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Avatar - First-look footage reviewed


Review by Jack Foley

FILM fans were given a taste of James Cameron’s groundbreaking new science-fiction epic Avatar on Friday (August 21, 2009) as a number of free preview screenings were held around the country.

Fifteen minutes of the futuristic fantasy were shown to cinema-goers lucky enough to get their hands on tickets, featuring several insights into how the film will look and its action and effects.

The footage, which uses motion-capture animation, CGI and live action, and will be shown in stereoscopic 3D, was introduced by Cameron himself and was all taken from the first half of the movie so that no major spoilers were revealed.

And the verdict was… mixed. Some admitted to being genuinely excited by the footage, but others were underwhelmed.

The footage opened with the film’s hero, a paralysed marine named Jake Sully (played by Terminator Salvation‘s Sam Worthington) arriving on the planet Pandora, which is inhabited by a humanoid race with its own language and culture. He is swiftly told that he and his fellow soldiers have a limited chance of survival.

Owing to the fact that humans cannot breathe the air on Pandora, they have to become avatars – hybrid creatures controlled via a mental link by a human operator.

We are then shown a sequence in which Sully meets a scientist, played by Aliens star Sigourney Weaver, who places him in a cocoon and begins his transformation into a Na’vi, a 10ft tall, blue-skinned creature with deer-like ears and a long, curling tail.

Sully is so excited by his new form that he swiftly breaks out of the science lab against the advice of his doctors. But then he is no longer paralysed in Na’vi form.

Thereafter, the remaining scenes showed Sully coming face-to-face with a variety of hostile creatures, including a six-legged beast and a hammer-headed, rhino-like dinosaur.

He also encounters a female Na’vi warrior, voiced by Star Trek‘s Zoe Saldana, and – in the final sequence – battles a winged, dragon-like pterodactyl that eventually allows him to board and fly him.

As with any preview footage, it’s hard to gauge a firm opinion. There are always questions and lingering doubts.

But Avatar certainly looks original, its 3D is impressive, and the look of Pandora is certainly unique.

Admittedly, the blue Na’vi creatures take a little getting used to, while some of the action sequences looked blurry once they picked up pace. And it remains to be seen whether Cameron can overcome one of the biggest problems posed any effects-heavy blockbuster – marrying spectacle with emotion.

There were times when the Avatar footage resembled an amazing computer game… but it was difficult to gauge whether the effects will get in the way of any genuine emotional engagement.

That said, there were more positives than negatives. And the final few seconds of snippets from the film suggest that Cameron is going to deliver spectacle on the grandest of scales (with several massive battle sequences particularly standing out).

Given the hype surrounding the movie, though, perhaps it’s better than we’ve been given a taster that doesn’t quite live up to expectation. Viewing the complete film may bring about a more realistic sense of what to expect when it finally opens in December.

And no matter which side of the debate your opinion ultimately rests (if you were lucky enough to see it), the footage did ensure that you’d be re-joining the queue for tickets to see Cameron’s vision in all its widescreen glory.

IndieLondon caught the footage at the BFI Imax on Friday, August 21, at 1.30pm.