Avatar, We Have a Problem

The Avatar trailer has been up for a little less than two hours, and if HE reader reactions so far are any indication of how sophisticated cineastes and elite geekboys are going to respond to James Cameron‘s super-fantasy CG epic when it opens on 12.18, Cameron and 20th Century Fox have reason to be concerned. Maybe only a little; more more than that. You tell me.

People are reacting only to the look and style of the the thing (the trailer has no dialogue and the emotional/thematic impact is unknown), but no one seems to be genuinely blown away. Or even medium blown-away. No one is saying it looks like a game-changer. I realize that HE talk-backers can sometimes be negative to a fault, but the vibe doesn’t feel very good at all.

I mean, consider these comments: (a) “Looks an awful lot like a videogame cut scene”‘ (b) “The Battle for Terra II”; (c) “Obviously CG…really killed my my anticipation of anything groundbreaking”; (d) “a glorified cartoon“; (e) “The blue guys are somehow reminiscent of Thundercats”‘ (f) “Ferngully/Delgo…Ferngully plays Halo”; (g) “Nightcrawler and Mystique from X-Men“; (h) “that CGI beastie [in the jungle] was straight out of Attack of the Clones“; (i) “pretty underwhelming”‘ (h) “I hate how those blue-skinned creatures look”; (j) “who woulda thunk that Neill Blomkamp would deliver something more visually impressive than James Cameron?” (k) “Looks like the artwork of 100 covers of sci-fi books strung together”; (l) “some of the imagery was downright corny”; (m) “it all goes downhill after Sam Worthington is transformed into that Nightcrawlerish figure…the fantasy planet looks terrible…I’m not so excited anymore”; (n) “maybe 3D is the missing piece but this doesn’t have the ‘something you’ve never seen before’ quality that I was expecting”; (o) “this has a Lord of the Rings quality, meaning that instead of a couple of excellent FX elements in a real world it’s an entirely aritificial world that’s not entirely convincing…my first impression is pretty subdued“; (p) “The Abyss meets Return of the Jedi meets Peter Jackson‘s Rings trilogy.”

And I didn’t cherry-pick the negative comments. This is pretty much all of it with the fat cut out.

I’m going to re-post what I just posted in the comments section, which was a reposting of what I wrote from San Diego/ComicCon a few weeks back:

The difference between what you’re seeing here on your computer monitors and what Avatar looks like in 3-D is that the CG/animated parts aren’t really “animation” but a much higher and more visually precise synthesis. There’s truly something “extra” about it. The 3-D means a hell of a lot…it really does. You need to see it at one of the special 3D showings on Friday to get what I’m saying.

That said, I hear what some of you are saying. But it’s important to see Avatar as it’s meanto be seen. Here’s how I put it in my report from ComicCon:

“I was transported, blown away, melted down, reduced to adolescence, etc. I mean, I saw some truly great stuff.

“But I need to share one thing. As drop-dead awesome and mind-blowing as Avatar is in terms of super-sophisticated CG animation — a realm that looks as real as anything sitting outside your window or on the next block or next continent — the bulk of it does appear to be happening in an all-animated world.

“Which means that after the first-act, live-human footage (i.e., laying out the plot basics, preparation for the Na’vi transformation, etc.) the film seems to basically be a top-of-the-line animated action-thriller.

“Which means that once the visual climate and atmosphere of animation begins to settle in, we’ll be watching something that’s cool but one step removed from a ‘real’ world. Which means that for people like me, Avatar, beginning with the portion of the film in which the animation pretty much takes over, may not finally feel like a really solid and true-blue high-throttle experience because — yes, I realize this dates me — it lacks a certain biological completeness and therefore a certain trustworthiness.

“To put it another way the visual dazzle element will be wondrous, but the trust element (a reference to Werner Herzog‘s statement about things have gotten to a point at which audiences don’t trust their eyes any more) will be on constant hold.

“I’m saying this knowing, of course, that Avatar appears to do a truly amazing job of bridging the gulf between CG and reality, but for me hard-drive compositions will always be hard-drive compositions — they aren’t what God created on His/ Her own. And never the twain shall meet.”

AICN reader comment #1: “Epic Fail. Jar Jar Avatar. $400 million dollar FURRY CARTOON.”

AICN reader comment #2: “These can’t be the actual, finished, fully rendered shots…right? Because if they are, I gotta tell you this looks like any other CGI movie I’ve seen [over] the past 5 or 6 years. This is NOT anything game-changing.”

AICN reader comment #3: “Something about the Na’avi’s faces looks ridiculous, adding to the cartoonishness.”

Second-to-last HE reader comment: “The blue people have mullets, or least the same kind of neck-do that Dog the Bounty Hunter’s son wears. They also sort of look like they just wandered off the cover of a Journey album. And [the movie] looks like the sem odl Cameron coillection of scrapping, disshevelled rock ‘n’ roll good guys vs. the evil, psychotic military guys. Peace and love win out in the end, man.”

Final HE reader comment: “Tomorrow’s preview will seal or break it.”

206 thoughts on “Avatar, We Have a Problem

  1. Combine that with a sheer inability to compress the story into a one-line plot description and there’s a real problem with the masses. Still, I’m excited to see the screening tomorrow.

  2. “I realize that HE talk-backers can sometimes be negative to a fault…”

    Understatement, Jeff. Some of these people do it like it’s their job. I read every comment from your last post. Let me get right to it and say what no one else will.

    I want more.

    In MHO, the trailer does its job.

  3. Bullshit.

    It looks SPECTACULAR!!!!!!!

    I’m not a fan of the Peter Jackson impossible CG camera moves but I trust Cameron to use some restraint on this kind of stuff…

  4. Having written comment (n) in the previous AVATAR thread, I do admit that some of the effects shots in the trailer are stunning–and I’ll definitely see it in the 3-D version.

  5. I saw “Beowulf” in the theaters, in 3-D, and was more or less blown away despite its utter mediocrity. In 2-D, on TV, I couldn’t even make it more than 15 minutes. That to me underscored its use of 3-D as novelty. Now, “Coraline,” on the other hand, used 3-D to add real depth to the animation, which was great, but it helped that the story had some modicum of heart, too. Haven’t seen it on DVD yet, but I bet it plays OK in 2-D as well. Similarly, “Avatar” will live or die based on its emotional resonance, but what Jeff writes about the bit of the movie he saw makes me think it’s “Beowulf” redux – 3-D as flashy misdirection. We shall see. The question is, even if it’s a great script, will all the 3-D animation enhance or detract from whatever emotional resonance it may have?

  6. Again, to the casual movie-goer, how does “Pixar meets Halo” sound bad? If the story is any good, it’s gonna be massive.

    Trailer linkage issues aside (and let’s be clear, that’s another hilarious and major cluster-fuck on either Fox’s or Apple’s part), the initial geek response was watching a streaming web-version from FRANCE. I watched, and I was underwhelmed.

    Response to the HD Quicktime has been markedly better. I’ll bet that the general response tomorrow after the 3-D footage screening will be good too.

    I also think people are way overthinking and over-critiquing the look. But that’s us geeks, we nitpick things to death.

  7. Btw, anyone notice the new rendering of the 20th Century Fox logo? The Hollywood sign in the background? Some may think it’s the most beautiful part of the trailer.

  8. The real question: how many of the “negatives” are still going to check it out when it hits screens? I’m guessing all of them.

  9. Is it just me or is everyone of the mindset that this movie is made up solely of its visual characteristics? Hello – there are still going to be things like story, characters, dialogue, etc. And guess what? Cameron wrote the movie himself. No amount of super-CGI/3-D can patch up what, with every new taste, looks more and more like another tin-ear cliche festival. The Ferngully meets Dances With Wolves comparisons from the prior thread immediately went through my head when the trailer started, not to mention other bundles of joy like Rapa Nui and Apocalypto.

  10. I am not a ‘hater’ at all, in fact, from both cineaste and non-cineaste friends I get labelled as far to accepting of crap at the movies.

    In general, I think the scope of the film looks very impressive indeed, the design of the flying creatures very cool, and the shot of the flying vehicle moving through the suspended rock formations is incredibly evocative. The emotional content of the story is completely unknown, and this will be THE clincher, if I don’t care about anyone, then who gives a shit how real it looks.

    When Worthington’s avatar speaks, it improves their look and I can imagine buying into this, but for me, I am overall underwhelmed. I think the four years I’ve been waiting to see this are obviously a huge factor.

    I don’t want it to be a bust, I look forward to a giant space epic the likes of which we’d never seen, I just wish that it didn’t look so much like King Kong. I wanted something truly alien. As a film, I’m sure it will work. Even Titanic worked for what it was, though I’ve only seen it once since the theatre. I also never play the ‘what will it make/what will joe popcorn think?’ game. I could give a shit on both counts.

    When I said the preview will seal or break it, I am hoping for the former.

  11. While I may not be blown away, I am definitely intrigued — for starters, I did feel that this was the work of someone who actually READS science fiction — my hope is that the finished movie will have the scope and depth of a novel by one of the top shelf sf writers — as opposed to someone who gets hired for a gig like this because on of their hip hop videos used a lot of special effects.

    I had that same feeling (satified by the actual film) when I saw the trailer for Moon. If this turns out to be even half as good as moon, Cameron’s brand name and the effects should be enough to bring the mass audience out for it.

    I mean, come on — if Stephen Sommers can have a huge opening for Joe you know this movie is going to open to over a hundred million easy and if it’s even remotely good with a couple of great action setpieces (this is, after all, James Cameron) Joe Sixpack will turn out for it and bring the whole brood of beers along for the ride.

  12. The aliens who are about to kiss with a backlit forest in the background doesn’t inspire awe but major eye rolling. For a film that’s supposed to be groundbreaking it’s certainly filled with cliched imagery we’ve seen a million times before. There’s nothing visionary about it. It’s just a $350 million kids film.

  13. They did the right thing, though. It wasn’t the easy thing but getting the look out there early, giving it time to settle in, was smart. Now people know what to expect, more or less. If they’d saved it to be shown at a later date it might have freaked people out too much.

  14. I think the AICN reaction will certainly worry Fox. Then again, maybe not – all the talkbackers will blatantly see the film on opening day.

    I do think it’s kind of weird that in an age when HD cameras are able to capture the real world in far more clarity and depth than ever before, established filmmakers are falling over themselves to work in entirely created CGI worlds. It could be that this is the last hurrah for the old school, spending obscene amounts of money on CGI, while a new generation of Blomkamp-like dudes go back to a more organic mixture of real and effects.

  15. This is nothing compared to the pre-release griping about Titanic. And look how that turned out. It was supposed to ruin his career.

  16. I’m sure it will make a shitload. What Fox really needs to do is emphasize that the film MUST be seen in 3D. Maybe this is why they released the 2D thing today – so we can admit how underwhelmed we are now, only to have our eyeballs fucked tomorrow at the preview. They’re deliberately lowering our expectations so they can raise them again tomorrow.

  17. Cameron has had his ups and downs with his scripts, but Aliens is right on.

    I can’t believe the hate already in place for this film.

  18. I didn’t mean by my comments to suggest that this movie is going to flop. Far from it. I think it will make a ton of money. Maybe not as much as Fox would like, but isn’t that always the case?

    My comments were directed at the implication that this movie was somehow going to change the moviegoing experience. At least from the trailer, I just don’t see it. If it’s an improvement, story and character-wise, over Beowulf, I’ll be satisfied.

    I do find it interesting that as we get closer to the uncanny valley, the less successful filmmakers seem to be. For awhile we were tracing a line directly from the dinos in Jurassic Park to Gollum in LOTR to Davy Jones in POTC to King Kong. Ever since, though, movies seem to be idling at best and regressing at worst. Trailer or not, the Na’avi really should look better than this.

  19. I agree with every one of those comments.

    It’s maybe a step or two in the right direction, but nowhere near the anticipation levels.

    I look forward to the preview tomorrow night.

  20. I’m really surprised by how critical teh internet’s reaction to this trailer has been…. I read people bitching about “King Kong,” then I re-watch the high-res trailer, and I wonder if we’re looking at the same thing.

    After the ComicCon backlash, I was genuinely impressed by how good the trailer looks on a technical level. Some scenes are damn close to photo-realistic, like the shot of the hover-craft thingy touching down and blowing the grass around. The characters do look odd, but a trailer can’t overcome that; a 2 hour movie has more time for the audience to get used to blue skin, big eyes, and donkey ears.

    I’ll admit that the James Cameron movie of my dreams wouldn’t be Ferngully. But I already saw this year’s movies about robot wars on earth and they were both soul-dead suckfests. I’m sufficiently desperate to see a well-crafted large-scale action movie that I’d buy tickets to this even if the trailer were 2 minutes of Cameron pleasuring himself in front of a mirror.

  21. Um, it’s still possible that “Titanic” *did* ruin Cameron’s career, no? We shall see in a few months, won’t we?

  22. “…coillection of scrapping, disshevelled rock ‘n’ roll good guys…”

    (My spelling seems to have gone all to shite in transit.)

    I’m willing to guess that most of those attending ComicCon thought that it looked AWESOME before they even saw it.

  23. I thought movies, at their best, were supposed to show us things we’ve never seen before. Based on this trailer, I have already seen these things before, in countless other movies. And it’s not even that pretty. These special effects don’t look any better than LOTR, or The Matrix, or, even something like Dark City. The most beautiful special effects I have seen in the last decade are in MOON, hands down; models, matte paintings, rear projection, in-camera effects. It’s a shame that Cameron is so obessed with twiddling nobs and playing with green felt. And by the way: the special effects for Titanic have aged horribly.

    Sam Worthington has the best agent in the world, though. I have no idea who he is, he’s not particular handsome or interesting to look at, and his acting ability, based solely on Terminator, is mediocre at best. He reminds me of a skinnier Marc Blucas. But then again, Simon Baker Denny was supposed to be the next big thing too.

    HYPE, HYPE, HYPE X INFINITY

  24. I agree with Rich S. (I think)

    I find that the early CG (Terminator, Jurassic Park, etc) looks better than most of what comes out now. It does seem to be regressing.

  25. This would make a great garbage character design furry double feature with Fantastic Mr. Fox. I dunno, I’m going to Avatar Day & fully hope to shit a brick over it, but nothing about this trailer excites me and I am kind of baffled by James Cameron standom

  26. No way this makes anything close to Titanic money, mostly because Sam ‘Who The Fuck Is This Guy’ Worthington is no Leo DiCaprio.

  27. By the way, Gogocrank, I didn’t see Coraline in 3D and only recently saw it on a laptop screen on a Bolt Bus, but it was absolutely brilliant. There were scenes where I thought 3D would look spectacular, but none that suffered without being in 3D. The story, characters and design were all so good that I was engrossed from start to finish. A genuine kids’ classic already, I feel, and the best animated film I’ve seen for some time.

  28. Great to hear, BBWD!

    BTW, another reason I’m worried about this movie is that for all Cameron’s many strengths, writing does not seem to be top among them. Ideas, yes. Set pieces, yes. Even handling actors, sure. But Cameron’s near the bottom of the list of big-name directors likely to be saved by a good script, at least not one he penned himself. If anything, “Titanic” worked *despite* its corny dialogue. Maybe ’cause star crossed lover Hollywood romances are inherently corny?

    The best dialogue he’s written was for “The Abyss” and “Aliens,” both of which feel very human despite the non-human subject matter. Since then it’s largely been cartoonish boilerplate, as well at it might work combined with the usual eye-popping effects.

  29. I feel like something kind of remarkable may be happening. District 9, the $30M South African underdog, is the sci-fi game-changer… and this big blue aliens thing is just another CGI wank.

  30. I also agree with stuff like T2 and Jurassic Park looking great, even today. Especially with JP, where all the CG characters have a softness to them and none of this hyper-motion blur. I have a feeling this is because those flicks were done on film, and even if a shot in post production was wholly CG, the end product had to be printed back onto film with an optical printer. In today’s modern age of ultra clean digital in – digital out, there’s no buffer zone for slightly imperfect effects work.

    Perhaps Avatar needs a healthy dose of film grain?

  31. Jeff, I have a question concerning the ComiCon real you watched.

    This, uh, film…”Avatar”…is it, uh…is it “art”?

  32. Maybe I missed it, but what exactly is the game-changing technology Cameron was waiting for before he could make this? Motion capture? Was that it? Is there motion capture in this that surpasses, say, Gollum or any of Peter Jackson’s other creations? Where did the “game-changing” meme even begin, anyway? Did people assume it was going to be a game-changer just because it took a long time? In what way is this movie supposed to be ahead of the curve, rather than behind it?

    I’m sure many of these questions will be answered soon enough, but right now it sounds like hype. The buzz (or lack thereof) comes later.

  33. I think the character design of the Na’vi is turning people off. I’m not sure what they’re supposed to look like– too human maybe? I can’t imagine a love story featuring the District 9 prawns, though.

  34. “Where did the “game-changing” meme even begin, anyway? ”

    Eh, Cameron started this himself by proclaiming the effects would be so “photo-realistic” that you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not..

  35. It is way too early to be passing judgment on this, whether that be in terms of audience reception or potential quality of the flick, for that matter. Too much hype? Who cares? I still think it’s worth a look. I maintain that the general public does not even know what this thing is yet. My co-worker (who is in the industry and generally has a decent idea of what’s going on) just today asked me what this thing is. I thought that was fairly telling.

  36. All the middling to negative impressions feel like they stem from Avatar being a victim of the hype it’s been feeding those who’ve been following its progress.

    Again, it’s too early to weigh in having seen zero of this film in its intended IMAX 3D, but let’s be honest. Many audiences won’t be seeing this in its intended form, so how does it hold up beyond that? At first impression, it feels like standard stuff. Stuff people want to see, but standard stuff all the same.

    Three months of tracking and a December opening will tell, but again, the masses needed to reap domestic profitability on this film just aren’t aware or even “hyped” for it. This trailer and its vaguely familiar imagery will pump up awareness, but how much?

  37. Whoa, lots of misinterpretation of the negative comments around here.

    I *love* Cameron’s movies. Most of them, at least. Aliens, T2, even Titanic. The Abyss has too many flaws for me to love it, but some parts are outstanding, and as a technical accomplishment, it’s brilliant.

    I could enjoy Avatar very much, even love it. I hope to.

    That said. . .

    Cameron doesn’t make great stories with great effects– he makes great effects with great (or enjoyably popcorn) stories. None of his films have ever had a lot of depth– and the ones that have all come from the actors and their characters. He’s an excellent director, certainly assumed to be one of the best.

    But his genius is in *technical* direction, i.e. the integration of impressive effects into good movies.

    I seriously doubt many people would have loved any of his movies had they not come packed with the effects that they did.

    And most of those effects were “game changers”– certainly, The Abyss, T2 and Titanic reflect that.

    So, with respect to Avatar. . . it *may* be a great movie. But it’s been promised to the audience as another game changer, something revolutionary, something worth James Cameron skipping twelve years of directing.

    This is only a trailer, just a trailer. And I’m not going to discount the 3D effect– that may be more than enough to make Avatar the game-changer we’ve been promised.

    But. . . BUT.

    The trailer makes the movie look haphazard. Some great effects, a lot of middling stuff, and the downright cartoonish stuff.

    Maybe the characterization will make us forget it once we’re there; like District 9, we’ll get sucked into a story so alive, so real, that we’ll forgive all of the cartoonish effects, suspend our disbelief, and enjoy a great movie.

    But again, what we were promised was a TECHNICAL ACCOMPLISHMENT. Something revolutionary. Eye-fucking, as the AICN crowd puts it.

    This? My eyes remain chaste watching this trailer. It looks good, sometimes very good, but it’s waaay too uneven to knock my socks off.

    Oh well. We’ll see soon enough.

    But I don’t think ANYONE here hates this film, or even hates James Cameron. Quite the opposite, really– we’re all excited to have a movie from Cameron knowing his track record.

    But this trailer. . . inspires doubt, not confidence, that we’ll see anything *technologically* revolutionary in the film.

    And that’s what Cameron and his hype machine is promising us, remember? *I* didn’t invent those words, he did.

  38. Small detail, but the title font is horrible. It’s just a modified version of that completely overused Papyrus font, really lazy design.

  39. The teaser for The Phantom Menace was WAY better on every level – and it had even more hype to contend with, but the movie ended up sucking.

    Hopefully this will be the opposite.

  40. People think WAY too much about trailers these days. I haven’t seen such stupidity since the 100-post thread about the fucking poster.

    If the movie is GOOD no one will give a shit it’s not a “game changer.” And since Cameron has been going on for five years about how important 3-D is maybe people should think twice before commenting on the 2-D version or how the aliens don’t appeal to their own aesthetic sensibilities.

    JEEEESUS. Why not watch it in black and white and then tell me how you think it will bomb?

    “It looks too CGI,” is the new black.
    In fact, it’s worse than that.
    “It looks too CGI” is more like the new “I only liked REM’s work with IRS records.” That’s about how hip and insightful that criticism is.

    And I asked this in the other thread but I’ll ask again: The trailer is in 2.35 but is the IMAX version also 2.35 or is that closer-to-4:3 thing they use.

  41. As to seeing it in IMAX 3D, I seem to recall that Cameron had originally drawn a line in the sand that Avatar would play only in IMAX 3D. I imagine he’s had to back off that demand since the proliferation of IMAX 3D screens hasn’t been sufficient to support a wide enough opening. If it was composed with that in mind, that may be one of the reasons it’s suffering in the online format.

    As I’ve said before, I greatly enjoyed Beowulf in IMAX 3D. The story was no great shakes, but it had some terrific action set pieces. If Avatar is a step up from that, I’ll be happy.

  42. I’m disappointed, and my expectations were LOW. I think it comes down to the art direction. Technically it looks impressive, although no better than what we saw in the new Star Wars films. But it’s the visual style of the avatars that just looks a little…. off. I’m also having bad flashbacks of Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones here with the large scale CGI battles. Cameron is popular among the film geek crowd because of his attention to detail/quality of the story and characters, this trailer shows neither, it implies a non-stop CGI snorefest ala King Kong.

  43. As a CG professional, i.e. someone who gets paid good cash for commenting on CG and fixing it, let me offer you some free insight. And no, I don’t work for Cameron.

    The expressiveness of the Navi characters in the trailer is excellent. Their body language is excellent. The animation is superb. The complexity of the environments is incredible. If I consider all the motion capture and compositing work that went into creating a shot, it could very well be technically groundbreaking. I’m personally not crazy about the non-humanoid creature designs, but whatever, that’s my taste. What y’all are reacting to is the very lush, colorful look of the CG forests that’s tells your brain it isn’t real. The lighting looks somewhat off. You know what? Unless you’re looking it this uncompressed on a professional grade monitor, yeah, it’s going to look like that. It will look better projected.

    When Cameron said “ground breaking” he was probably referring to the first time you’re going to have multiple CG “realistic” *humanoid* characters — not beasties, not Pixar humans, not Gollum or Hulk or Yoda one-offs — in a photoreal world, where you CARE about the CG characters, all of them (again, which are striving for a “realistic” look, unlike pixar humans, or other animated characters that stay away from the uncanny valley).

    Look at the trailer and imagine how many tech breakthroughs went into it. Stop comparing to Jurassic Park which had non-humanoid creatures — which were not the lead characters — and which were onscreen for a relatively short amount of time. Don’t forget it used animatronics too.

  44. But Gnome…….. presumably 99.9999% of the people seeing “Avatar” are NOT going to be CG techs. I’m impressed that it is a “great leap forward” in technology.

    But I’m Joe Popcorn and I still think it looks gay.

  45. Your’re talking crazy, ZayTonday!

    I mean, did you even see that FONT Cameron is using?!

    We need more people talking about that font. I mean, it’s just a rip-off of Papyrus! And this is supposed to be groundbreaking?! This man is some kind of VISIONARY?!

    No, I think we’re seeing some really cogent description of the FILM right here on these boards and no one is over-reacting at all. You, sir, are the crazy one!

  46. “Look at the trailer and imagine how many tech breakthroughs went into it. Stop comparing to Jurassic Park which had non-humanoid creatures — which were not the lead characters — and which were onscreen for a relatively short amount of time. Don’t forget it used animatronics too.”

    Yeah, but the JP effects were awesome. They still look great. They’re great because we’re not required to “look at it and imagine how many tech breakthroughs went into it,” because we’re too engrossed in the story. And so what if it used animatronics? It did so in a way that simply added to the visual marvel of it all.

    I don’t go the movies to appraise the time and effort involved in creating a computer graphic.

  47. Remember all of the hype before the Segway was released?

    James Cameron did himself no favors with talk of Avatar being a “game-changer”.

    If this movie doesn’t go large over the long term, it’s going to be referred to as the Segway of movie blockbusters.

  48. You joke but that font drives me as batty as Wells holding a conversation with a fat ginger. It is just the nasty glaze on the lemon loaf of that trailer, which I really am sure looks a lot better in IMAX 3-D but which really does look like the world’s best Clone Wars XBOX cut scene on my puny laptop screen.

  49. I can’t tell what’s going on with people’s reaction to this. The movie may suck, but by any reasonable standard, the trailer looks cool. If you only like Lars von Trier movies, this won’t be your cup of tea, but if you’re remotely interested in big sci-fi spectacles, then this is a fucking cool trailer.

    2 possibilities suggest themselves:
    1. I’m wrong. This trailer doesn’t look cool. In fact, nothing cool has happened since 1993, except for a couple of obscure-ass low-budget movies.
    2. The 12-year-old kids who watched “Jurassic Park” and T2 and got blown off their feet grew up into carping whiners who spend their free time bitching on Internet comment threads about how everything sucks and James Cameron is gay.

  50. “Look at the trailer and imagine how many tech breakthroughs went into it. Stop comparing to Jurassic Park which had non-humanoid creatures — which were not the lead characters — and which were onscreen for a relatively short amount of time. Don’t forget it used animatronics too.”

    And guess what? Jurassic Park worked.

    I get everything you’re saying Gnome. I even agree with most of it, on paper. I’m certainly not denying the craftsmanship involved– I know enough effects guys personally to admire what many of them can do, often with limited resources.

    I– and I think many here, and on AICN– are relaying a visceral reaction to a few minutes of footage, that’s all. Not judging a book by its cover– but certainly judging the cover of the book.

    I’m sure the effects look better on the big screen. ALL effects generally do, given not only the resolution possible but also the synthesis with a great sound system and the darkened, focused theater.

    And again, for the Nth time, 3D may be the most amazing thing about this, and once we see it, we may not freakin’ care what the Na’vi look like.

    But you know what? It’s an opinion, not an insult.

  51. And to add, the movie WILL be huge, that’s undeniable. Hell, I’ll pay to see it, full price, opening night.

    But I’m not an iota more interested in seeing it than I was this time yesterday.

  52. I live in the middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania. The nearest theater participating in “Avatar Day” is about two hours away. So after seeing this footage I guess on one hand I’m disappointed because I expected it to be something more than it is, but on the other hand I’m very relieved that I didn’t participate in that whole “waiting online to get a ticket to go see a commercial for a movie” shenanigans. Not for this, anyway.

  53. David F: The 2D version of the film will be in 2.35 ratio. The 3D version will be 1.85. Cameron mentioned this in a letter sent to AICN. He said there was no technical reason, he just personally preferred the look of 3D in that ratio.

  54. One note on the JP vs. Avatar reactions. We’ve all (one hopes at this point) SEEN Jurassic Park. Do you remember the trailer?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bim7RtKXv90

    And the teaser:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QMue9j_RKg

    There’s almost NOTHING in them to give away the “HOLY CRAP!” moment of seeing that first dino (Brachiosaurus?) nibbling the tree. I believe the only thing we see in the actual trailer is the animatronic stuff. I can honestly remember sitting in the theater that first night (I believe it was the night they rolled out one of the new theater sound systems too, no? SDDS?) and thinking I was in a Maxell commercial and being blown through the back of my freakin’ seat seeing the first dinosaur.

    The Avatar trailer here? Shows me two things:

    1) Cameron is still as technically proficient a director as he has been previously. This is a hugely good sign (seriously, some of the shots are ridiculously good).

    2) He has enough confidence in the animation — as shown — that he’s not worried. This means either the 3D stuff really IS that game-changing in his mind (we may differ when we see the final product) or that “we ain’t seen nothing yet.” I’m willing to bet on either of those two at this point.

    Now, while I agree that no favors were done by the hype that Cameron may have ladled onto the film, I think it’s folly to necessarily judge the effects at this level and write off the whole film.

  55. There’s something that’s been touched on by previous commenters, which is Cameron’s ability as a storyteller, specifically a screenwriter. It might determine what to expect from Avatar.

    Terminator and Aliens are models of economy and character. But it’s worth noting that neither one sprang from wholly original ideas. Aliens was a sequel and Terminator’s best ideas came from Harlan Ellison short stories and Outer Limits scripts (“Demon with a Glass Hand” and “Soldier”).

    From there — strictly from a screenwriting POV — it’s been downhill. The Abyss was three-quarters of a great film. The underwater-aliens-save-the-world is a shit ending, made shittier in the extended DVD edition. (“Stop fighting or we’ll drown all you fuckers.”)

    T2: Fine enough. The effects got you through. But there were no twists that compared to Terminator (going back in time to conceive your own son, e.g.).

    True Lies: A mess. Two movies are battling for control — the French farce True Lies is based on and the blow ‘em up action movie Cameron had to make with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Neither one wins; instead, each one muddies the other. Most surprisingly, there was a mean misogynistic streak in the movie, a real shock from a director who had, up to this point, had only written strong, empowered women.

    Titanic: This one’s up for debate.

    William Goldman loves the structure of this movie; he particularly praises the Bill Paxton prologue that where we learn how the Titanic sank and how that exposition was then wrapped into the flashback. I don’t buy it. The flashback structure was not groundbreaking. And Cameron is following a simple narrative rule: “tell the audience what they’re about to see; show it to them; explain what they just saw.” Isn’t that basically screenwriting 101?

    And the dialogue, which even apologists can’t defend, is spectacularly bad. The movie lost me when Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet had their spitting contest. That’s when I realized this was (a) the scene that exposed their character and (b) was one of the few scenes that developed their romantic interest.

    In the end, I don’t go to movies for spectacle. I go for story. And Cameron’s storytelling instincts make me very worried for Avatar.

  56. I should probably watch Titanic again. I haven’t seen it for years. I loved it at the time, but then again I was 13 and so Winslet’s tits were a major attraction in the era before internet porn became the standard booby-source for teenage boys.

    But I’d forgotten all about that spitting scene before you mentioned it again. Funny stuff. I remember thinking Billy Zane was a great actor and wondering why his career didn’t take off after being a major character in the biggest film of all time.

  57. As someone who has more or less casually (or at least casually for a film buff) been following this movie, I do find it interesting that just about everything in that trailer I’d read about or heard described previously, which leads me to believe that, yes, it’s more than likely the movie itself is filled with tons of surprises that will blow our collective socks off. It’s also just as likely that those surprises will disappoint us even more. It’s a toss up of anticipation, basically.

  58. Never mind that AICN talkbackers are the biggest pack of morons this side of FreeRepublic (disclosure: I sometimes post as ‘MidnightPimp.’)
    My read on the trailer: Not bad. I’ll watch it a thousand times before I ever watch the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ trailer again.

  59. Since 1997, the year TITANIC came out:

    - Spielberg has directed 11 movies (three of which are exceptional Munich, AI, Saving Private Ryan, and all 11 grossing billions in box office)
    - Peter Jackson came out of nowhere and has done 6 movies (including the now-classic Lord of the Rings trilogy)
    - Scorsese has directed 8 movies (and finally won an Oscar)
    - George Lucas did the entire prequel trilogy AND an animated feature
    - Clint Eastwood directed 9 movies, and starred in half of them
    - Soderbergh has directed 15 movies
    - Ron Howard had 8 movies
    - one of the most visionary directors, Ridley Scott, directed 9 movies
    - Leonardo diCaprio did 11 movies, Kate Winslet did 21 movies, and Celine Dion has come up with at least 7 albums
    - and this one’s the capper – Terence Malick has done not one, but two movies, and I’m not even counting The Tree of Life!

    We’ve had three presidents (Clinton, Bush and Obama), seen three new independent countries (Serbia, East Timor and Montenegro), and started to buy DVD players. Yes, everyone, we had to buy Titanic on VHS (!!!) when it was released.

    I am sorry if the expectations for this James Cameron flick are too high. Enough said.

  60. Meh. After all that excessive hype, it just looks like your standard big budget special effects movie. My eyeballs are more likely to be ****ed by the inevitable avalanche of Furry Porn that this movie is likely to generate on the internet. BRRRR.

    I also suspect 3-D will still remain a borderline-annoying novelty for some time yet.

  61. So what you’re saying knightrider76, is that there are some expectations?

    I sort of wish the first time I saw the trailer was on the big screen, but this is the net, and I am what I am. A nerd. Anyhow, I will reserve judgment until I see the finished film. In 3D. I did get goosebumps though – does that not count for something?

  62. Just watched the trailer for the first time in HD on a 46 inch screen and it looks pretty amazing to me. Can’t wait to see this in IMAX 3D. You had to figure there would be a major backlash from the netizens after Cameron’s (admittedly) hyperbolic pronouncements, but I second the poster that said don’t ever underestimate James Cameron. I think this thing will rock.

  63. I’m surpised how few are complaining about the startling lack of imagination on display here. The aliens (once again) look like tall blue humans … they carry bows and arrows, like humans … the humans have flying machines that look like carbon copies of the ones from THE INCREDIBLES. There are disabled humans in wheelchairs in the distant future … the alien planet has trees and plants that look exactly like those on Earth.

    I mean, this is supposed to be the next step in science fiction filmmaking???

  64. “William Goldman loves the structure of this movie; he particularly praises the Bill Paxton prologue that where we learn how the Titanic sank and how that exposition was then wrapped into the flashback. I don’t buy it. The flashback structure was not groundbreaking. And Cameron is following a simple narrative rule: “tell the audience what they’re about to see; show it to them; explain what they just saw.” Isn’t that basically screenwriting 101?”

    Goldman never said it was groundbreaking. Its not screenwriting 101 to tell the audience first, then show them. But in this case, he was saying it worked as an efficient narrative device because, in explaining it first, we imagine in our mind how it could be, then seeing it later, its much more horrifying… in addition it the fact that we know the ship will break, etc, and we anticipate these events. its simple setup/payoff, but I agree that it was done well in Titanic.

  65. George Prager Author Profile Page says …

    “This film is a must for those who are sexually attracted to Bugs Bunny.”

    Nah, R. Crumb would hate it. None of the Na’vi have meaty thighs.

  66. Cameron hasn’t been prolific, but since ’97 he’s done 3 movies (plus developed technologies for them) plus a TV series (albeit a short-lived one).

    He’s not cranking them out, but it’s not like he took a 12-year vacation either.

    The filmmaking universe is larger than just narrative features.

  67. BTW, I noticed that depending on what media viewer you use to watch the trailer, the default brightness/contrast/color settings differ. The ones in VLC made it look better than the ones in Quicktime. Had no idea the Quicktime settings pumped the brightness that far up by default.

    Flashman, well said!

    Prager, wasn’t that just the perfect product placement though? Taffytown must have paid a bundle for it. I remember the ads… “Taffy, life-savingly delicious!!”

  68. Jeff… I was in SDCC and saw the footage and I was underwhelmed. After a few minutes of oohing and ahing at the 3-D, the effect wears out. You’re essentially watching a regular movie. And all the alien scenes DO feel a little like Jar Jar land. The only thing that wowed me in the trailer was the new combat footage that wasn’t shown in SD.

  69. Bosh, holy shit! Guess we’ve found our Leviathan to Cameron’s Deep Star Six. Or is that Cameron’s Leviathan to our Abyss? No, wait, Cameron’s Dante Peak to our Armageddon.

  70. As J.W. suggests, Cameron has undertaken a (clever, in my book) path toward attempting to bridge the “real” and animated worlds, and for us this is only a glimpse; the story will do the lion’s share of the work in making that happen. Based on past history, perhaps that story will be all too predictable. Maybe not, or maybe it’ll work anyway. He’s gone a long way to make us believe we’re in a virtual body in an alien world; I wouldn’t expect a two minute trailer to do the job. Yes it looks kinda silly now, but I wouldn’t be surprised by an experience downright spectacular.

  71. We see a lot of CGI-intensive trailers and I never give most of them a second thought, much less go out and see a GI Joe. But this, I’m going to see. Even if I didn’t know it was Cameron I think I would have perked up. There’s something going on with this one.

    Blown away, not really. Intrigued, definitely. On my must-see list for the year.

  72. The trailer doesn’t matter. The WOM tomorrow is what counts. This movie isn’t being sold as a film but rather as an experience. If it doesn’t evoke shock and awe then Fox is in trouble, especially since non-fanboy awareness is nonexistent.

  73. We’ll talk about this tomorrow night.

    Wish there were something worth playing since I’ll be at the theater. I guess I could always see — no. Eli Roth. Eli Roth. Death Proof. Fell in a ditch. Eli Roth.

    Pray for me to be strong, brothers and sisters.

  74. That Delgo thing is pretty funny, Bosh. Ouch.

    This movie lives or dies by the quality of the 3D. That’s the bottom line.

    (And I second what MM said about Moon. Loved the look and mood, even though there was no logical reason for everything to be so low-tech-Seventies-clunky. But the effects had a great, organic feel, and I never once said “CGI — fake!” Plus the twist was not what I expected, and Rockwell was kept under control and did very well. I’ll even forgive Duncan Jones for saying that Outland was a good movie.)

  75. The Joan Allen comparison was also clever. I knew the blue chick reminded me of someone else. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

  76. Nice to see the JC backlash is still in full effect here, nearly TWELVE years after Titanic.

    And people wonder why he has been so reluctant to make a (fictional) follow-up.

    Based on the expectations of these commenters, I would have just retired.

    Cameron has a big mouth and that gets him into trouble, but I think you’re all a bit quick to dismiss this based on (in my view) pretty petty complaints.

    Also, his filmography is about as close as you can get — at least in this day and age — to prolific.

    I think it’s a mistake to underestimate this.

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  77. What Cameron backlash? I think everyone here will concede he’s a very talented filmmaker responsible for several of the most iconic films of all time. I think we’d also agree 1) that he’s a better storyteller than screenwriter and 2) that he’s far from prolific (I mean, come on). Hence the anticipation for this one, which stems much less from “OMG Titanic!!!” than it does from Terminator, Aliens, Abyss. This looks like the follow-up to those films, not Titanic.

    That said, thus far the only signs of “Avatar”s’ greatness have really only come from Cameron himself. Even the preview tomorrow won’t provide the complete picture, because … it’s not providing the complete picture. So if the preview fails to spark interest, it’s an uphill battle for this thing. That will have nothing to do with Cameron and everything to do with the movie he made. Personally, I want it to be great, as I do all films, but we all know that Hollywood is a far cry from batting 1000.

    Meanwhile: why is there no anamorphic transfer of The Abyss on DVD?!

  78. All you have to do is scroll through the two most recent Avatar threads on this site (both of which are NOTHING compared to the AICN shredfest) to see there is definitely some Cameron backlash at work here. You usually don’t even have to read between the lines.

    Not sayin’ I don’t understand it, or that it doesn’t deserve at least some degree of expectations-tempering.

    But based on the majority of the comments, this just looks like a shitty Emmerich movie.

    Really?

  79. ZERO creativity with the alien “look”. didn’t guillermo del toro already do this with the young pan in pan’s labyrinth?

  80. Ray says …

    I’m surpised how few are complaining about the startling lack of imagination on display here…the alien planet has trees and plants that look exactly like those on Earth….

    Cameron’s scriptment described a planet much more alien; for example, the plants were all blue or purple. I suspect that the changes to the look may be intended to give the story more resonance as an environmental parable that directly relates to us.

  81. “The most beautiful special effects I have seen in the last decade are in MOON, hands down; models, matte paintings, rear projection, in-camera effects”

    FUCK YES. I’ve been daydreaming about those mining vehicles with the rocks cascading out the back for a month now. And let’s not overlook how fucking perfect the CGI was in DISTRICT 9. Not to mention the loathsome but sympathetic character design. This truly is a great year for Sci-Fi, but I’m not longer so sure AVATAR is going to be a part of it.

  82. “This truly is a great year for Sci-Fi, but I’m not longer so sure AVATAR is going to be a part of it.”

    Oh, give me a BREAK. Now we’re skeptical it’s even going to rank among the top 5 SF films of the year?

    Take another look at his track record — specifically in that genre — and tell me why I should believe you.

  83. Jimmy should’ve just done Battle Angel. Probably cheaper, and more in-tune with what’s popular nowadays. But I know exactly how the disappointed Cameron fanboys feel, too, after waiting so damn long for Steam Boy, and expecting tha aw3some3 from Otomo agaiin, but getting an anime version of The Rocketeer meets the Jackie Chan Around the World in 80 Days in its place. But it could be worse. Avatar could have some obnoxious kids and pointless commentary on trading issues, drugs, and skulls, like Suck-ass’s recent films.

  84. DZ

    Has anybody ever just beat the shit out of you?

    Oh, and for the record before it officially opens, what is your prediction for the domestic box office of Basterds for the full run?

    If you’re right, it’ll be the first time. If you’re wrong, I’m gonna hold you to it.

    If anybody reading this remembers what DZ predicted when the script was leaked, please post it.

  85. Jonah: “Has anybody ever just beat the shit out of you?”

    I didn’t know you’re into that kind of stuff, man. Get help.
    As for domestic gross, I’m betting $30-$40 million at best, and $20-$25 million total.

  86. If a trailer is good, then it should amaze EVEN when seen in 2D and on a small screen.

    Why is it now necessary to watch a trailer in 3D digitally projected on an IMAX screen with superior sound quality in order to be amazed by it?

    I watched the TITANIC trailer in 1997 for the first time ever on a shitty computer screen and was amazed by the visuals instantly. Two months later, I watched the movie on a regular movie screen (in 2D, of course!) and was blown away by the images.

    If a movie looks good, or looks exciting, or has some terrific images/scenes/sequences, then even in 2D and on a small screen, it should get me hooked. The AVATAR trailer just did not.

    It’s a trailer, that’s what it’s supposed to do. It’s supposed to excite, tease, and seduce, in less than 3 minutes, and this trailer didn’t. And this is coming from a big JC fan, a big sci-fi fan, and a big CGI fan.

  87. I think from a visual standpoint it looks good, though not “game changing.” That one forest shot does show a level of detail and animation that seems impressive. End of the day, the fact that I know Cameron made this movie affects my anticipation. He’s a great storyteller and I think will apply directorial restraint in his use of CGI. Can’t say I love the design of the cat people, though. They look a little “off” to me.

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  98. Response to the HD Quicktime has been markedly better. I’ll bet that the general response tomorrow after the 3-D footage screening will be good too.

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