I suppose I feel compelled to write about the “Avatar Day” preview of Avatar last Friday night, if for no other reason than so the hour-long round trip to the one 3D IMAX in my state wasn’t for naught. First of all: Calling it “Avatar Day” is both moronic and egotistical: It was a 15-minute spoiler-free preview, and unless you were driving seven hours each way to see it, it’d hardly take up your entire day. And judging by the number of people in attendance (about 15 - 20 in a theater that holds 400), I seriously doubt many folks around the country wasted their entire day on it. Similar attendance numbers were reported around the country. Either the hype has reached backlash proportions, or the hype never existed at all outside of our insular movie-obsessed community (I suspect it was the latter).
As for the actual footage: I should probably begin with this disclaimer. I’m not a sci-fi geek, but I have a propensity to be won over by good sci-fi (District 9 is one of my favorite movies of the year; I’ve spent all of August watching “Doctor Who”/”Torchwood,” and I’m as big a fan of “Firefly,” as anyone). I’d simply say that movies made specifically for genre fans don’t generally interest me, but since Avatar is a $300 to $400 million movie, I doubt it’s got a niche aim, either. Which is to say: I’m as much the audience as anyone.
Now, as for the footage: Honestly, it was both impressive and not. I don’t want to sound like a contrarian James Cameron hater or anything, but Avatar seemed to suffer from the same problems that Titanic did: Impressive visuals, bad story. I actually think I would’ve enjoyed it more if it were aimed at hardcore sci-fi fans — it might have had a modicum of intelligence. As it were, based on those 15 minutes, Avatar is a visually arresting cartoon movie essentially aimed at 14-year-old boys, which is probably necessary in order to gain back its production cost. The technology is impressive, but the world that Cameron has created with it isn’t. It really is immersive; it’s just not a place I feel particularly interested in being immersed in. It’s soulless. It’s a bunch of dinosaurs and blue people (the blue people, or Na’vi, are apparently crippled humans rebuilt with alien technology). The scenes that were previewed were basically chase scenes: Blue people running from dinosaurs and, another, where the Avatar played by Sam Worthington (completely unrecognizable) breaks in a pterodactyl, like one would break a bull.
All in all: It’s another instance, like Titanic, where Cameron seems really impressed with his own technology, but the truth is, it’s not all that groundbreaking. The 3D experience has been around for a couple of years; Cameron has just overfilled his world with it. It’s very busy, and one guy I talked to afterward, came out with a headache (after only 15 minutes). There’s too much going on in the world, and not enough going on in the story. It’s clunky, cartoonish dialogue (not that dissimilar from GI Joe).
However, all was not lost. Before the preview, I did get to see 3D trailers for a couple of other movies, and I have to say: The 3D trailer for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs completely blew me away. I was a lot more impressed with it than I was in Avatar — it was surreal. The food, which fell from the sky, really did feel as though it were falling on me. And there were several instances during that trailer (and to a lesser extent, the fairly spectacular 3D trailer of Alice in Wonderland) where I had to prevent myself from being the jackass that wanted to reach out my hand and touch the images on the screen, which felt as though they were right in front of me. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs may be a surprisingly huge hit this fall.
Back to Avatar: I have no doubt, if Cameron can find enough 3D screens to put it on, that it’ll be huge (the teaser trailer was viewed over 4 million times on Apple). It’s mainstream as hell, which is to say: Kind of dumb. But if it gets more 3D movies made, I’m actually OK with that. I just don’t think that Avatar, itself,will be anything more than eye-popping and, maybe, migraine-inducing, predictable stupidity.