November 10, 2009

Will the real Avatar trailer please stand up?

James CameronImage via Wikipedia
A few thoughts on Avatar

Like a large proportion of the civilised world I am anxiously looking forward to the December release of James Cameron’s “Avatar”. A movie destined to change the way we think about movies (or so the hype would have us believe).

The publicity machine has been gearing up over the last few months or so starting with Avatar Day in August where cinemas across the US showed select clips from the movie totalling about 15 or 20 minutes in length. Since then there has been the main trailer - which was underwhelmingly received in general - along with a number of smaller trailers destined for television.

The general opinion of folks who have seen the footage in 3D (and I don’t count myself in that group but do include a close friend) is that it is a game changer. A lot of the previous problems associated with 3D - discomfort in watching, convergence issues etc - have gone leaving you with a fully immersive experience allowing you to experience the beauty of Cameron's location planet Pandora completely.

This is all well and good but what’s the story going to be like? I read a very early treatment of Avatar which was circulating on the internet and - like a lot of James Cameron movies - it was very detailed, visually stunning and well thought out. It is, at heart, an eco tale (and as such maybe an allegory for man’s destruction of his own planet), but told with Cameron’s typical style and flair. Remember this was a guy who took a love story set aboard a disaster movie about a sinking ship and parlayed it into the highest grossing movie of all time. My respect for this man and his abilities is of the highest level and I will generally watch anything that he’s involved with.

The problem that I have has arisen as a result of the latest TV trailer I’ve just seen. And it all relates to  Fight Club.

Fight Club is a David Fincher movie that came out in 1999. I was an avid theatre-goer at that time and saw the trailers for this movie for several months in advance. You may recall that they showed a lot about the ‘fight’ part of Fight Club, including a bronzed, Adonis-like Brad Pitt wondering around an underground room giving out the rules of ‘Fight Club’ ('The First rule of Fight Club is that you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is that you DO NOT talk about Fight Club’) There was a lot of blood, a lot of fighting and a brief glimpse of Helena Bonham-Carter wondering around looking distinctly non Merchant-Ivory. Other than that there wasn’t a huge amount about the plot or anything else.

I stayed away from the movie. As did quite a lot of people. It wasn’t particularly well received on it’s theatrical release. It came and went and I forgot about it. A year or so later as I was building up by nascent DVD collection I came across the 2-disc Special Edition DVD version and - being a fan of special editions - bought the film. Finally I got around to watching it and was completely blown away by the movie. It was nothing at all like I had expected. The fighting was only a minor part of the movie and the Brad Pitt character - Tyler Durden - was absolutely mesmerising. It’s now one of my all-time favourite movies.

But the trailer was atrocious.

As I look back on it now I realise that the reason I didn’t watch this movie in the cinema was because the trailer was totally misleading. I wonder how many other people had the same problem.
(For a great dissertation on the link between 'Fight Club' and 'Calvin and Hobbes'. Click here)

Which brings me back to Avatar.

The previous trailers I have seen have been gung-ho ‘military on the move’, smash-em-bash-em type trailers meant to appeal to the key demographic of 18 to 24 year old males. They’ve shown military hardware, buff fighting men, lots of monsters and beasties and the hero being heroic. However the new trailer is different. The new trailer is.. softer. More feminine. The music has been toned down and has an ‘E.T.’ sort of quality to it - gentler, soothing, peaceful. Sure there are still shots of monsters and fighting and military hardware, but we’ve seen them before. The new shots are more of plants, and forests, cute flying insects, and the Na’vi. And every shot I see like this makes me think that one of the trailers we are seeing is like the trailer for ‘Fight Club’ - misleading. Am I seeing a trailer for a film that is a gung-ho military action adventure set on a pretty planet, or am I seeing a trailer for an Eco- friendly, touchy-feely, love story between two smurfs that is book-ended with a couple of battle sequences? Which trailer is accurate?

Will the real Avatar trailer please stand up?

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