Friday, 21 August 2009

A tale of two Avatars

A tale of two Avatars Part one.
Return of The King of The World!

Pretty much anybody who’s into Science Fiction and Fantasy or just great movies has seen the long awaited first Teaser trailer for James Cameron’s Avatar. Even though the demand was so high that poor old Apple.com/trailers was crashing like a family of test dummies on a stock car racing holiday! The teaser trailer does its job. You get to see the Na’vi in some superb Motion capture scenes as well as the "evil” human military machine battling it out with the indigenous species on the planet they’re attempting to strip mine for all its precious resources. The planet itself is also very well rendered. Of course it’s the 15 minutes of 3D footage being screened to lucky members of the media and public today that will really show what the film is about and if the trumpetedleaps in technology are real or just hype. Now let’s put aside that this is the first, non documentary, feature film in TWELVE years, from the director of the world’s most successful box office smash. (Titanic). Let’s ignore the fact that James Cameron is the director of 4 of the 20th Century’s best, and most exciting science fiction films.)The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss and Terminator 2.That In The Abyss and T2 he unleashed some of the most innovative effects and moviemaking techniques of the 20th century. Avatar will be out all over the globe on the 18th of December. Those lucky people who managed to get free tickets for Avatar Day on Friday the 21st go to see 15 minutes of very exciting 3D footage. This rather clever marketing campaign should see word of mouth spread like wildfire. If the press reports on the quality of the footage are to be believed of course. The film stars Sigourney Weaver, but not just any Sigourney Weaver, try her as she looked around 1986, when she starred in Cameron’s superlative Aliens. Word in Hollywoodland is that this effect is remarkable; remarkable to a degree that the “youthed” versions of Patrick Stewart, in X-Men 3 and Origins Wolverine, look like a junior school Photoshop experiment in comparison. The film also stars, Sam “man of the moment” Worthington. It’s to be hoped that the quality of his films is on a steep upward curve: after being one of the 3 things worth watching in the supremely disappointing Terminator Boredom (sorry Salvation) he follows up Avatar with a film any fantasy fan the wrong side of 30 is praying will knock our collective socks of next spring. Clash of the Titans. (Although the second half of this tale will highlight the film that could, indeed should, be the biggest and best fantasy film since the King returned in 2003. The story revolves around the human attempt to basically strip mine an alien planet, called Pandora, of its resources. A side effect of which would be devastating to the indigenous Na’vi, a humanoid race considered primitive by the humans, but actually “more than meets the eye”. With the Na’vi, standing at 3 meters tall with blue, sparkly skin, and humans replaced with Avatars (essentially new improved bodies) it’s easy to see how a significant advance in effects technology before Cameron felt able to tell this tale effectively. How effectively The Science fiction community, as well as other less enlightened moviegoers, will see on The 18th of December. Cameron’s Avatar has already won one battle though. To avoid confusion with the likely megahit that Avatar will become, another film, due out in the Summer of 2010, has had change its title. More on that in the 2nd of our Avatar tales.




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A tale of two Avatars
Part Two: The Lost Night Returns?


Cameron’s Avatar has already won one battle though. To avoid confusion with the likely megahit that Avatar will become, another film, due out in the Summer of 2010, has had change its title. The Avatar prefix has had to be dropped; leaving Avatar: The Last Airbender, (Known in the U.K as Avatar: The Legend of Aang). As simply The Last Airbender. It is this film and hopefully its sequels that could Fantasy’s next, great film series. O.K it’s based on a children’s cartoon, but it is perhaps the best children’s cartoon series of all time. Better than Mobile suit: Gundam Wing and even Dogtanian! . Set over 3 books, each with 20 parts the cartoon ran for 3 years and won countless awards and deservedly so. Covering spirituality, abusive parents, imperialism, honour, duty, love and even Yoga; With genuine character growth and progression. Set in a paralell Earth with the planet essentially divided amongst the 4 elements of Earth, water, fire and air. It is an exclusively Asian world and therein lies the first germ of doubt as to whether this work will be treated with the respect it deserves. As stated above it’s an exclusively Asian world a solitary Indian Guru completes a cast consisting of (essentially) Inuit, Tibetan, Japanese and Chinese nations. Of course that not exactly what they are rather this fantasy Earth’s version; think Of the Gyptians in the His Dark Materials trilogy as compared to Gypsies. (Or the Golden Compass if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the books.) Well in the never ending pantheon of strange and unnecessary complications that make up the production of a Hollywood movie the original casting placed Caucasian actors in several of the lead rolls. Unsurprisingly this led to a mixture of shock, disbelief and eventually anger. The requisite letter writing campaigns and protests outside the studio led to some fairly minor recasting and a bitter taste has been left in the mouths of many fans of the show, of all colours, and of course in the Asian community as a whole. It’s 10 years since Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (Another film I can’t believe failed to make the all time top 20 fantasy films list????) and there’s a black President of the United States, how on Earth are we still casting films like the old days of Alec Guinness & co in make up? Anyway we’ll leave that aside for now. Here’s an even bigger concern. I mentioned that the tale is set over 3 books. Book I is Water and deals mainly with the issues of the Water Tribes and a great Journey from the South Pole to the North Pole. Book II is Earth and deals mainly with the Earth kingdom, The Avatar’s need to learn Earth bending and travels through the Earth Kingdom. The final book is called Fire and details the need for Aang to learn fire bending, and secret travels through the fire kingdom to prepare for what they hope will be a final invasion to end the war. The equally important “bad guy” of the series is given comparable screen time as his story arc comes to a head here too. It seems simple 3 books three films right? Well no. As I have mentioned this is an award winning series, comparable in its medium to Battlestar Galactica. Drawing influences from Miyazaki films, my Neighbour Totoro and Castle in the sky mostly, as well as Ninja Scrolls, Cowboy Bebop, The Water Margin and Many aspects of Japanese and Chinese culture and even Buddhism and yoga. There are twenty 22 minute episodes per book, with not a lot of fat to trim. It seems far more suited to a 6 film series than a pared down trilogy. There has been talk of this being a Harry Potter like series. This is better than Harry Potter, by some distance, and each book has a natural, big climax midway through; and then builds to a bigger ending at the actual finish. The fear, as always, with this is that what will hit the cutting room floor is much of the character growth, especially in the villains’ roles and the “support” characters; to be replaced by extended Kung-Fu scenes and comic relief. Aang may be the Avatar, as Frodo is the Ring Bearer and Luke the last Jedi, but the genuine detail that goes into the other characters is equally as important. So much so that several episodes don’t feature the Avatar at all, or for just s few scenes and there are episodes where only the “bad guys” appear. I’ll say it again IF this is given the care and attention and the depth of character storytelling maintained, we genuinely have one of the all time greatest fantasy epics to look forward to. M. Night Shyamalan certainly has the potential to make something like this work. However whilst The sixth Sense and Unbreakable remain outstanding works. His subsequent work has bounced around from above average to downright poor. It’s also more than a little disconcerting to see one of Hollywood’s leading Asian filmmakers involved in a production that was so insensitive in its casting. Let’s hope for a return to form as the source material certainly deserves it! You are the resistance!

On a different tack I’ve been spend a lot of these summer holidays trying to teach 2 girls, aged 9 and 4, Aang’s Bo Kata as seen in the teaser trailer. Let’s just say we’re not quite there yet! 


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4 comments:

  1. Well I got two girls (11&7) who can't wait to see "The last airbender" looking forward to seeing it myself since I've got an crush on Shyamalan. Love his movies. But think blue Avatar will excite me more. Sigourney must be a sight to see :)

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  2. You know it's really odd. I'm about as big a fan of James Cameron that there could be, I think the Abyss is one of the most underrated films of all time, especially the director's cut with almost the entire subplot restored. Aliens, the two Terminator films all classics. I've been looking forward to Avatar since way back when it was actually meant to be Battle Angel Alita for his next film. However with all that I was genuinely blown away with quality of the story of The last Airbender. It has depth, culture, maturity action, emotion and a decent sprinkling of various morals. I’m really looking forward to it, but yeah maybe Cameron’s pull is that little bit stronger

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  3. The Abyss is as you pointed out a great film.I also love the directors cut, but none of my friends seem to even remember the film at all. Very strange. Ed Harris performance is really good in this one. And it is as always pleasing seeing that someone besides myself lists "Nightmare before christmas" as a favourite.

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  4. There has to be something, very, very wrong with a person who doesn't like The Nightmare before Christmas! Very wrong :).

    You've inspired me to do a James Cameron piece and one specifically about the Abyss! Now I can't wait until Halloween so we can start watching the nightmare every week!

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