Avatar Exclusive: First Look at ‘Interactive Trailer’

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Banshee. Just add the term to your lexicon now – because after seeing the groundbreaking “interactive trailer” for “Avatar,” I’m more convinced than ever that these flying predators will go down as one of the more ferocious and memorable creatures in sci-fi history.

At noon (eastern) today, Twentieth Century Fox will unveil a fully interactive “Avatar” trailer – the first of its kind, built upon Adobe AIR software – that broadens the scope and detail of the upcoming James Cameron epic. While some pundits were quick to criticize the movie’s initial teaser trailer for revealing too little about the story, or the fictitious planet upon which the story takes place, this new multimedia interface gives us a greater sense for the heft and vision behind this war of the worlds.

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Techland was given exclusive access to this interactive trailer late Monday night (as of noon, it will be available at avatarmovie.com). First, it’s worth noting that Fox intends to continuously update this trailer – and its accompanying media libraries – as we approach the film’s Dec. 18 release. And since this trailer doesn’t live on a web site, but on a user’s desktop, updates will be seamlessly distributed to those who have downloaded the Adobe AIR software. So purely as a feat of interactive technology, this trailer is pretty darn cool.

Then again, to call this a “trailer” seems a little inaccurate. This is an extensive, elaborate workspace (screenshot below), with quite a bit of new content to digest. There are links to purchase tickets as well as menus that load the latest “Avatar” social networking feeds, scanning Flickr, YouTube and Twitter. In the main area of the interface, users can watch the extended “Avatar” trailer, which now pauses at seven “hotspots,” providing users with the option of viewing extended featurettes about the vision and technology behind the finished product.  These seven short films offer a much more comprehensive preview of the conflict at the core of “Avatar” – here’s a breakdown, in chronological order:

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Jake Sully profile: Sully’s back story is already well known, thanks to previous trailers, but here we are given new footage of Sully’s blue avatar joining the “primitive” Na’vi clan. The most arresting image is that of several dozen Na’vi encircling Sully, all reaching out to touch him. Something about the image seems communal or religious – even Christ-like.

Samson design: Every great sci-fi epic needs some impressive new hardware. In this brief overview, we are introduced to the Samson, apparently a bulky but well-armed transport vehicle pivotal to executing Earth’s war on the Na’vi.

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Neytiri profile: Neytiri is the female that Sully’s avatar bonds with. I know that plenty of skeptics have compared this blue species to Jar Jar Binks, warning that Cameron is going to undermine his larger vision by forcing us to identify with stiff, alien personalities. But the more clips I see from “Avatar,” and particularly in this profile of Neytiri, the more impressed I am when it comes to the expressiveness of these blue faces – and particularly of these blue eyes and lips. Jar Jar Binks was as emotive as a bobblehead. There’s more going on here.

Banshee design: Okay, first off, these animals just look awesome. They’re pterodactyls with the teeth of a shark – seriously, the creators here say they were going for the look of a Great White – and an appetite for manflesh. Flying sharks. They are flying sharks. This is awesome. But looks aside, what really startled me about these new clips from the film was the oomf and gravity of the Banshee-Scorpion battles (see below). These dragon-sharks aren’t just dive-bombing these gunships, they are flying right up next to them and gobbling up troops who are riding inside. In one brief shot, we see the full scope of Cameron’s vision: Hundreds of Banshees descending on hundreds of firing Scorpions. Now here’s a battle.

Scorpion design: These are the smaller attack choppers. I know we’ve seen these in previous trailers, but what jumps out at me about this new footage is the firepower packed into these small, invasive cruisers. The Scorpions are small and navigable, able to penetrate deep into enemy lines, but when they decide to light up the Na’vi, firing guns and missiles, they pack a surprising punch.

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Thanator design: These are the sort of gangly T-Rex creatures that we’ve already seen plenty of. But thanks to the interactive trailer, the creature designers help explain how the Thanators are stop-at-nothing killing machines. Stealthy and smart, possessing fleshy patches around the neck that flare out when they are preparing to pounce, it’s the instincts of the Thanator that are to be feared most. Once they have you in their sights, there is nothing that will stop their assault.

Amp Suit design: If not for the Thanators, the Amp Suit would seem like some clumsy rip-off of the get-up used by Ripley in “Aliens” or by Wikus in “District 9,” a robotic shell that gives a human superhuman strength and agility. But in the featurette released today, we get a glimpse of the head-on Thanator-Amp Suit duels that suggest a level playing field. Super-human vs. super-animal, this is going to be a battle of the behemoths.

Honestly, I’ve had reservations about “Avatar.” With all the focus on the 3-D and the CG-molded alien world of Pandora, I was wondering if the visuals would come at the expense of the story. But the more I poke around this Adobe AIR app, and the more clips I watch, the more excited I’m getting.

“Avatar” is starting to have the feel of an evenly-matched duel on a planetary scale. The Banchees are going fang-to-missile against the Scorpions. The Thanator is beating up that Amp Suit something fierce. Unlike so many promotional campaigns, the more I see of “Avatar,” the greater my appetite becomes. I know others are giving up on this one, but I’m keeping the hope alive.

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