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Who will celebrate “Avatar Day”?

Who will celebrate “Avatar Day”? (photo)

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There was polite applause at Comic-Con when James Cameron showed footage for “Avatar” — it was neither the rapturous reception that some would have you believe, nor was it the kind of disaster that one could easily imagine when a crowd’s introduced to blue, ten foot tall blue, speckled creatures called the Na’vi from a planet named Pandora.

Sitting there in Hall H, I wondered why there wasn’t more acclaim — what Cameron had shown in 3-D was indeed something of a breakthrough, at least regarding how naturalistic the Na’vi were in an environment that completely came out of Cameron’s head and how, despite the blue veneer, one could see Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana’s performances through their CG-created forms in a way that still eludes motion-capture pioneer Robert Zemeckis. But the “Avatar” footage didn’t adhere to the unofficial Comic-Con rules for success: it wasn’t violent (though Worthington’s fight with a prehistoric-looking creature was exciting), it wasn’t funny (which is why both “Kick-Ass” and “Zombieland” were unexpected hits), and, most importantly, it wasn’t familiar — either a remake or based on a comic book or a toy.

Which is why, like CHUD‘s Devin Faraci, I wonder the audiences who win tickets to “‘Avatar’ Day” on August 21st, when over 100 IMAX theaters will show 16 minutes of slightly different sneak footage, will think. In a time where “G.I. Joe” can become a hit almost solely on its name value, will audiences be curious enough to take a chance on “Avatar”? (Or at least enough of them to cover its massive budget?)

It’s a question hinted at in Anne Thompson’s recent column about why she’d like to see the low-budget “District 9″ do well this weekend against the comparatively unoriginal “G.I. Joe.” And it’s a part of the recent online hubbub between Roger Ebert, A.O. Scott and Glenn Kenny, among others, who contemplate the dumbing-down of mass-audience movies and wonder why Cameron’s ex Kathryn Bigelow’s highly acclaimed “The Hurt Locker” isn’t doing better at the box office. And if even “Avatar,” one of the most expensive movies of all time, can’t intrigue with the promise of spectacle, maybe it’s less dumbing-down that’s the problem than laziness, with folks only drawn to what has nostalgic appeal. In which case, we can look forward to many long summers ahead that’ll offer nothing new under the sun.

Bourne

Bourne to Run

10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Bourne Movies

Catch The Bourne Ultimatum this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

You know his name, as the Super Bowl teaser for the upcoming summer blockbuster Jason Bourne reminded us. In this era of franchise films, that seems to be more than enough to get another entry in the now 15-year-old series greenlit. And gosh darn it if we aren’t into it. Before you catch The Bourne Ultimatum on IFC, here are some surprising facts about the Bourne movies that you may not know. And unlike Jason Bourne, try not to forget them.


10. Matt Damon was a long shot to play Jason Bourne.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Coming off of Good Will Hunting and The Legend of Bagger Vance, early ’00s Matt Damon didn’t exactly scream “ripped killing machine.” In fact, Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe and even Sylvester Stallone were all offered the part before it fell into the hands of the Boston boy made good. It was his enthusiasm for director Doug Liman’s more frenetic vision that ultimately helped land him the part.


9. Love interest Marie was almost played by Sarah Polley.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Damon wasn’t the only casting surprise. Franka Potente, of Run Lola Run fame, wasn’t the filmmaker’s first choice for the role or Marie in The Bourne Identity. In fact, Liman wanted his Go star Sarah Polley for the part, but she turned it down in favor of making indie movies back in Canada. A quick rewrite changed the character from American Marie Purcell to European Marie Helena Kreutz, and the rest is movie history.


8. Director Doug Liman was obsessed with the Bourne books.

Universal Picutres

Universal Pictures

Liman had long been a fan of the Bourne book series. When Warner Bros.’ rights to the books lapsed in the late ’90s, Liman flew himself to author Robert Ludlum’s Montana home, mere days after earning his pilot’s license. The author was so impressed with his passion for the material, he sold the rights on the spot.


7. Liman’s father actually worked for the NSA.

Universal Picutres

Universal Pictures

Part of Liman’s fasciation with the Bourne series was that his own father played the same spy craft games portrayed in the books while working for the NSA. In fact, many of the Treadstone details were taken from his father’s own exploits, and Chris Cooper’s character, Alex Conklin, was based on Oliver Stone, whom Arthur Liman famously cross examined as chief counsel of the Iran-Contra hearings.


6. Tony Gilroy threw the novel’s story out while writing The Bourne Identity.

Universal Picutres

Universal Picutres

Despite being based on a hit book, screenwriter Tony Gilroy, coming off of The Devil’s Advocate, had no idea how to adapt it into a movie. He said the book was more concerned with people “running to airports” than character, and would need a complete rewrite. Director Doug Liman agreed, and Gilroy claims to have condensed the original novel into the first five minutes. Getting that out of the way, he then wrote his own story, based on a man who wakes up one day not remembering anything but how to kill.


5. Damon walked like a boxer to get into character.

Universal Picutres

Universal Picutres

Damon had never played a character like Bourne before, and was searching for a way to capture his physicality. Doug Liman told him to walk like a boxer to give Jason Bourne an edge. Damon took that to heart, training for six months in boxing, marital arts and firearms.


4. Damon broke an actor’s nose.

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

Damon’s training for the films is legendary, but mistakes still happen. While filming a scene for The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon hit actor Tim Griffin so hard, he shattered his nose. Apparently, the space the scene was filmed in was smaller than originally intended, throwing Damon off just enough to exert a real beat down.


3. James Bond visited The Bourne Legacy set.

Eon Productions

Eon Productions

Actor Daniel Craig stopped by the set of The Bourne Legacy to visit his wife, actress Rachel Weisz, who was starring in the movie. While having James Bond on a Bourne set must have been exciting, The Bourne Legacy was the only Bourne movie to not actually feature Jason Bourne, meaning our bets on who would kick whose ass would have to wait for another day.


2. The Bourne Identity was nearly a bomb (in the box office sense).

Universal Pictures

Universal Pictures

As reshoots began to pile up, and an all-out war between the studio and director Doug Liman spilled into the press, expectations were that The Bourne Identity was going to flop. Matt Damon told GQ that, “the word on Bourne was that it was supposed to be a turkey…It’s very rare that a movie comes out a year late, has four rounds of reshoots, and it’s good.”


1. Matt Damon wasn’t the first actor to play Bourne.

Warner Brothers Television

Warner Brothers Television

Aired on ABC in 1988, the TV movie adaptation of The Bourne Identity, while not exactly critically acclaimed, was a more faithful version of Ludlum’s book. Richard Chamberlain, of The Thorn Birds fame, played a much less ass-kicking spy, while “Charlie’s Angel” Jaclyn Smith played love interest Marie. If you like your Bourne movies heavy with poorly lit ’80s melodrama, this might just be the adaptation for you. Otherwise, you should catch The Bourne Ultimatum when it airs this month on IFC.

Comic-Con: The “Iron Man 2″ Panel

Comic-Con: The “Iron Man 2″ Panel (photo)

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“You’re the people we wanted to show this to first,” director Jon Favreau told adoring Comic-Con crowds at the panel for “Iron Man 2,” who were a-buzz after their first glimpse of footage from the sequel. Star Robert Downey Jr. was there for another of his two appearances at the convention, and he and Favreau were joined by Don Cheadle (taking over for Terrence Howard as Col. Rhodes) and Scarlett Johansson, who’ll play the Black Widow.

Check out video highlights from the panel below.

Comic-Con: The “Sherlock Holmes” Panel

Comic-Con: The “Sherlock Holmes” Panel (photo)

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Crowd favorite Robert Downey Jr. made one of his two appearances at Comic-Con 2009 at the panel for director Guy Ritchie’s update of “Sherlock Holmes,” in which Downey stars as an action-friendly version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective, with Jude Law playing Dr. Watson. “He was probably the first superhero…” mused the actor. “He was an intellectual superhero.”

Downey was joined by co-star Rachel McAdams (who plays Irene Adler) and producers Susan Downey and Lionel Wigram. Watch video highlights from the panel below.

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