Monday, July 20, 2009

Dreaming Towards James Cameron's "Avatar"

Michael Cieply at The New York Times reports on the escalating storm of hype and anticipation surrounding James Cameron's 3-D sci-fi movie Avatar, scheduled for a December release. To date, none of the images from the film have been released to the public, not even a single still. However, Time magazine's Joshua Quittner was shown fifteen minutes of footage and subsequently "fed the frenzy when he reported feeling a strange yearning to return to the movie’s mythical planet, Pandora.... Mr. Cameron, Mr. Quittner wrote, theorized that the movie’s 3-D action had set off actual 'memory creation.'” (He told Cieply, “It was like doing some kind of drug.”) Others online have been busting their buttons without access to any actual evidence that the film exists, never mind what it looks like: Cieply has fun with one worthy at the IMDB message board who had had a dream that he saw the movie--on bootleg, no less--and proceeded to share his impressions of how it played in his unconscious. ("The film was unfinished, and the special effects were mostly drawings and cartoons, but they looked 3d still. But it was the best movie I've ever seen, too bad it was only in my dream! I really hope the actual movie is at least half as good as the one I saw in my sleep.") Meanwhile, Dr. Mario Mendez, a behavioral neurologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine who has used "virtual reality therapy" in working with Iraq War veterans, "said it is entirely possible that Mr. Cameron’s work could tap brain systems that are undisturbed by conventional 2-D movies. One, he said, is a kind of inner global-positioning system that orients a person to the surrounding world."

Officially, Cameron and his studio, 20th Century Fox, are keeping their cards close to the vest while expressing a sanguine belief that it's only natural that people will be so excited about the chance to see something so awesome: “Jim Cameron," a studio flak opined, "is breaking new ground with this film. Like all movie fans, the studio is excited by the prospect of such an original piece of entertainment.” (The movie stars Australian actor Sam Worthington as a paralyzed man who, through an experimental process, is able to enter an alien world in a "genetically engineered" form that he controls with his mind. The cast also includes Zoe Saldana, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, and Cameron's Aliens star, Sigourney Weaver.) Cameron himself recently appeared at the ShoWest movie-exhibitors convention, in the form of a promotional video, where he said that watching his movie will be akin to “dreaming with your eyes wide open.” (Never mind that the phrase has been used by people trying to find a lyrical turn of phrase to describe the experience of moviegoing itself, going back at least to the Surrealists.) At the same time, though, even as they fuel the hype, Cameron (who did, after all, make The Abyss) and Fox must both be at least a little worried about setting a standard of rabid expectations that they can't possibly deliver on. “Whatever they think [the movie is] going to be," Cameron shrugged to an AP interviewer last year, "it’s probably not.”

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