I’ve been somewhat obsessed with the trailer for the upcoming Avatar movie lately, one because I’m a sucker for epic sci-fi films, and two because I’m a total sucker for sci-fi art direction. The first teaser trailer was so horribly bad, I was initially curious if it was a function of poor editing on the teaser’s part, or a function of the movie, which could be described as Fern Gully III: Our Work Here Is Done, Let’s Go Destroy Some Other Planet. Fortunately, this trailer is better, far, far better, than the first one they threw out to us.

Now, I loves me some eye candy, and at $230 million this movie may have some of the most expensive eye candy to date. And so, based solely on that, I have deemed this movie worthy of my attention. Thus, having watched this trailer numerous times, it would be a shame for me not to interpret it, now, wouldn’t it?

(apologies for the video controls and obvious screen grabs from QuickTime… this was by far the easiest way to do it)

Jeff mentioned in class how actors are unavoidably situated in the history of their own work, and Jim Carrey’s career is one example of how difficult it can be to shake those first impressions. The main character of Avatar, Jake Sully, is played by Sam Worthington, a relatively unknown Australian actor. As a result we are able to enter the theater without any preconceived notions of what type of character he is going to play.

If Sully were played by Vin Diesel, Will Smith or Nathan Fillion, we would have very different expectations for his character. If it were Tom Cruise, for example, we can expect that he would demand the film feature a passionate make-out scene with a beautiful women (to settle any questions about his sexuality), and that his wheelchair would need to be over eight feet tall (so he could tower over any other actors, and perhaps crush them).

The first time we meet Sully in the trailer, he’s cruising around a sports bar in a wheelchair. A projection screen in the background shows a game of soccer, juxtaposing the able-bodied nature of these players with Sully’s disability. His Harley Davidson shirt could be interpreted as indicating he’s a rebel, an ex-motorcycle rider (something that he could no longer do if he lost the use of his legs) or old and rich (as the Harley in American culture is increasingly situating itself as a luxury item of rich retired men).

What’s really amazing is that, in 2154, we still play pool, ride motorcycles and go to bars. American football, however, has been surpassed by real football as the spectator sport of choice. Sorry, CJ.

How do we know it’s 2154? Because a computer interface in the trailer tells us so, duh!

To that end, the appearance of Sigourney Weaver in this film, who played Ellen Ripley in the Alien Quadrilogy, is certainly no coincidence, and is filled with cultural significance. James Cameron directed Aliens and he directed Avatar, so what we have here more than twenty years later is a sci-fi reunion between Cameron and Weaver.

From what I’ve seen so far of Michelle Rodriguez’ character, there are no surprises here. She’s a bristly tough-talkin’ marine who’s seen it all, just as in LOST she was a bristly tough-talkin’ cop.

The art direction of the attack helicopters, I believe, is clearly inspired by the design of the Orca Assault Craft from the original Command & Conquer PC strategy game. What’s more, even four years ago someone named X-Warrior had created a 3D rendering of a similar craft.

Think the video game comparison is a stretch? Think I’m grossly over-estimating the influence that video game art can exercise over multi-hundred-million-dollar cinema productions? Check this one out:

The Na’vi of planet Pandora are mystical blue-skinned, long-eared beings that live in the forest.

The Night Elves of World of Warcraft are magical purple-skinned, long-eared beings that live in the forest.

Ashenvale is the ancestral homeland of the Night Elves (where yours truly would always get his corpse camped by twinked-out level 50s with nothing better to do than pick on a level 30 hunter), and it is decked out in rich tones of blue, green and purple.

Likewise, nighttime in the forest on Pandora is decked out in rich tones of blue, green and purple.

There are numerous symbols used to indicate that the Na’vi are a people of nature. Their hair is braided and bedecked with beads, reminiscent of the 60s movement, hippies, and the cultures that they had originally appropriated these styles from. Their clothing and jewelry are largely comprised of leather, feathers, wood, vines, fibers, seeds… items that a foraging culture in the jungle would likely come across.

Similar to some native cultures, the Na’vi adorn themselves in paint when they go to war, perhaps in an attempt to intimidate the opposing side. How did these indigenous people, a million lightyears away, happen to cultivate many of the same cultural codings that are present here on Earth? It’s a mystery!

Fortunately, tribal cultures aren’t the only victim of stereotyping in Avatar. Here we see Mr. Douche Bag Business Man, who was sent by corporate to make sure the mining project continues operating smoothly, no matter the cost. How do we know he’s a douche bag? Because he’s wearing a striped douche bag tie, of course!

Finally, I casually drink coffee in the morning while reading email, a boring and mundane task. The fact that Colonel Miles Quaritch drinks coffee while flying in an attack helicopter and commanding the annihilation of an entire alien race shows just how casually he approaches such an activity.

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