Luke Y Thompson is covering the Con for DHD with an emphasis on Hollywood:

August 21st will be “Worldwide AVATAR Day”. When 3-D Imax theaters worldwide will show 15 minutes of the movie for free, and the video game and toy line will be launched. But we saw more of the film. I’ll try to describe the barely describable. Overall, my opinion is that the 3-D is certainly impressive when it comes to minuscule details like the virtual reality computer displays that are everywhere in the lab, or the tiny things that flutter through the atmosphere. But should we really be focusing on minor details like that rather than big-picture stuff? Yes, it’s clear this Comic-Con crowd likes to nitpick stuff to death, but is barraging with minor details the answer? Fox Filmed Entertainment Group chairman Tom Rothman, in his introduction, took pains to say it’s all in the service of character and plot. But the plot is deliberately still being left a little ambiguous to tease all of us, so the jury is out. What is apparant is the film looks beautiful.

What we saw: It begins with a drill sergeant’s boots on the ground. This is Col. Miles Quarridge, played by Steven Lang. He’s warning a group of military types about the dangers of the planet they are on, Pandora. Every animal out there will try to kill them, and the native Na’vi are handy with arrows. “If there is a hell, you might wanna go there for some R&R after a tour on Pandora… As head of security, it is my job to keep you alive. I will not succeed.”

Our hero is a wheelchair-bound Sam Worthington. He listens intently.

Next scene, he is discovering the Avatars – cloned Na’vi bodies with a bit of human DNA that are controlled remotely by humans in chambers who mentally merge with the bodies. Na’vi are ten-foot tall blue feline-people, with UV-sensitive patterns on their skin. Sigourney Weaver (huge cheer from crowd when they see her) is Grace, who seems to have a past with Sam. She gets him into the chamber while sassing back to his smart remarks. Then he merges – we see this process briefly from his perspective, then get a look at his new Na’vi body waking up and wreaking a bit of havoc as he figures out his reflexes a tad quickly. The body looks both alien and a bit like Sam, but very photo-real despite being all CG.

Later scene – Avatars of Sam and Sigourney, among others, out in the alien jungle. (We will shortly notice that many of the animals on this world look like dinosaurs cross-bred with flowers). Sam sees a bunch of trees shaped like seashells – he touches one and it collapses. Having fun, he touches them all. When they all disappear, it reveals a giant rhino/hammerhead shark thing.

Weaver: “Don’t shoot! It’ll piss him off!”

Sam gets into a stand-off and it backs away, but this is an old trick – it’s actually backing away from the monster right behind Sam, a six legged panther/flower/Sammael-from-Hellboy critter. Sam asks what he should do this time, and Sigourney says, “RUN!”

At this point, I start to wonder – where is the jeopardy if these are only cloned bodies and our heroes are actually safe back in the lab? I guess Cameron will explain this at some point.

Later scene – a female Na’vi – Zoe Saldana as Princess Natiri –is about to shoot Sam with an arrow, but a floating jellyfish-type thing lands on it and she takes that as an omen. Instead she fights off a bunch of smaller predators (think dog/alligator hybrid). He thanks her; she rejects his thanks, saying this is sad. He’s like a loud baby, she says, and brought it on himself. But then a whole bunch of the jellyfish things land on Sam and she says they’re seeds of the sacred tree. They blow away like dandelion seeds.

It’s now night, and the entire forest seems to be blacklight-compatible and touch-sensitive. Stoners and trippers will love this movie forever. The palette is very vivid, especially in the next scene where Sam is being initiated into the Na’vi tribe, it seems, part of which involves walking around a cliff-side to capture a pet dragon (well, a dragon with multiple leaf/dragonfly type wings – again, looks like a bit of plant DNA in there).

Sam: “How will I know if he chooses me?”
Natiri: “He will try to kill you”
Sam: “Outstanding.”

He wrestles one of the creatures, then gets it to submit by pulling its ear hair. Crazy colors in this sequence. He is told that he has to fly it right away. They go off a cliff, fly crazy, till Sam yells “Shut up and fly straight!” It does. Telepathic link and such.

That’s it for footage. Panel with James Cameron, Sigourney Weaver, Steven Lang, Zoe Saldana:

Sigourney: “This is the movie you’ve been waiting for.” Grace is trying to protect the Na’vi from the destructive forces of earth.

Lang is still in character, calls Weaver a “tree-hugger.” Implies the movie culminates in a big human versus Na’vi battle.

Of working with Cameron again, Weaver says “the moth went back to the flame. We did it all for you, because we know you’ll notice every single little thing.”

A doctor at USC spent two years developing the Na’vi language. Actors had to dehumanize. Zoe notes that even simple gestures like head nodding are too human, and must be unlearned.

Steven says of his character, “His soul was in such a state of chaos and decrepitude, and what a sad thing to be in a place like Eden and not understand or appreciate it.”

Any future Cameron projects for the Governator? “I wouldn’t rule that out, but Arnold loves a press conference as much as anyone else, so I’m gonna leave it to Arnold to announce.”

Michael Biehn cameo? No – the only role he’d have been good for is Lang’s, which is poetic justice. (Lang wanted Biehn’s role in ALIENS back when.)

What started the idea? Cameron says “I was the CEO of Digital Domain at the time We were lagging behind in 3D composition. I wanted to push the development. They said ‘Are you nuts? We can’t do this!’”

He stowed the script for four years, then came back to it after he saw Gollum in LORDS OF THE RING. Figured it could be done, and thought the war plot was timely. The action is “a spoonful of sugar,” with the medicine being the theme of how we react with nature and our fellow man.