After a disastrous teaser release and a poorly received preview day at select IMAX theaters earlier this year, the excited buzz on James Cameron's Avatar dimmed significantly. Early reports from filmmakers and insiders who had seen it were distilled into one single oft-repeated Internet phrase: "Avatar will #*$% your eyeballs." The sentiment was followed by discussion of the notion that you will never want to watch movies the same way again. Unfortunately, many took the notion to mean that you will never want to watch any of your old favorites again. One friend opined that "thinking that Avatar will make me never want to watch The Road Warrior again is ludicrous." The backlash was inevitable.
Trouble is, this isn't at all what people meant.
You see, the cineplex is in trouble. As I've written about a number of times, the cinema-going experience has become terrible. While theaters have worked to improve the seating, viewing, and listening experience, theaters have become a cattle car experience in which loud, rambunctious audiences lacking any sort of manners are crammed together and shown a half hour of commercials before unleashing a film that many will not be able to hear or enjoy over other audience members. Doing away with the old-style usher-ejection ethos, movie theaters have created an atmosphere in which audiences would rather stay at home and watch movies on Blu-ray, projected on their own large screens through their own state-of-the-art sound systems. So how do you combat that trend?
James Cameron has set out to do it with 3-D movies. But not 3-D like you've seen before; completely immersive 3-D that confuses the senses and puts you in an alien world unlike any you've ever seen before -- and that's exactly what he does here. Recently the film's producer, Jon Landau, brought several pieces of the film to Austin, Texas, for Fantastic Fest, to show us all of the Avatar Day footage, plus a number of additional scenes -- all of which was prefaced with Landau sharing where we were in the story, giving us a sense of the complete film. The result was nothing short of astounding.
The footage shown to us will absolutely revolutionize the way we look at films. To see the state of film right now, one need look no further than next month's 2012. A large, loud disaster-movie-of-all-disaster-movies, the film is jam-packed with tons of horrific disaster scenes of biblical, world-shattering levels. You have seen almost nothing like it, and yet people are already yawning, joking about how many times an audience can see the White House destroyed before it loses any meaning at all. (This time it is crushed by an aircraft carrier caught in a tidal wave.) But Cameron's Avatar footage is incredible. When put in context, Cameron's "Big Blue Smurfs" (as some have cleverly -- ahem -- called them) are magnificent, incredibly expressive -- it's hard to believe they are entirely CG.
The vistas that Cameron paints with are spectacular and unbelievable. There are times where you see the background -- distant mountains and waterfalls -- fade into focus, and you feel as if you are there, almost forgetting that this is a movie. You gasp and ooh and ahh at the world these characters find themselves in and never for a moment do you feel like you are watching something familiar. It is all brand new, wonderful and more than worth the money you slapped down to see it. And that's all before you even get to the story, a modern update of the classic John Carter of Mars, taken in new and interesting directions. During the screening my wife kept leaning over and whispering her wonder while I stared, glued, almost entirely dumbstruck by the footage.
Will you ever want to watch The Road Warrior again? Of course you will. Just like people still watch black-and-white movies like Casablanca or silent films like The General. This won't replace old films; it will simply overtake the way we want to make new ones. Why would I want to make a movie like The Road Warrior, when I can make one in which we put the audience smack dab in the middle of that post-apocalyptic desert? Would people come out for that? Yeah. Yeah, they would. I can only imagine what it will be like, being a 13-year-old boy exposed to this kind of wonder. It is going to blow minds and expand the possibilities of what we can do on the silver screen. Films like The Final Destination and My Bloody Valentine 3-D will be remembered as the amateur hour productions they are compared to what can be accomplished with the brush of a master like Cameron. Once you too have flown around on the back of Pandoran's flying creatures, you'll understand what I'm talking about and what Cameron set out to do 12 years ago.
Avatar opens this December, and by all indications it should change the cinematic world in ways we can only, at this moment, imagine.