What's apparent, if it wasn't before, is that Fox understands they have an enticing, but potentially niche-project on their hands — a mix of yes, "Delgo," "Ferngully," but also "King Kong," and at times, Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto" transposed onto a fantasy world — so "Avatar Day," seems like the first piece of a carefully thought out awareness campaign. Yes, for a 7:oo p.m. screening in New York City, it felt odd that the theater was not packed to the gills (but still probably 2/3rd to 3/4 full which isn't bad). And some are already noting that according to Tweets across the country, "Avatar Day" attendance seems to be half-full at most, or at least at several, IMAX theaters.
So "Avatar Day" seems an important first step in getting the word out and spreading buzz for the film to an audience that's wider than just the Comic-Con one (where this footage first played). What Fox should have done in retrospect was launch the trailer after Avatar Day hit because they've already been assaulted with a sea of bad buzz, mediocre thoughts and skepticism. So even if this teaser day goes over like gangbusters, it's a Friday night, no one's reading, so will even great word-of-mouth (if it appears) or the (blech) "Twitter effect," really change any one's minds? Is it too late? Certainly not, but Fox knows they have their work cut out for them. So this is step 1 and not the step they were probably hoping for. But to call the reactions so far a wash on the entire picture is counting it out far too soon. It doesn't hit until December 18 and there's plenty of time to attempt to correct that good to bad signal to just noise buzz ratio.
But fair is fair, and we have to admit that the trailer, which many, including us, scoffed at, doesn't do "Avatar" justice and in that context it did seem incredibly silly and goofy-looking. In the context of 16-minutes of footage? It seemed decidedly less silly, but that's not to say it looked like breathtaking genius either.
So here's what we saw:
The James Cameron Intro: Blah, blah, welcome to the special world of "Avatar." It takes place on an inhospitable jungle planet, Pandora, that is inhabited by an indigenous people called the Na'vi (the silly looking blue elves borrowed from "Final Fantasy"). From everything that Cameron and the Fox guys said at the beginning, it seems like they're doing everything to please, assimilate and educate your entrance into this foreign world. I.e., "Avatar" is not a well known product — it's not a franchise, it's not based on a toy, you didn't grow up with it and it's not a video game. It's an originally conceived idea (yes, a novel idea these days), which is why 20th Century Fox has shelled out shitloads of money to rent IMAX theaters across the country so audiences can become acclimated to the idea of "Avatar" for free. It's a smart move on the studio's part, but one that's wholly necessary to protect their investment. "Avatar" cost, what, some $300 million? They'll spend even more to ensure this thing is at least a semi-decent hit and by the time December rolls around, everyone will know what "Avatar" is, even your mom. Or at least that's what they're hoping for.
Scene 1: Here's what's immensely clear, this 3D technology really underwhelms when it comes to live-action and real actors just talking and acting. It feels almost distracting and unnecessary and the only parts that "look cool," are when futuristic LCD screens are being touched and played with by the scientists on Pandora (the world where "Avatar" takes place). This first scene shows Stephen Lang (with Na'vi scars across his face) as a Colonel introducing the soldiers (and audience, it's purposely expository) to who the Na'vi are and the hostile environment of the planet they're about to face. "My job is to keep you alive," he says. "I will not succeed with everyone of you," he said, portentously describing what's in store and just how dangerous the planet is. We see Sam Worthington, a paraplegic, wheel up in his chair and listen to the speech midway through. The Col. warns that the Na'vi have neurologically tipped arrow heads that will kill or paralyze you within under a minute. This ain't no "Aliens" marine sequence with charm and humor that's for sure.
Scene 2: Worthingon's character muscles himself onto an MRI Avatar transfusion bed where Sigourney Weaver’s doctor/scientist character belittles his decision to come to Pandora without any training. The bed of the door is closed, crazy worm-hole-like special effects whiz by as we're to understand that he's undergoing the process to be hosted within a Na'vi body. Weaver's character seems like she has some chip on her shoulder. Worthington appears as if he feels like he has something to prove.
Scene 3: Worthington's character awakes now in his Na'vi avatar host body to mild disorientation, with doctors hovering above him in suits asking him how he feels and testing his aural and mental reflexes. He sits up on the gurney (as you've seen in the trailer) and all seems fine, but Worthington just seems too enthusiastic to finally be able to walk and ends up smashing much of the clinical procedural room with his new-found tail and largess body. The doctors try and sedate him, but it's too late, he bounds around the room, rips off a door and runs out into the wild. Seeing him seconds before and then seeing his goofy grinning face transplanted onto the Na'vi body is where the most unintentional humor derives from.
Scene 4: Well, apparently Sigourney Weaver becomes an Avatar/Na'vi character as well (spoiler?), but why and how we're not sure (Worthington did it as a means to escape his crippled body, Weaver's doctor character appeared fine early on). A team of Worthington, Weaver and Joel Moore (all Na'vi blueish elves) are on some kind of reconnaissance mission, where they come across gigantic, stegosaurus-like creatures that seem fearsome, but are actually more like hippopotamuses or water buffalo — not entirely actively aggressive unless scared or provoked. They stand their guard and the animals back down (Worthington's character actually boasts, "yeah, you're my bitch!"), but then some kind of sabertooth-like creature attacks Worthington and Weaver screams for him to run. Lots of action, chasing and hiding ensues. This reminds us of some of "King Kong," with lots of near misses, lunges and escapes.
Scene 5: Worthington's Na'vi character is on his own and gets attacked by a pack of wild dog-like creatures, almost smaller-looking versions of the sabertooth-esque animal that attacked him earlier. Zoe Saldana's native Na'vi character (who speaks in foreign tongue) saves him with her weapons expertise, shooting down the dogs with arrows and spears. She saves his life, but then scolds him for "being like a baby," naive and new to this world (and body). Their confrontation is somewhat sexual, or at least you can see some flirtation going on. If he's such a dumbass, "Why did you save me then," Worthington asks. "You have a strong heart," she says seeming to melt, before raising her ire once more and insulting his artlessness as a Na'vi. It's a bit difficult to take seriously, but it's not quite embarrassing either.
Scene 6: With a native Na'vi tribe in tow (other skeptical males we haven't seen so far), we see Worthington's character have to go through some rite of passage in taming a lizard-like pterodactyl creature. "How will I know which one is mine?" he asks of taming the winged monster. He will try and "kill you," Saldana says. He mounts the creature, almost gets killed (while the tribesmen chuckle to themselves in their native language, "watch this moron get killed") and then finally breaks in the savage beast like a wild horse. The flying sequences are vivid and kinetic and the footage of all the soaring creatures looks like a cross between the winged Nazgûl things in "Lord Of The Rings," and some of the off-world action in "Attack Of the Clones" (when Obi-Wan rides the dumb lizard thing).
Scene 7: A smash-cut filled sizzle reel that probably impressed audiences the most with its quick cuts, war-machine-like montages, "Star Wars" prequel-like sensory overload battle sequences and general flashiness meant to try and overwhelm. In this context it mostly works and is fairly effective.
Thoughts? "Avatar" on the big screen seems both impressive yet still somewhat silly. The 3D can seem really underwhelming in moments and looks best in the big battle sequences. While emotion is conveyed in the faces of the actors, there is fluidity and they don't look stilted like the Lucas-CGI characters, but it is still hard to take them seriously at times. It's entirely possible though at two and-some hours (which is what we believe the rumored length of "Avatar" is), cynical audiences will slowly become accustomed to the way the actors look and you'll be engaged by the film more than you will be laughing at how stupid it sometimes can look.
What it basically looks like is semi-fun, fantasy adventure film that will probably be — PG-13? — and nothing more, nothing less (it literally looks like a lot of natives in the wild running after each other, much like "Apocalypto"). It looks like an expensive thrill-ride and audiences who love escapist, adventure-action pictures should probably be well at home here. But whether it has an engaging cohesive story, real soul, or is the gigantic cinematic game changer that it has been heralded as remains to be seen. "Avatar" has said to have environmental and socio-political issues at its core as well (the ideas of imperialism and invasion of human's encroaching on a foreign land — and the Na'vi do resemble fantasy-like Native Americans; Wes Studi does have a part in this thing), but none of those issues were remotely broached in the footage we saw. "District 9," already said many of these things quite trenchantly without banging your head with the subject matter and it's already stolen much of the "Avatar" thunder, so Cameron better hope that if those elements and ideas are present that they're not any less superficial than they were in Blomkamp's film. What we're saying is that he has to be on par if he wants to survive in that arena and if not, he should just jettison those elements and stick with light fantasy fun.
Conclusion: "Avatar" is not really for us and not really up our alley, however we will go see it for the experience, as well as see how the story pans out. It does look visually impressive at times, mostly in action sequences, but it also looks ridiculous and underwhelming in other moments (and seriously the "Delgo" like sparks and wonder animation look a little ghey sometimes, frankly). We're curious, but not entirely intrigued and certainly not over the moon. But the geek community — who seem to already be sold on that mediocre trailer — will be fine and they'll probably enjoy the shit out of it. However, as we all know from things like, "The Spirit," "Max Payne," and to some extent, "Watchmen," that community isn't as gigantic as the buzz suggests and there can be a huge disconnect there. So clearly Fox has awareness work to do. For us, it's more a relief that we can mostly cross it off our list and concentrate on other films until the time of its release, but ideally we won't be following "Avatar" every step of the way between now and December 18, because it's just not really geared towards us. At the end of the day, "Avatar" feels like a cartoon for 13-year-olds and the make geek bloggers that generally enjoy that sort of thing. Would it be any really different than "Thundercats: The Movie"?
'Avatar Day' Report: Likely A Fun, Fantasy Adventure And Nothing More; But Will It Connect With Mainstream Audiences?
You hopefully read our "Avatar Day" report from our London correspondent this morning and he was decidedly underwhelmed. But the NY office of The Playlist just got back from seeing the 16-minutes of "Avatar" footage 20th Century Fox and James Cameron released for "Avatar Day" and figured we'd chime in with our own thoughts.