Avatar Day has come and gone, poised to convert people disappointed by the trailer or confirm their worst fears. Make no mistake, though, Avatar will be a unique visual experience, but one that should probably only be experienced in 3D.
I will admit that I was thrown off by the negative reactions to the trailer. I was blown away by the footage I saw at Comic Con, but I was beginning to worry that I hadn't seen the movie I thought I'd seen. But after seeing the footage again and watching the trailer a dozen more times, I'm convinced that Avatar is an evil plot by James Cameron to force people to watch their movies in the theater if they want to enjoy the full experience.
The Avatar Day footage is more or less the same footage shown at Comic Con, although some scenes were truncated and a brief moment was added. They give you a taste of the immersive experience Avatar is. When a creature chases Sully in his Avatar form through the jungle, it's a visceral experience that simply wouldn't be the same in two dimensions. And when we get to stand still and really look at the background, there's the sense that you're really a visitor to Pandora, drinking in all the details of a fantastical world. Cameron and his fellows have infused these clips with an incredible amount of detail, from the way the Na'Vi ears twitch and move to a few stray moths in the background. Especially in the bioluminescent scene, Pandora feels like a real and breathing world, one with all the natural chaos of fluttering leaves and errant insects.
There are certainly design choices that could attract criticism from CG enthusiasts. Na'Vi skin is opaque, rather than slightly translucent like human skin, and of the animals we've seen so far, none have fur (there are also some wearying instances of Zack Snyder-style slowed-down action). But where Cameron chooses to focus his attention, the detail is remarkable. Rocks on Pandora look like rocks; hair comes in individual strands (though it is often bound up in braids) and falls naturally; and, while the animals don't have fur, their muscles pump and pulse beneath their flesh. Even the colors are richer when seen inside the theater.
All of the footage shown comes from the first half of the movie, so we don't get a very good sense of how the story will unfold. But the method behind Avatar's marketing madness is becoming clearer; no footage on your computer or TV can live up to the experience of seeing it in the theater, and Fox is hoping that Avatar Day word of mouth can sell tickets to the movie in a way no promo clips or trailer ever could.