Experience The World Of Avatar

By now everyone, especially tourists and sci-fi fans, have heard of the recent opening of Pandora-The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. This land devoted to James Cameron’s sci-fi epic Avatar has been gestating for several years and puzzled many people. After all, why would Disney pour so much resources into creating a new themed land based on a film that came out last decade? Worldwide, Avatar is the highest grossing film to date, but it has not resonated deeply with most of the general public. Theme park and Disney fans wondered about the quality of the land and its attractions; for some time, The Walt Disney Company has faced criticism in recent years for neglecting its theme parks in the U.S. and Universal Studios has stolen Disney’s thunder with its hugely successful Harry Potter lands. Last month, the company formerly announced a slew of new rides and attractions for its parks and Pandora, which opened on May 27th of this year is the opening salvo.

pandora entrance

After finally being able to visit the land and experience the attractions, I can honestly say that it was worth the wait. Pandora-The World of Avatar is so deeply immersive and stunning with details and it is the best themed land in Walt Disney World. The Disney imagineers have taken great pains to recreate the primordial world of Avatar and their efforts have paid off. Part of the appeal in this land is the land itself. It will take several visits to truly take in everything and the land’s nooks and crannies are begging to be examined in detail. Huge and beautiful alien plants are intermixed with our Earthly flora and the landscaping is highlighted by the jaw-dropping Hallelujah Mountains that seemingly float over our heads. It is fun trying to figure out how the imagineers pulled off this trick, but to be honest, I’d rather not know since the revelation will spoil the illusion. These mountains are a bonafide engineering marvel and what makes them so imposing are their majestic beauty and roaring waterfalls that cascade down their sides.

Hallelujah Mountains Pandora world of avatar

Completing the immersive experience are the attractions themselves. There are only two of them in Pandora, but they are absolute must-rides. The best one is Flight of Passage, which everyone fortunate to ride will attest is one of the best rides ever created, even contending with classic theme park rides like the Spider-Man and Harry Potter rides in Universal. How should Flight of Passage be described? Basically, it is a simulator experience that is more immersive than most simulators since riders are given individual ride vehicles that are mounted like motorcycles.  The ride’s story is that you are linked to a Nav’i avatar that is riding the flying animals called mountain banshees. Thanks to state-of-the-art 3D and well-timed movements, I felt like I was actually riding a mountain banshee as seen in Avatar. The scenes in front of you are panoramic and the motions trick you at many times into thinking you’re diving through Pandora’s tropical forests, mountain ranges and beaches. Yes, there are many instances where you fly over the alien world’s seas, which provide distinct clues as to the sequels’ content. The ride even features new alien animals to marvel over and hope they appear in the Avatar sequels. As I flew over Pandora on my banshee, I actually wished James Cameron would hurry up with the followup films!

Comparing Flight of Passage to Nav’i River Journey is unfair. The former ride is a genuine thrill ride and worthy of being designated an E-ticket attraction. Nav’i River Journey is decidedly more tranquil and relaxed. It is a short boat ride taking you along Pandora’s river at night. Wondrous and unworldly sights and sounds surrounded me and made me feel like I was navigating the waterways of this alien world. The bioluminescent flora and fauna really pop out and my group and I had a joyous time picking out them out. Do not be put off by some reviews about the gentle ride. After the intensity and excitement of riding a banshee vicariously through a Nav’i, this boat trip is a nice way to settle down.

navi shaman

The complaints are probably due to the long wait times for the Nav’i River Journey, which can be more than an hour. Flight of Passage has even longer wait times (I’ve seen times posted as long as five hours during the day!), but since it’s a thrill ride many feel this justifies the long wait. Personally, I would never spend so much time just to get on a ride. If you are unable to get a FastPass and you are not staying on Disney property the only decent option is to arrive at Disney’s Animal Kingdom an hour before it opens. This guarantees that you will be able to get on the rides and be done in less than an hour. Or wait until the hoopla dies down, which probably will be when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens in two years.

In many ways, Pandora-The World of Avatar is a good primer for Disney in crafting the next generation of immersive lands and attractions. Even if you are not able to get on the rides or are a fan of Avatar, it is worth visiting the newest land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom just to take in the ambiance. Plus, it gives us an idea of how Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will be like when it is finally unveiled. Regardless, Pandora-The World of Avatar and its Flight of Passage and Nav’i River Journey are definite must-dos for your next visit to Disney World, they already are for me.

José Soto

Advertisements

Hope For Terminator Fans?

terminator-james-cameron

News that Terminator creator James Cameron will be getting the rights back to the iconic film franchise in 2019 bodes well for hopes that the series will get back to its roots and high mark from the first two movies. Recent reports indicate that Cameron will be handing the directorial reins over to Deadpool director Tim Miller, which should also bring some credibility back to the series after the less than enthusiastic response to 2015’s Terminator Genisys partial reboot. Miller directed the very popular superhero film in 2016 and is a rising star in Hollywood. The fact that Cameron will be the creative force behind the scenes gives the whole project instant respectability with fans and will hopefully bring about another huge movie that will have the Terminator storyline make some kind of sense. The whole idea of John Connor being a villain, which was a major plot point of the last movie, is just wrong, so maybe this new entry will rectify the whole situation.

I enjoyed the third and fourth films in the franchise, but do admit that they did not come close the level established by Cameron’s entries. He had nothing to do with those films or with Genisys, so the idea of him bringing a new film to life is a very good omen. Right now it is not known if Arnold Schwarzenegger will have any involvement or if the movie will be another reboot or continue where earlier films left off, but in any case Terminator fans seem to have something to look forward too in the coming years. It would be even better if Cameron himself was slated to direct this movie, but alas he is busy making four sequels to his Avatar franchise, the first of which will supposedly come out in 2018. This means he will be tied up until at least 2023 according to his announcements, but at the rate that preproduction is going it could be another 50 years until we see another Avatar film. In any case, Terminator fans have been waiting for years for more great films featuring their favorite killer cyborgs from the future and hopefully soon, they will be coming…they will be back.

C.S. Link

The Terminator: The 30-Year-Old Sci-Fi Masterpiece

poster 2Thirty years ago, howling winds among the blackened ruins of Los Angeles in the year 2029 AD and a flying machine of death and destruction began James Cameron’s 1984 classic science fiction action thriller The Terminator. This film was a landmark for the director as well as its star Arnold Schwarzenegger and began one of cinema’s best known sci-fi franchises. It has many great qualities that many films have since tried to emulate. Such as its pulse pounding pacing and action, as well as the many interesting themes it explores (i.e.: the conflict between man and machine and the idea of fate and whether it can be altered).

The story involving a ruthless killer cyborg laser scopeplayed by Schwarzenegger coming from the future to kill a waitress called Sarah Connor (played very well by Linda Hamilton), the mother of the future human resistance leader John Connor, examines the idea of humanity losing control of the technology it created. All of this is done through the lens of classic ’80s high-powered action and gun battles.  One of the memorable things about The Terminator is how uncompromising it is. The brutal nature of the terminator is on full display as he coldly executes his targets and relentlessly pursues Sarah. This is also explained quite well by her protector Kyle Reese (another excellent performance by Michael Bien), a soldier sent back from the future to protect her. He tells her quite bluntly that the machine will not ever stop until she is dead.

sarah and kyle

Any discussion of The Terminator would not be complete without mentioning the fantastic future war sequences that start the film and are seen in flashbacks throughout. It showed a scary post-apocalyptic landscape of a city destroyed by nuclear fire, and massive hunter-killer machines trying to wipe out any humans that appear as if they were rats. This is all seen through the eyes of Kyle Reese, and when he is shown getting back to a human hideout, the hunter killersense of misery and despair among the surviving humans only heightens the tension. It makes his mission to protect Sarah and ensure that humankind has a fighting chance all the more important and desperate. It also demonstrates the terrifying nature of terminators as one infiltrates the hideout and mercilessly slaughters anyone nearby. This is paralleled by the present-day terminator walking into a police station and killing everyone he sees in an effort to get at Sarah. Speaking of Sarah, the film well presented the theme of a once-timid character who finds her inner resolve and becomes a completely changed person. By the end of the film, Sarah Connor is just as determined and full of fight as the machine that is stalking her.

cameron and arnoldAll of these qualities are why the movie is still admired and seen 30 years after its release. The Terminator stands out among many of its decade’s other action films. It propelled James Cameron and the cast to stardom and led to him directing other favorites like Aliens, The Abyss, Titanic and Avatar. It cemented Schwarzenegger as an international star and created a fascinating universe that was further developed in three sequels, books, comic books and a TV show that expanded on the world of the super computer Skynet bent on humanity’s destruction. This world will be revisited in next year’s Terminator: Genisys.  Hopefully, it will be as action packed and exciting as the classic 1984 original that is still the best of the series and will endure for years to come as a sci-fi masterpiece.

C.S. Link

Top 10 Space Adventure Films

obi wan vs vader korben dallas

Ever since the very first Star Wars film made its debut, sci-fi cinema has seen its fair share of space adventure or space opera films. Boasting brash heroes, larger-than-life villains, cool spaceships, exotic worlds, strange aliens and grand adventures, these films tried to recapture the magic of Star Wars. Admittedly, many of these were just poorly executed Star Wars knockoffs. But there are many gems that were nifty, exciting and had a lot of heart or were just so goofy that they’re fun to watch.

10. Battle Beyond The Stars: Despite its bargain-basement production values and other flaws, this film is arguably the best of the early grade-z Star Wars ripoffs. The script (by John Sayles) is an battle beyondouter space reworking of Seven Samurai with young Shad (Richard Thomas) setting out in a sentient ship (with a front shaped like a woman’s breasts!) to search for mercenaries to defend the peaceful planet Akir. The film features special effects done by James Cameron (yes, that James Cameron) and a score by James Horner that predates his work on Star Trek II.

9. Flash Gordon: This attempt to cash in on the Star Wars craze by dusting off the famous Alex Raymond comic strip character is a campy delight. Football player Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) is hijacked to the planet Mongo and has to stop the planet’s ruler Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow) from destroying the Earth. The film doesn’t take itself seriously and it shouldn’t since its ladled with gaudy sets and costumes, cheesy special effects and a script with lines like “No! Not the bore worms!” Still, Flash Gordon is a great guilty pleasure to watch.

flash gordon and vultan

8. The Fifth Element: Bruce Willis is your not-so-average Brooklyn taxicab driver in the 23rd century who is burdened with the responsibility to protect a beautiful but kooky damsel (Milla Jovovich) that is fated to save the Earth. The Fifth Element like so many of these films has a silly but infectious quality while being a thrilling joy ride chock full of weird aliens and a scene-stealing, out-of-left-field comedic performance by Chris Tucker. He plays a flamboyant talk show host that gets caught up in the pyrotechnic mayhem and his screaming adds to the laughs!

titan27. Titan A.E.: There are many animated space adventure films, but Titan A.E. is the best of them. This Don Bluth animated film takes place fifteen years after Earth was destroyed by aliens in the 31st century and humanity now lives as ragtag refugees in space. Salvager Cale Tucker (voiced by Matt Damon) sets out on a quest with his friends to find the Titan, a humongous starship that holds the key to humanity’s survival. Titan A.E. is energetic and awe-inspiring with eye-catching galactic visuals, which is why it’s an underrated animated classic.

6. The Last Starfighter: Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) is your typical teenager looking for some excitement in his life. He gets it when he is unexpectedly whisked to the planet Rylos to join its Star League and defend it from enemy aliens. At the time of its release, one of The Last Starfighter’s selling points was its then-revolutionary CGI effects, which are woefully dated. It resonates to this day because of its heartfelt performances, sincere execution, and a central theme about a nobody filled with wanderlust who makes a difference.

5. Serenity: Joss Whedon’s directorial debut is a sequel to his cult TV show Firefly. Serenity reunites that show’s serenity moviecast and continues the adventures of quick-witted space cowboy Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his quirky crew onboard the space freighter Serenity as they stay one step ahead of the law in the ‘verse, the hated Alliance. The film carries on with the same endearing traits from the show such as witty banter, appealing characters with nuanced histories, and a believable and detailed ‘verse filled with high-tech and backwards colony worlds.

4. Avatar: Filmmaker James Cameron’s labor of love is a visually stunning and grand space epic with an imaginative and well-conceived Avataralien world populated with exotic aliens, flora and fauna. The planet Pandora looks like what it’s supposed to be: an alien world. This impression is sold thanks to its floating mountains, giant six-legged creatures and translucent forests. The story updates the standard sci-fi pulp adventure and follows Jake Scully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic who integrates himself with the planet’s Na’vi population via an artificially grown Na’vi body. Over time, he becomes their greatest protector and the stuff of legendary sci-fi space heroes.

3. John Carter: It’s too bad Disney dropped the ball in promoting this terrific adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter books. Taylor Kitsch plays the title john carter 2character who is a Civil War veteran that is transported to Mars (or Barsoom as the natives call it) and gets entangled in a grand adventure to save a beautiful princess (Lynn Collins) from a rival kingdom. John Carter was the quintessential space adventure film with haunting and wild alien locales, thrilling scenes, great special effects and a dashing hero. It captured the swashbuckling tone of Burroughs’ works perfectly, and although it died in the box office, it deservedly has its legions of fans.

guardians of G2. Guardians Of The Galaxy: Marvel Studios’ entry into the space adventure sub-genre is an exciting and fun-filled romp with very endearing heroes that captured our hearts. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) a.k.a. Star-Lord, the legendary outlaw (in his mind at least), teams up with a group of misfit alien thugs and killers to prevent an evil alien from using a power-enhancing stone to destroy the peaceful planet Xandar. Guardians Of The Galaxy perfectly balances drama, action and humor while displaying lovingly detailed out-of-this-world places from the pristine and futuristic Xandar to the seedy and raucous criminal outpost Knowhere. But most of all, the film has a sense of wonder and pulp-inspired fun.

darth and luke

1. Star Wars films: Starting from the very first film (Episode IV: A New Hope or just plain Star Wars) in 1977 and continuing with the new installments coming our way, the Star Wars films are the epitome of space adventure/space opera epics. Even the flawed entries like Episode I: The Phantom Menace presented audiences with richly detailed and imaginative worlds and characters. star wars 3 shipsCapturing and enhancing the excitement from early sci-fi movie serials, they’re a tribute to those blustering sci-fi pulp adventures on film and print. More importantly, the Star Wars film changed the sci-fi film landscape forever thanks to eye-popping special effects, fast-moving, cliffhanger-laced stories and most of all, unforgettable characters like the Skywalker family, Han Solo, Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Lewis T. Grove

Real Or Fake 3D Films

Once considered a novelty gimmick back from the ’50s 3D films look to be a mainstay in modern-day cinema. Specifically, f/x-laden genre spectaculars. It’s gotten to the point that a big-budget sci-fi or fantasy film without the 3D treatment seems to stand out or seem lacking. A prime example of that is the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises.

As anyone knows, this all started with the phenomenal success of James Cameron’s Avatar. There had been 3D film releases before Avatar but none of them were as hugely successful as Cameron’s sci-fi epic. Naturally, the film studios attributed Avatar’s success to the revolutionary 3D process that James Cameron utilized and set out to recreate that film’s success at the box office. This is why it seems as if every major genre or animated film is released these days in 3D.

All would be terrific if the 3D used was actually good on a consistent basis.

More and more often, audiences are complaining about the inferior 3D used in many films. Unlike Avatar, which was filmed using 3D cameras, most films released in 3D are post-converted. Usually it seems as if this process was slapped on at the last second and it shows. There are many rants that the films looked dark during some scenes, and actually seemed two dimensional at other times. These complaints were leveled at Clash Of The Titans, Green Lantern and Marvel Studios’ recent super hero films.

Film studios are in danger of killing any enthusiasm for a 3D film. What makes things worse is that the studios won’t reveal in their ads if the films were truly filmed in 3D or not. Add to that the higher ticket prices and it won’t be long before the bloom is off the rose so to speak. There are signs that this is happening already. Take the ticket sales of the newly released John Carter; despite the promotion that the sci-fi epic was in 3D (it was post-converted according to reports) it wasn’t a big hit. Or better yet, look at how Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace did when re-released last month in 3D. It wasn’t a flop and did respectably but it wasn’t a mega hit. Of course, being that Star Wars Episode I was filmed over a decade ago, one couldn’t expect it not to be post-converted, and in that film’s defense the conversion was actually pretty decent. While some images appeared to be two-dimensional, some scenes looked good and at least there weren’t any scenes that looked dark.

The true 3D process using special cameras is costly, but in the long run, it would benefit studios since they can claim their films are true 3D films rather than something hastily done to earn a quick buck.

The good news is that while many upcoming films are using the post-conversion process, there are more and more films that do use actual 3D. While some of those films may not be appealing to some (feature-length animated films and horror films) they do point to the notion that 3D is becoming more mainstream. Perhaps a day will come when it becomes more economical for studios to produce true 3D films on a regular basis or at least improve the post-conversion process. (This improvement would benefit older films needing conversions like future Star Wars re-releases.)

This website reports which recent and upcoming films are true 3D films and which ones aren’t. The following is a partial list of upcoming films using both types of 3D.

Post-Converted: The Avengers, The Cabin In The Woods, Gravity, Men In Black III, Wrath Of The Titans

Actual 3D: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Amazing Spider-Man, Brave, The Hobbit, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, Prometheus, Resident Evil: Retribution

José Soto