natural Na’vi, inhabitants on Pandora. “No thank,” Neytiri says. “Sad.” She says the animal didn’t have to die. It died because of him. When he asks why she saved him, then, she only says he has a strong heart – then calls him a baby, making noise because he doesn’t know better.
This scene, my God. It’s night on Pandora, and everything glows. Flouresces. Plants, flowers, trees, the freckles on their skin…it’s just stunning. I’m running out of adjectives here.
Next, we go a bit forward in time, where Jake’s obviously integrating with the Na’vi, and goes through some sort of ritual: he has to somehow tame a flying animal and bond with it. How will he know if one of the animals will choose him? “It will try to kill you,” one of the Na’vi says, and laughs. While watching this scene, it occurred to me that one of the things Avatar benefits from being all CGI on Pandora is that bits like this, where a Na’vi interacts with such fantastical animals, it isn’t a motion captured person riding a bouncing saddle. It’s all so natural looking, you forget it’s not real.
I feel like I’m missing another scene, but those were the ones that struck me most, that I keep replaying in my mind. After that it was a collection of clips much like the last 30 seconds of the trailer, and then…that was it.
To be honest, I can’t imagine any storyline taking place in this movie that won’t get lost in the beauty of it, but that’s where Avatar soars; in how immersive, how enthralling the world is. James Cameron and everyone across the planet can hype it up as much as they want, but in the end the product will speak for itself. I don’t know that this is anything truly groundbreaking, but there is a richness and depth to this creation that I’ve never seen before. It’s like every single frame, every single leaf, every ripple of water, every reflection, every shade of color was picked meticulously and slaved over until it all fit together seamlessly. I know Weta Workship is one of the companies that have been working on Avatar, and they’ve easily outstripped their stellar work in Lord of the Rings and King Kong.
It was like a real world, and after the first scene taking place solely in Pandora (and thus 100% CGI), I forgot that none of this was real.
I caught myself wishing it were.
(Will definitely be seeing Avatar in IMAX when it’s out in theatres on December 18th.)