Michael Cavna Reports From Comic-Con Day 1: A Look at James Cameron's 'Avatar'

James Cameron, on the
James Cameron, on the "Avatar" set, says the film -- in which he again works with Sigourney Weaver -- fulfills a 14-year dream. (By Mark Fellman)
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By Michael Cavna
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 24, 2009

SAN DIEGO, July 23 -- They came as au courant vampires. They came as Jedi knights ("Star Wars" springs eternal). And they walked among us as zombies. By this time next year, they'll probably be spray-painted blue.

At the Comic-Con International fantasy entertainment convention Thursday, director James Cameron delivered the first American public showing -- 20-some minutes anyway -- of his eagerly anticipated 14-year "dream," the sci-fi film "Avatar."

In this futuristic action film, a war veteran (played by rising Aussie actor Sam Worthington) is taken to Planet Pandora, where a race of aqua-tinted humanoids known as the Na'vi battle.

Seriously: aqua. These luminous blue beings looked part late-'80s Michael Jackson and part Smurf -- with leonine tail and ears thrown in for good measure. In one scene, in which the male lead says mid-battle, "Who's bad?," it's hard not to think of -- rather eerily -- the late pop star's song and look. (The character, after all, chose to change his hair and skin color.)

The crowd reaction? Thousands of fanboys packing the hall went wild, hollering and whooping until they were -- well -- blue in the face.

Scheduled for release in December, the film's look is rather stunning. And given the appearance of the humanoids, perhaps co-star Stephen Lang put it best when he told the Con crowd: "As blue as a baboon's butt."

The spirit of the room after the trailer was: It's Jim Cameron's world -- we just put on our chunky 3-D glasses to live inside it.

Cameron endeared himself to the Con faithful, saying: "I feel like one of you guys. I've been working on this sucker for four years -- and . . . dreaming it for 14 years. These are the kinds of things that blew my mind as a kid. . . . This is for the 14-year-old boy who still lives with me in my mind."

It was announced that Aug. 21 will be "Avatar Day," during which limited footage of the film will be shown in select theaters across the country, four months before release. More buzz building.

The film reunites Cameron with his "Alien" star Sigourney Weaver, who said that working with the director again was like "a moth returning to the flame." And here, Cameron does nothing if not generate heat.

"Avatar" producer Jon Landau, in an interview shortly before the screening, said he hopes his film's 3-D technology -- long anticipated as a cinematic game-changer -- will be thrilling, yet largely imperceptible. "We want the technology to be so good that you're not aware of the technology," he said.

Landau, whose professional partnership with Cameron dates back to "Titanic," also touted the performance of Zoe Saldana, fresh off her "Star Trek" role. "Zoe puts every part of her body into performance," Landau said.

The producer added that he hopes the film's appeal will partly be due to that deep desire to be a hero that beats in every heart.

Judging by the many buzzed-out peach-fuzz attendees, the man knows his audience. After filing out of the San Diego Convention Center hall, one wan fanboy whipped out his cell and spouted the words every visionary director -- let alone studio marketer -- loves to hear:

"Dude! It. Is. Awesome."

Earlier in the day, quirky director Tim Burton strode into Disney's 3-D panel in all-black attire to promote "Alice in Wonderland."

As Johnny Depp, who plays the Mad Hatter, took the stage for a brief Does-This-Feel-Cool-Enough-Yet? cameo, some women chanted: "I love you, Johnny!" And some men chanted: "I love you, Johnny!"

But even Johnny -- who, in next spring's "Alice," sports white makeup and orange hair -- couldn't compete in that room when Cameron plays them blues.

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