I had the chance to check out about fifteen minutes of footage from James Cameron's new film, Avatar, releasing December 18. The movie is being hyped as a revolution in special effects and the boundaries of filmmaking.
After a brief intro from Cameron himself, we put on our bulky 3D glasses (especially for someone that already wears corrective lenses) and watched a quick early scene of Sam Worthington as a crippled soldier attending a briefing on a distant planet. The commanding officer is speaking to all the dangers in the jungles beyond the base. Cut to a scene with Sigourney Weaver strapping Worthington ("Jake" in the film) into an apparatus that scans his brain.
Apparently Jake's consciousness is then transferred to the tall, muscular body of a native alien, his "avatar." The next scene features Jake in his new self deep in the jungle going toe to toe with a dinosaur-like beast. From here on out, the clips are essentially highly rendered CGI...an uber-detailed animated film set in this alien land. Creatures are attacking or attacked...Jake meets others of his "kind" and his grapples with a flying creature to show his dominance. The final minute or so is a montage of battle sequences with militaristic forces.
The 3D was intriguing (I probably haven't been to such a film since my childhood and it's obviously advanced a bit from the days of flimsy blue/red lensed glasses) and the effects are certainly solid, but, as I said, it's more or less exceptional animation. I'm intrigued by the story and I was very pleased visually, but I have this horrible feeling the film might be met with apathy outside of the genre set (of which the screening was mostly populated). It's been over 10 years since Cameron was king of the movie world with Titanic. I'm happy to see him return to his science-fiction roots, but from this glance Avatar won't offer anything earth-shaking.
So is it a revolutionary step in filmmaking that will change the future of movies? Maybe only for directors and producers with deep pockets and long leashes. I think the rest will still rely on actual actors and sets. We'll see how the general movie-going populace reacts in December.