It’s his first commercial film since “Titanic,” and judging by the 25-minute preview unveiled at Comic-Con,
James Cameron’s “Avatar” will be every bit the spectacle as his Oscar-winning film from 1997.
The animated “Avatar” is set on a distant, lush planet called Pandora, a super-saturated world filled with 1,000-foot trees, exotic, near fluorescent forests, fearsome predators and an indigenous people known as the Na’vi — tall, blue humanoids who are peaceful until provoked. The story revolves around the war between the Na’vi and the human military invading their world.
To make the film, Cameron used a new technology that enabled him to super-impose the computer-generated creatures onto his live actors while shooting. He said he wrote the project 14 years ago specifically to push the art of digital 3-D animation. The results, to hear the Comic-Con attendees in Hall H tell it, are stunning.
The audience, many of whom camped alongside the “Twilight” fans for the privilege, were treated to a sequence of scenes condensing the tale: Jake Sully is a paralyzed Marine who volunteers to become an Avatar — a genetically engineered human/Na’vi hybrid. He suffers several brushes with some dinosaur-types, a violent flirtation with a Na’vi princess, and an even more violent Na’vi rite of initiation.
Cameron will get to test-run the film on an even bigger crowd on Aug. 21, which he’s declared “Avatar Day.” The filmmaker announced he’ll be taking over IMAX and 3-D theaters around the world to screen 15 minutes of the film for moviegoers for free.
In introducing the film, Cameron said it was made “for the 14-year-old boy that is very alive and well in the back of my mind.”
But don’t expect a film for kids. In fact, I’d wager “Avatar” is going to be kind of heavy.
“I don’t want to say it’s important, because then it sounds like you’re making a documentary,” Cameron said. But it’s “something with a conscience. In the enjoying of [the film], it maybe makes you think about the way you interact with nature and your fellow man.”
After the screening, it was clear cast members Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana and Stephen Lang had become as immersed and invested in Pandora as the filmmaker himself, speaking of the Na’vi as though they were a historical fact.
A professor at USC worked two years on develop their language, and Saldana said all the actors had to take movement classes to “de-humanize” themselves. She also trained in Wushu, horseback riding, archery and weightlifting to play Na’vi princess Neytiri.
Said Cameron: “We know the ecology and composition of the atmosphere, the geography and species of plants, the culture and the history of the Na’vi people.”
Photo, top: James Cameron. Credit: Getty Images. “Avatar” poster courtesy 20th Century Fox.