The Twihards got their fix with the New Moon panel, and then came the fanboys' turn with director James Cameron's massive unveiling of 25 minutes of Avatar footage—a sci-fi lover's dream come true. Not only did he deliver a mind-blowing, immersive 3-D experience, Cameron's highly under-wraps film delved deep into his imagination, bringing to life the exotic world of Pandora and the emotional story of a man who falls in love with a Na'vi. Cameron's exclusive footage debut for the Comic-Con audience will soon be extended on a national level; he announced that on Aug. 21, IMAX 3-D theaters will screen 15 minutes of Avatar for free—a pretty good deal if you couldn't get into Hall H.
The six clips shown introduce us to the world of Pandora through Jake (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic who uses a Na'vi avatar. He falls for a native princess, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). We detail the first three clips here. Skip past the next few graphs for the Q & A panel highlights with Cameron, Saldana, Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang if you heed this spoiler alert. "Are you ready to go to Pandora?" Cameron asks the thousands of fans who scream and cheer in response. "All right. Let's go!"
Clip 1 (Intro): Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) is talking to what looks like a misfit group of recruits, describing their perilous destination: Pandora. In the back of the room, Jake (Sam Worthington) wheels himself in. Miles says he will not succeed at keeping everyone alive. His voice trails off into the briefing. Cut to Jake, who is now in a high-tech lab where he sees the avatar he will be using. The lifeless Na'vi body is long, lean, and blue with a tail, and it's submerged in a tubular chamber. He examines it closely; its eyes are closed, but its limbs twitch occasionally. Another Na'vi driver tells Jake it looks like him, and that the avatar is now his.
Clip 2 (Jake's avatar): Jake is in his wheelchair, attempting to hoist himself onto a tubular chamber bed. A woman in a lab coat, Dr. Grace Augustine, (Sigourney Weaver) offers to help hoist him up. He refuses and ably does it himself. She secures him into the chamber, telling him to relax, and initiates a procedure that syncs Jake's brain with his avatar. Throughout the lab, workers are looking at nearly see-through computer monitors—the kind we saw in the third Matrix and Tony Stark's home working station in Iron Man. Weaver's assistant takes a data image of Jake's brain and transports it with his hand onto a high tech portable monitor and makes a comment about how healthy his brain activity looks. In another part of the lab, we see Jake wake up as his Na'vi avatar, which is connected to a machine monitoring his vital signs. He opens his yellow eyes, begins moving his fingers and toes—the fact he can walk again excites him. Assistants urge him to take it slow, but he gets up and tries to walk around. Unfamiliar with his 10-foot body, he bumps into the medical machines around him and knocks a few things over. The assistants and the other Na'vi driver who's now awake in the adjacent bed repeatedly ask him to sit down. He won't listen, however, and a lab assistant prepares a syringe to forcefully sedate him. Before she can act, Jake disconnects the wires reading his vital signs and bounds out the door.
Clip 3 (Pandora wildlife): Jake, Dr. Grace and the other Na'vi driver look like they're deep in a jungle of Pandora. The foliage is breathtakingly colorful and lush. The greenery contrasts with a completely foreign looking, pinkish-peach colored plant that spirals upward. It's taller than Jake, and as examines it, he touches it lightly with his finger. The plant senses his touch and "schwoop!" Its leaves suddenly recoil and it disappears into its tube-like base. Jake plays around, touching several plants, making them disappear. A bunch of them are clustered together, and one that he touches creates a domino effect in making a whole lot of them disappear. When the area is cleared, a reptilian like creature, that looks like a hybrid of a triceratops and a hammerhead shark is revealed at the other end of the clearing. The plants have startled it and it's charging at Jake. Dr. Grace tells him to hold his ground, saying that the creature is territorial and won't harm him. Jake charges at it in return and the creature stops just short of head-butting him. With his boosted ego, Jake starts taunting the creature, unaware that a more menacing, raptor-like creature is behind him. The hammerhead-triceratops retreats with the rest of its species, and the raptor-like creature jumps over Jake and charges at them for a while. It then turns around and faces Jake; this time, Dr. Grace tells Jake to run away, and the chase is on.
Q & A Highlights:
When Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver and Zoe Saldana make their entrances, they give an introduction to their roles.
Weaver: "I play Grace Avatar (room laughs) – er, Grace Augustine. She runs the avatar program; she's a botanist. On the distant world of Pandora, which is a world where you can see wonders of thousand-foot-tall trees and floating mountains, incredible creatures—some beautiful and some, as you've just seen, incredibly terrifying. Grace loves Pandora with all her heart. She hopes that she can somehow protect its indigenous people, the Na'vi from the forces of industrial earth."
Lang (in character as Col. Miles Quaritch): "Frankly, I'm a problem to Grace Augustine and her cult of tree-hugging scientists. Lemme tell you somethin'. The Na'vi are a savage race who are threatening the safety of MY people, and they our impeding OUR mission on this miserable planet. Now the Na'vi—they are 10-foot-tall. They are quick, they are stealthy, they're fast. They're blue as a baboon's butt. And they are lethally dangerous."
Saldana: She says something foreign. "Nayakitami"? "That means 'hello, I see you.' … "Neytiri hates the humans for what they are doing to her world. But she finds herself completely fascinated by Jake, who is not like any other human she has met before."
Sam Worthington was not present, since he was on location in Wales, but a recorded clip of him was shown, in which he sent his greetings.
Cameron worked with a head of linguistics at USC, who spent two years working on the Na'vi language and created crash course for the actors. Saldana had to take on extensive training, not only in mastering the distinct glottal stops and sounds of the Na'vi language, but also physically-demanding preparation; she took on horseback riding, bow and arrow shooting, pumped iron with Worthington. The two of them were paired even in the audition process of their roles.
Part of the reason it took Cameron 14 years to complete Avatar was the lack of CG and 3D technology at the time he started. "I literally stuck the treatment in a drawer. When I got it out four years ago, I thought, 'Wow, this is more timely than ever with us being at war, with us being in a greater environmental crisis at any point in the history of the human race.'" he says. "Peter Jackson had done the second Lord of the Rings film at that point; Gollum was looking pretty damn good. It looked like some soul and some real personality could be captured by CG. To me, that was like the door opening."
"The moth went back to the flame," she says of herself, alluding to her collaboration with Cameron decades ago in Aliens. Lang also remembered his history with Cameron and how he was up for an Aliens role he didn't get. "I was cast in Avatar. I regard it as the longest call-back I've ever had," he quips.
When the Q & A session opened to the floor, a young boy took the mic and praised Cameron as his favorite director. He'd seen all his films, and he genuinely thanked him for making something original, unlike the other remakes Hollywood produces. The audience cheered in agreement. Weaver thanked the audience for "loving movies as much as you do, and for believing in them the way you do--for caring about every. single. luscious. detail. Believe me, this is the movie you've been waiting for."
Related Comic-Con '09 Links:
Comic-Con Central - Exclusive Video Interviews, Comprehensive Coverage and More!
Comic-Con 2009 Photo Feature - All the Stars, Costumes and Everything Else Worth Seeing from the Con