A Humble Country News Update: Cinefantastique Spotlight Podcast 2:37

Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a newsreader!
Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a newsreader!

What can we say? There were no new genre films being released to theaters this week, and Steve and Larry had schedules that prevented them from syncing up for a planned discussion of TWILIGHT ZONE episodes (we’ll try to do that at some other point).
So, instead, Dan sat down with his trusty microphone and a stack o’ news, and brings you up-to-date on what happened in genre in the past week and what’s coming to theaters and home video in the coming week.
Everything will be back to normal next week (relatively speaking). Until then, click on the player, and enjoy!

Horror Film Ratings & Conversations with Michael Cricthon: CFQ Round Table Podcast 2:24.3

Carmen Electra is about to lose a breast implant in this scene from the R-rated SCARY MOVIE.
Carmen Electra is about to lose a breast implant in this scene from the R-rated SCARY MOVIE.

This time out, the Cinefantastique Round Table Podcast – the podcast of horror, fantasy, and science fiction films – devotes itself to two in-depth conversations. The first focuses on the subject of the MPAA ratings system and how it impacts horror movies, with their depictions of graphic violence. The second, inspired by the new book, Conversations with Michael Cricthon, takes a look at the best selling author’s contribution to the science fiction genre in literature on on film. CFQ editor Steve Biodrowski (whose interview with Crichton regarding JURASSIC PARK is in the book) is joined by San Francisco correspondent Lawrence French and New York correspondent Dan Persons.
Also this week: Farewell to James Arness; James Cameron on the AVATAR sequels (not a trilogy); Pierce Brosnan in Stephen King’s BAG OF BONES; and Ron Howard on THE DARK TOWER.


Cameron Cuts Deal for 'Avatar' 2 & 3

 avatar-cameronAccording to The Hollywood Reporter, James Cameron has signed a deal with 20th Century Fox to make AVATAR 2 and 3. 
Production should start in 2011 for premeires in December 2014 and December 2015 in mind. Fox and James Cameron released a statement in which the director said: 

“It is a rare and remarkable opportunity when a filmmaker gets to build a fantasy world, and watch it grow, with the resources and partnership of a global media company. AVATAR was conceived as an epic work of fantasy—a world that audiences could visit, across all media platforms, and this moment marks the launch of the next phase of that world.
With two new films on the drawing boards, my company (Lightstorm Entertainment) and I are embarking on an epic journey with our partners at Twentieth Century Fox. Our goal is to meet and exceed the global audience’s expectations for the richness of AVATAR’s visual world and the power of the storytelling.
In the second and third films, which will be self contained stories that also fulfill a greater story arc, we will not back off the throttle of AVATAR’s visual and emotional horsepower, and will continue to explore its themes and characters, which touched the hearts of audiences in all cultures around the world. I’m looking forward to returning to Pandora, a world where our imaginations can run wild.”

Avatar & 2001: CFQ Post-Mortem Podcast 1:31.1

This week’s edition of the Cinefantastique Post-Mortem Podcast delves into the immersive cinematic world of James Cameron’s AVATAR: THE SPECIAL EDITION, whose re-release in theatres gives audiences a chance to enjoy what 3-D can be, when it’s not slapped on in post-production. Also on the table: the upcoming documentary, 2001: BEYOND THE INFINITE — THE MAKING OF A MASTERPIECE, in which Oscar-winning effects expert Douglas Trumbull, himself a veteran of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, will delve behind the scenes of Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction masterpiece .


'Terra Nova' Loses Producer, Gains Actor?

According to The Hollywood Reporter, producer David Fury (24) has left the Fox Network’s time-travel dinosaur series TERRA NOVA.
Unnamed sources tell the site that Fury left due to “creative differences” while writing the pilot with Brannon Braga (STAR TREK: TNG, 24). Braga will remain as the ‘show-runner’ producer for the Steven Spielberg series.
It’s unclear if David Fury’s differences were with Brannon Braga, or higher up the chain of command.
LANG_AVATARMeanwhile, Deadline.com says that Steven Lang (AVATAR, CONAN) is in serious talks to play Frank Taylor, who they describe as “the charismatic and ruthless leader of the Terra Nova settlement.”
The article claims Lang was long favored for the the role, but unavailable due to feature commitments until recently.
UPDATE 9/17: Deadline.com is confiming that Steven Lang has signed for the role of Frank Taylor.

Sense of Wonder: Avatar a box office dud?

Avatar glowing creatureIt has been interesting to view some of the reactions to the box office returns of the special edition of AVATAR, which is currently playing in 812 3D venues across the country. Re-releases seldom pose a real threat to new films in the marketplace, and true to form AVATAR did not destroy the competition, leading some observers to declare that the special edition a failure.
For example, check out this comment from Time.com:

Avatar tanked in its heralded rerelease, finishing out of this weekend’s top 10 and further tarnishing the economic glamour of 3-D.

Let’s put this in perspective: we are in the late summer slump, when ticket sales fall off as potential buyers return to school. In this marketplace, AVATAR has the highest per-screen average of any 3D film currently playing, which includes not only the recent releases STEP UP 3D and PIRANHA 3D (the real box office disappointment of the bunch) but also such holdovers as DESPICABLE ME, TOY STORY 3, and SHREK FOREVER AFTER. I’m not exactly sure how a nine-month old movie – which boosts the per screen attendance in 3D venues – can tarnish the “economic glamour” of the process.
And check out this exercise in sophistry from the Los Angeles Times article “Rerelease redux: Was the opening of the ‘Avatar’ special edition a disappointment?“:

The movie grossed about $4 million on 812 screens here in the U.S. Several readers pointed out that the per-screen number this averages out to — just about $5,000 — was among the strongest of the weekend. And that number is indeed not terrible for a new opener — except for the fact that “Avatar” wasn’t a new opener; it had the benefit of eight months of marketing and buzz behind it. This is hardly some unknown character drama that has to fight for every ticket.

Emphasis mine. Against all logic, writer Steven Zeitchik is arguing that being a re-release is a huge marketing advantage that should have smoked the competition, when in fact the exact opposite is true. He also overlooks the fact that, until a few weeks ago, AVATAR was still playing a handful of regular, 2D engagements around the country, and it is available on Blu-ray disc. It is not as if the film has been unavailable in a way that would whet appetite. Under these circumstances a box office triumph should be seen as the exception rather than the rule.
The bottom line is this: Yes, 20th Century Fox would have been overjoyed if AVATAR: THE SPECIAL EDITION were doing twice as much business, but only out-sized expectations could frame the re-release as a failure rather than a disappointment. The re-release has added nearly $8-million to the film’s already huge worldwide total, and except for the top three box office hits (THE AMERICAN, MACHETE, and TAKERS) AVATAR has a higher per-screen average than any title currently in release. Do we really think there are many theatre-owners out there lamenting that presence of AVATAR on their screens?

Avatar: The Special Edition review

Avatar Special Edition banshees
A new hunting scene for the Special Edition

As you all know, AVATAR is back on the big screen, showing exclusively in Digital 3-D and IMAX 3-D engagements. As you also know, this release is billed as the “Special Edition,” because writer-director James Cameron has restored nearly nine minutes of footage, expanding the already lengthy film’s running time to nearly 170 minutes (the maximum capacity for analog IMAX 3D screenings). Is the new special edition truly all that special, or is this just a cynical money-grab?

The answer is: neither. Despite the new scenes, AVATAR remains much the film it was before: a blockbuster entertainment of magnificent proportions, lacking subtlety while proudly wearing its heart on its sleeve – when it’s not blasting away bad guys with all the over-heated enthusiasm of THE EXPENDABLES. Yes, 20th Century Fox’s decision to re-issue the film was based on bottom line considerations, but in this home video era, we should appreciate the opportunity to re-experience the film on the big screen: AVATAR had still been doing good business when it was pushed out of 3D venues by ALICE IN WONDERLAND last March, and since then, ticket buyers have been ripped off by a succession of 3-D post-production conversions (CLASH OF THE TITANS, THE LAST AIRBENDER, PIRANHA 3 D) that were almost enough to permanently sour discerning viewers on the process. A return trip to Pandora is enough to eclipse those bad faux-3D memories

The special edition offers another opportunity to savor the 3D beauties of Pandora.
The special edition offers another opportunity to savor the 3D beauties of Pandora.

The real reason to see AVATAR again is to remind yourself what 3D looks like when done right. Although Cameron avoids gimmicky images of objects projecting out of the screen, he uses the process to great effect in flying scenes: separate from the background, all those copters, banshees, and floating jellyfish truly seem to be suspended in mid-air. Also, the clear separation of objects in the foreground from objects in the background allows Cameron to load the frame with details that would seem cluttered in a 2D rendition (all those virtual monitors, view screens, and lab equipment start to look like a jumble if you close one eye and watch the film flat).
The additional footage, which represents just about 5% of the total running time, is not enough to make a substantial difference in the film overall. Some of the extra minutes fill in expository details that only sharp-eyed fans would notice:

  • A trip to a school house, riddle with bullets, gives a good clue why Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver)’s Na’Vi outreach program is not going so well.
  • Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) reveals her full name to Jake (Sam Worthington) in the scene wherein she introduces him to her tribe (so now we know how he knows her name).
  • Jake’s narration explains why the legendary floating mountains of Pandora stay airborn.
  • We see the aftermath of a Na’Vi attack on some bulldozers that were smashing down trees. It’s obvious that the Earth forces can use this “provocation” as an excuse to justify action they wanted to take anyway: namely, attacking the Na’Vi’s tree-home.

avatar_special_edition_movie_image_01Other footage adds more action or simply expands on scenes that already existed:

  • Early on we glimpse some dino-size creatures we had not seen in the previous cut. Later, Jake in his avatar-body joins the Na’Vi’ as they fly on their banshees, hunting down these large creatures.
  • The “mating” scene between Jake and Neytiri is a bit longer but not at all explicit – unless you count the shot of their braid tendrils intertwining which is a bit suggestive of…something or other.
  • In this version Tsu’tey (Laz Alonso) does not die from his fall during battle. He lives long enough to pass the leadership baton to Jake, who then, according to Na’Vi ritual, puts Tsu’tey out of his misery with a stroke of his blade.

This new footage does little to expand on the plot or themes, nor does it address any of the reservations I expressed about AVATAR during its initial release (such as the absurd use of the word “unobtanium,” which should have been explained away as a joke). It’s nice to have the little narrative gaps filled: I had always wondered why Dr. Augustine’s outreach program was faring so poorly; now we know it was sabotaged (whether intentionally or inadvertently) by gunfire from the company mercenaries. And the burning bulldozers (along with the dead human crew) make it more understandable why the company drones are convinced that military force – not peaceful negotiation – is the only option.

The Na'Vi ride their banshees in the restored hunting sequence
The Na'Vi ride their banshees in the restored hunting sequence

Mostly the new scenes give us more of Pandora, which is for usually worth seeing. Sometimes, however, the extra minutes make themselves felt. The hunting sequence, for example, offers some nice aerial thrills, but it also expands the weakest portion of AVATAR: Jake’s learning the ways of the Na’Vi is a necessary plot point, but it could have been conveyed in a brief montage; instead, it virtually becomes the second act – a lengthy series of scenes that does little to advance the story but does give Cameron more opportunities to show off the beauties of Pandora.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of the re-release is the opportunity to see AVATAR post-backlash. A second time around, the heavy-handed message and the one-dimensional villains seem simply like part of the film’s texture – not great virtues but hardly the fatal flaws that detractors would have us believe them to be. The movie’s strengths are more than enough to eclipse its weaknesses, which seem more and more like trivial nitpicking. Though far from perfect, AVATAR emerges victorious – a film with a Sense of Wonder as wide and beautiful as the skies of Pandora.

CONAN To Feature Supernatural

—Co-star Reveals Fantasy Element—

Steven Lang (AVATAR), who plays the warlord Khalar Singh in Lionsgate / Millenium Flim’s CONAN, told MTV that the new film will feature the supernatural as well as action. 

“If you read Robert Howard — of course the ‘Conan’ stories and novellas — magic, (the) supernatural plays a huge, huge part in them: fakirs and magicians and wizards all over the place…  So magic is part of that world. The magic in this film, there’s a lot of it and there’s a lot of action-magic as well, a lot of magical fighting.”

His own character’s fights will demonstrate swordmanship, rather than  sorcery, however.

“My fighting is not magical… My fighting is just brutal.”

Steven Lang in AVATAR

CONAN stars STARGATE: ATLANTIS’s Jason Momoa in the title role.
Marcus Nispel directs from a screenplay by Thomas Dean Donnelly,  Sean Hood , and Joshua Oppenheimer.
No specific release date has been set, though it’s expected to premiere in 2011.
Note: A commerical message may play first in this video clip, courtesy of MTV.

Avatar re-release: August 27

Here is the trailer promoting the re-release of AVATAR on Friday, August 27. The film will be showing exclusively in Digital 3-D and IMAX 3-D, with no 2-D screenings. Writer-director James Cameron has restored nine minutes of footage, all of it computer-generated, raising the running time to nearly 170 minutes (the maximum capacity for analog IMAX 3-D screenings). Additional footage includes a hunting scene, more action, more creatures, more battle scenes, and a love scene in the glade.
Obviously, the re-release is an effort to milk more money out of the blockbuster film, but the story behind the re-release is interesting: AVATAR made 80% of its profits from 3-D engagements, which represented less than have of its total venues, and the film was still pulling good numbers at IMAX theatres when it was pushed out by ALICE IN WONDERLAND, resulting in a precipitous drop. Distributor 20th Century Fox realized that there was still audience interest in seeing AVATAR in 3-D, so plans for a re-release were born.
For fans of 3-D, AVATAR’s reappearance will be a reminder of what the process looks like when done right. Since AVATAR’s release, ticket buyers have been ripped off by a succession of 2-D movies converted to 3-D in post-production, with results that run from disappointing to disastrous: CLASH OF THE TITANS, THE LAST AIRBENDER, PIRANHA 3D.
Avatar re-release August 27, 2010

James Cameron talks Avatar novelization & sequels

James Cameron gave an an interview to the MTV Movie Blog, in which he discusses future plans for the mega-successful AVATAR franchise. No deals have been signed, and no definite plans have been set, but Cameron is developing ideas: in a nutshell, he wants to complete a novelization of AVATAR before making another film. In adapting his story to the print medium,  Cameron’s plan is not to simply translate the screenplay into prose; he wants to flesh out the story with background and details about the characters and their world that will lay the foundation for the expected sequels.

“I never had a chance to get the novel done while we were making the movie, and I always intended to. I didn’t want to do a cheesy novelization, where some hack comes in and kind of makes s–t up. I wanted to do something that was a legitimate novel that was inside the characters’ heads and didn’t have the wrong culture stuff, the wrong language stuff, all that.”
Once the novel is out there, Cameron hopes that others will help him in further fleshing out the universe. There are simply key bits of the ongoing story, such as the happenings on Earth and Jake & Grace’s personal arcs, that he wants to make sure are developed in specific ways. “I don’t mind opening the universe, but I just don’t want that to happen until I’ve got more meat on the bones. … That all needs to be filled in before other writers can come in and run with it.”

After finishing the novel, Cameron plans to turn AVATAR into a trilogy, possibly filming two sequels simultaneously. The computer-generated nature of AVATAR’s world should make this process easier, because the motion-capture performances of the cast can be shot relatively quickly, with the backgrounds and scenery being added later.