SDCC 09 - Fox & James Cameron Reveal AVATAR

SDCC 09: James Cameron AVATAR Panel

Have you ever wanted to go to another planet?

That’s the question James Cameron asked of the stuffed-to-capacity Hall H Thursday at Comic-Con International: San Diego.  After the crowd unleashed a fanboy roar for the ages, the lights went down and 25 minutes of Avatar  -  in 3D - was unveiled.

Sam Worthington plays a wheelchair-bound hothead hired to be a ‘driver,’ someone who controls an Avatar, a 10-foot tall elongated version of a human body, blue-skinned, pointy-eared and with a long tail. Think Nightcrawler if he was stretched out. They resemble the distant planet’s indigenous people, the Navi.

The five scenes seem to have been chosen as the best examples of showing the audience the world of Avatar. Pandora is a distant planet that’s as awe-inspiring as it is dangerous. The background artists waste no space on the screen, with fluorescent plant life and amazing creatures, many that look like mutates from Jurassic Park, populating the surroundings.

As the security chief of the industrial compound the humans have established on the planet Pandora, Stephen Lang greets new employees like a drill sergeant welcoming newbies to Paris Island.

“My job is to keep you alive,” he growls.” I won’t succeed [with all of you.]”

The jungle is no place for an amateur, and in one scene Worthington’s Avatar learns the dangers of making a wrong turn on Pandora. A massive creature that’s part dog, part velociraptor chases him.

Zoë Saldana’s character Nadidi, a native of the Navi, shows up as Worthington’s indignant savior at first, then the love interest. She’s good with a bow and arrow, and putdowns.

The best scene? One in which Worthington’s Avatar tames a pterodactyl-like animal to become his personal aerial transport, in what appears to be a rite of passage among the Navi. The amount of detail in this scene is mind-boggling.

So how’s the 3D? Unobtrusive is the best way to describe it. The main difference is that during two chase scenes and the flying sequence, the footage remains in startling clear focus. Most times, rapid movements in 3D films tend to get blurry. Every single frame in the 25 minutes on display here was in focus.

Everyone always asks, ‘where have I been? Well, that’s where I’ve been,” Cameron said after the footage ended.

Cameron’s producing partner Jon Landau joined him onstage, followed by Sigourney Weaver.

“This is the movie you’ve been waiting for,” Weaver said.

Her character Grace is a botanist who runs the Avatar program on Pandora.

Stephen Lang walked onstage and spoke briefly, in character, like he was an extra from Full Metal Jacket. Lang described his role as the protector of the human complex on Pandora as the ‘villain of the piece.’ He butts heads with Weaver’s character and considers the Navi savages.

Saldana was next to come onstage, describing her character Nadidi.

“I wanted her to be a female action character, on the same level as other [female characters] in Jim’s movies,” Saldana said.

Sam Worthington sent along a taped message from the set of Clash of the Titans singing the praises of working with Cameron.

“We just picked up right where we left off,” Weaver said when asked what it was like returning to work with Cameron more than 20 years after Aliens.

“Working with Jim is like nothing else I’ve ever done, because no one cares as much as Jim.”

Saldana talked about the physical demands of the role, from the weightlifting to horseback riding. She said her and Worthington became workout buddies.

“We would work out in a fitness trailer, ala Schwarzenegger. We were so pumped up,”  Saldana said.

Cameron said a linguistics coach was brought it in to make sure the Navi language spoken through much of the film (don’t worry, there are subtitles) was done to his specifications.

Cameron said much ecological and anthropological research went into creating the three-dimensional world of Pandora.

Stephen Lang described getting cast in Avatar as the longest callback in movie history, since he was originally up for the Michael Biehn role in Aliens.

During the Q and A,  Cameron addressed again the topic of Avatar’s long gestation period, how he had to wait for the technology to catch up to the idea. He said he knew it was time after seeing Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, and seeing what Peter Jackson had done with Gollum.

He also said he has NO plans to re-team with Schwarzenegger once Arnold leaves political office.

The last bit of news came at the very end, as Cameron announced that on August 21, people will be able to view the first 15 minutes of Avatar for free on IMAX and 3D-capable screens across the nation.

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