Despite the fact that James Cameron took 12 years to produce a fiction follow-up to his blockbuster, award-winning Titanic, he has wasted no time letting folks know that the forthcoming Avatar is destined to be a masterpiece. And yet, given what he showed today at the San Diego Comic-Con, one can hardly blame him for a surplus of confidence. Screening some 25 minutes of material to a capacity crowd for the first time anywhere, Cameron proved that recent interviews, public appearances and hype opportunities are more than just big talk.
Among the information revealed or exposed about Avatar:
• Sam Worthington plays Jake, a disabled soldier who is granted another chance to walk after he submits himself to a scientific process by which his mental functions are projected into alien bodies called avatars. The bodied are designed in the image of creatures called Navi, who are the indigenous population of a remote planet called Pandora. After descending to the surface, Jake encounters a female native named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who saves his life as a prelude to his acceptance among their people.
• The 3D process by which Cameron shot the film looks truly breathtaking; combining motion-capture with live-action photography and shot digitally, the film maintains a pristine clarity without losing the visceral impact of Cameron's earlier action sequences. Additionally, the creatures on Pandora are almost all computer-generated, but look as convincing as if they were real, thanks to performance capture by each character's human counterpart.
• Although there seem to be countless familiar points of reference among Avatar's influences, it manages to come together like nothing anyone has ever seen: the Navi seem like The Time Machine's Eloi in one sense, noble and primitive in comparison to the violent humans, but they are spectacular hunters, and Neytiri is a force to be reckoned with. Similarly, there are other beasts in the film that feel like they've been composited from various existing animals, like, say a triceratops and a hammerhead shark, but again the way that they are conceived feels both surreal and utterly believable.
• In one sequence, Jake and Neytiri run along the rainforest floor at night, and the flora and fauna light up as if being shot beneath a black light; meanwhile, their footsteps illuminate the ground as the duo moves towards her treehouse community. The idea seems obvious, but the execution is unbelievable, which goes for almost all of the footage shown.
• Cameron proves again that he can combine high-octane thrills with human drama, creating palpable emotional depth both for and between the characters even as he subjects them to physical derring-do that otherwise seems impossible. Avatar is the event movie of 2009, and promises to be both hugely entertaining and technically groundbreaking.