James Cameron Previews 24 Minutes of Avatar !

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James Cameron screened 24 minutes of his highly-anticipated Avatar at the Cinema Expo in Amsterdam on Tuesday and scooper ‘The Insider’ witnessed the footage and sent us this exclusive report! The footage utilized the RealD XL Cinema System. The 3D presentation was on a 55-foot screen with nearly 10-foot Lamberts of light, delivering the largest and brightest 3D presentation at Cinema Expo.

I’ve just returned from a preview screening of James Cameron’s hugely anticipated movie “Avatar” at the Cinema Expo in Amsterdam and I’m still feeling the after effects of this jaw-dropping experience. First off, I’m really not a fan of the so called 3-D craze, that’s currently taking Hollywood by storm. Before the “Avatar” screening, Fox showed us “Ice Age 3″ in 3-D and although the movie is pretty entertaining, I don’t understand why it has to be in 3-D. What is the added benefit? I just got a headache from the whole experience. For some reason or another, my eyes just can’t get used to the 3-D experience. With it comes the fact that 3-D until now has been used as a gimmick.

Would “Avatar” change my mind? With anticipation I directed my attention to the 20th Century Fox show reel. After some pretty disappointing clips from other movies like “Gulliver’s Travels” you could feel the tension in the theater. Then it appeared on the screen: AVATAR. After a brief introduction from cast members Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang and Sigourney Weaver, we were asked to put on the 3-D glasses (really uncomfortable, especially if you already wear a pair). Most of the scenes were from the first half of the movie.

In the first scene we see Sam Worthington’s crippled ex-marine Jake Sully, who just arrived on the planet ‘Pandora.’ He’s in a wheelchair and just rolled in to hear Colonel Quaritch, played by the impressive Stephen Lang, talk to the troops. He’s giving a classic speech that every military leader gives at the beginning of a battle. Jake listens as an outsider to this speech. A melancholic smile appears on his face. Although the scene is in 3-D, I haven’t really noticed it. Finally a director who doesn’t feel the need to stick it in the audience’s face with cheap tricks like pointing objects at the camera.

In the second scene Sigourney Weaver’s Dr. Grace Augustine explains to Jake how the process of transporting your mind into an Avatar works. Although the scene is mostly exposition, we’ve got a good look at the lab and more importantly we get a first glimpse of the Avatars, the Na’Vi lookalikes. These tall blue creatures lie in water tanks, waiting for their human to ‘jump’ in their bodies. Besides Weaver and Worthington, the scene introduces Joel Moore’s character Norm Spellman. As is usually the case with Moore, his character is the comic relief.

It’s the third scene where my heart begins to pound like crazy. Jake and Norm will inhabit their Avatar for the first time. They enter some sort of capsule and – flash – their mind enters the blue creatures, now lying on hospital tables. And not before long Avatar Jake wakes up. And it took my breath away. I thought–just like you guys–that I’ve seen it all with Gollum, or The Hulk, but Cameron has done it again. These creatures seem so real, that within minutes you forget you’re watching an enormous and very blue CGI character. Even the eyes are totally convincing. The characters have real personalities and a soul.

In the fourth scene the Avatars of Jake, Norm and Grace explore the jungle of Pandora. The surroundings remind me of a planet that appears briefly in “Revenge of the Sith.” A lot of massive colorful flowers and plants grow everywhere. Jake’s unbridled enthusiasm works on Grace’s nerves. And not before long they have their first confrontation with some creatures. Some sort of rhino with a flower sticking out of his head looks like he will kill Jake, but he’s not scared and he let’s out a scream. The ‘rhino’ runs away, but not because of Jake. A more dangerous creature – a wolf? – jumps at Jake from behind.

In the next couple of scenes Jake meets Na’Vi Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). Jake finds himself alone at night in the jungle with only a torch as protection against some evil looking dogs. Eager to fight them, Jake says: ‘What are you waiting for?’ When one of the ‘dogs’ attacks him he slams the torch in the creature’s face. A fight ensues that Jake can’t win by himself. Lucky for him, there’s Neytiri who with her trusty bow and arrow helps Jake chase away the creatures. Just when Jake wants to offer his gratitude, Neytiri knocks his reached out hand away and says to Jake that killing these creatures is a bad thing. When the scene fades out to black, my mind begins to work overtime. How the hell is it possible that I never once felt like I’ve been watching a movie where almost everything comes out of a computer?

The most beautiful scene follows directly after the one I’ve described above. When Jake wants to take his torch with him, Neytiri takes it from him and throws it in the river. Like magic the flowers and plants – even the grassy soil – begin to glow in the night. The beauty completely takes my breath away. Meanwhile we get to learn more about Neytiri and her people. Everybody who knows the story of Native American Pocahontas and John Smith, will recognize a lot of similarities. Before you can sing “Colors of the Wind,” Neytiri guides Jake through her world. Mysterious flowing and glowing seeds from a mystic tree appear out of nowhere. To Neytiri’s surprise Jake attracts them. She has a look in her eyes like he’s the ‘chosen one.’ And of course she’s right. Jake has to lead the Na’Vi into battle against the massive army of Colonel Quaritch.

In the next scene we meet the Banshees. The Na’Vi ride these fierce looking creatures when they hunt. After some exposition, where Neytiri explains to Jake that a Banshee first has to respect you, before you can ride it, she takes flight and another gorgeous scene unspools.

The last scene wasn’t completed. What we saw, was sort of a video-game version of the mother of all battles. Countless numbers of Na’Vi riding their Banshees attack Quaritch’s fleet. I can’t wait to see the battle fully rendered.

Overall I was really impressed by what I saw. The effects are in a league of their own. After some disappointing or even pointless 3-D movies, “Avatar” may be the first movie where 3-D is properly utilized.

Avatar hits conventional 3D and IMAX 3D theaters on December 18, 2009.

Thanks to @UCSNord for the after-party pictures.

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