Jon Landau, AVATAR Producer, Hosts Blu-Ray Release Screening

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Jon Landau, executive producer of James Cameron’s phenomenally successful film AVATAR and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, recently hosted a press day introducing the soon-to-be released AVATAR Blu-ray edition.

AVATAR’s Blu-ray press day, which began with interviews at the Midtown Manhattan offices of Twentieth Century Fox, ran through the day and culminated with a screening of AVATAR in the Blu-ray format at the MPE Penthouse in Hell’s Kitchen.

AVATAR’s Blu-ray and DVD edition release is scheduled for April 22 and coincides with the 40th Anniversary of EARTH DAY. The parallels of the destruction of AVATAR’s Home Tree and the raping of the world’s forests are clear, alarming and challenging and a cause that Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, along with James Cameron, Jon Landau and others associated with AVATAR, have seen and responded by committing themselves, through partnership with Earth Day Network, to a global outreach that will replant the world’s forests in fifteen countries through a Million Tree Initiative.

Inclusive to the Blu-ray release is the opportunity to become part of a global AVATAR family. Using a unique code packaged inside the disc to register, the owner can gain access to exclusive digital offers that include the opportunity to support the Million Tree Initiative by adopting a tree and receive its exact global location through a virtual home map.

 

Jon Landau, earlier at Twentieth Century Fox, participated in one-on-one interviews with selected members of the press. He is friendly, with an easy going, comfortable, demeanor. Accommodating, we spoke for, at least, thirty minutes, covering a range of social and political issues, AVATAR’s hefty price tag and, of course, the disappointment of OSCAR night. Our interview follows.

 

In addition to the one-on-one interviews, Mr. Landau, participated in Roundtable Interviews, which had the feel of an in-depth conversation with an industry analyst on range of topics, from 3-D usage, “This is the way we try to utilize 3-D; it’s a window into a world not a world coming out of a window.” What the industry thinks of 3-D re-makes of earlier film, “Conversion is a creative process and not a technical process.  The filmmakers must be involved. It would be like saying to a film maker today, shoot your film in black and white and we will colorize it while you’re finishing the movie. No filmmaker would do that.” He paused and added, “I’ll tell you this. We intend to do Titanic in 3-D. It will take one year to eighteen months and Jim will be involved in it.”

 

He addressed the possibility of 3-D versions of films like Citizen Kane, “Here’s the problem with that,” he emphatically stated, “ I would not support that because Orson Wells isn’t here. Now if you want to go and do ET and have Steven [Spielberg] be involved in it. I think that would be great. I think if you want to do Star Wars and I think George [Lucas] is interested in doing it. If you want to do Lord of the Rings. Again, I think to have someone come in and interpret what they [the Director] want I think that’s where we get into trouble. It becomes exploitative and not creative.  Right now the desire to make movies in 3-D must come from the filmmaker and not the studios.”

 

As the AVATAR press day business ended Jon Landau mingled, joining the reception on the wraparound terrace of the MPE Penthouse, that in mid-afternoon was bathed in sunlight.  The stucco enclaves, desert theme patio furniture and Country & Western music added to the Southwest Santa Fe feel. The interior, separated from the balcony by windowed walls, was lushly decorated with potted ferns and AVATAR signage  Flat screens, of varying sizes, were mounted throughout the space with a home theater system, that one can envision would accompany a Hollywood producers home, complete with multiple white, settee lounging couches and a thick heavy black curtain separating the theater from the flood of city lights of Manhattan’s evening skyline.          

 

The cuisine for the AVATAR Blu-ray press day was catered by Park Avenue Catering and Events under the supervision of Director, Tim Brown. From the afternoon finger food, triangular open face salmon sandwich’s on rye and a delicious curry chicken salad on a tiny puff pastry to the evening hors d'oeuvres, served by a tuxedoed wait staff, that included a selection of salmon sushi, coconut deep-fried shrimp, veal sausage in puff pastry and other inviting culinary delicacies. It was all simply delicious! The AVATAR blue martini was the house special along with a full service bar.

 

And of course, the reason for the event, the Blu-ray presentation  of AVATAR! It played very well. Every element, from the visual, the sound, the sub-titles, as one who viewed the theatrical release in IMAX 3-D, courtesy of Zoomwerks, without detracting from the enveloping experience associated with IMAX, the Blu-ray has every bit of the feel, the experience as the original. As not every person has a 40” inch flat screen, AVATAR Blu-ray play as well on the small mounted flat screens, as it did on the large, Hollywood producers, home theater screen.

 

It is an experience and opportunity to enjoy the imaginative world of Pandora and, to walk through the beauty of a florescent forest lush with colors, sights and sounds, to experience the freedom of flight, even metaphorically release to soar as you conquer the dragon that wants to kill you, the messages of the film along with all the elements that made AVATAR of global phenomenon are intact.

 

Janet Walker: AVATAR took 3-D to the next level. Do you expect the Blu-ray release, I’ve heard the film plays very well on Blu-ray, to take that market to the next level?                                                                                              Jon Landau: I think AVATAR and Blu-ray are the perfect marriage. I think they way we have approached this initial release is all about the quality of the presentation. So, there is no additional content on the disc. There are no trailers, no commercials, there is no director’s commentary because that takes away from the bit-rate that you can apply to the movie. We felt that AVATAR became synonymous with a quality presentation. And we wanted to do that in this initial release so Jim Cameron spent a week with our color timer who did the movie doing a special color grading for the home entertainment release. Normally, the quote encoding process takes two weeks. We spent five weeks doing it. We had people involved from Lightstorm throughout where we made sure everything was right so we think the quality that we are going to present on the Blu-ray is pretty remarkable.

 

Janet Walker: What do you attribute the overwhelming success of the film to?

Jon Landau: I think it’s about the themes of the movie. I think that any movie that works is about the themes. I make a distinction between theme and plot.  The plot, I feel, people leave at the theater and the theme is something the people leave the theater with. It’s sort of the emotional side of it, it’s the provocative side of it, it’s those type of things and I think in this movie many people can identify with Jake. Jake is the least likely of heroes when the movie starts and in some ways maybe it tells us inside each one of us there can be a hero as well. And like the movie starts and ends, it ends with eyes opening and it opens with eyes opening. It’s a thematic challenge for people to open their eyes and to see people around them, to see the world around them. Not telling them how to see them and how to open their eyes only to think about that a little bit.

 

Janet Walker: The message of allegiance was also very present in the film. Allegiance to country; self; custom; culture and seen very clearly, I thought, in every character. What are your thoughts on why allegiance is so vividly portrayed?

Jon Landau: Well, because I think it’s critical. I think it’s something we’ve lost. As a global society. I don’t think that AVATAR is not about American issues, politics, social situations. I think AVATAR is about universal ones. I think that sense of allegiance has gotten lost, I think that sense of appreciation for the world around us has gotten lost, I think that sense, the idea that we’re all connected is more true than ever but I don’t people understand that, connected, I’m talking about international boundaries. And on Pandora it’s all about the connection and all of these things. It’s about saying, ‘People, you don’t have to look to movies for these things there right here.’ We used Mother Nature here on earth as an inspiration for so much of the design. We didn’t create anything we took things out of context. We took vibrant colors that you might find on a Monarch Butterfly and we put them on objects but it was here that was our inspiration. But it was here, Earth, that was our inspiration.

 

Janet Walker: What was your biggest challenge in getting this film made? 

Jon Landau: Well, two fold. One was convincing the studio to make a movie with blue people that have tails. That really was a huge hurdle. It was so hard for them to get their heads around the idea that the world would embrace characters that were blue, with tails, that looked funny. That was a big hurdle.  From the technology side the biggest challenge was not the 3-D, people get confused, ‘Oh, you waited for the 3-D.’ The biggest challenge was creating performances of CGI characters, Computer Generated Image characters, that were emotive and engaging and that were the performances of the actors and not the interpretation of the animators. That was our biggest technological challenge.

 

Janet Walker: What were some of the reactions you received when you began shopping the film’s hefty price tag?

Jon Landau: Well, the idea of shopping sounds like we went to ninety-two different people! We were in business with FOX. They read the script. They knew it was Jim Cameron, Jon Landau, it ain’t going to be cheap! So, they knew going in, it was more of an issue of getting them on board creatively. FOX ultimately passed at one point, for about five weeks, and we set the movie up at a another studio.

 

Janet Walker: How did you bring them back around?

Jon Landau: We didn’t. They did on their own. We went back to FOX and said, ‘Okay. We’ve got this set up somewhere else.’ And that wasn’t it. But in that five weeks there were people internally at the studio who wanted to find a way to keep the movie there. And they came up with the mechanism by which to do that and when we went back in and said, ‘Okay, let my people go.’ They said, ‘Well, we’d like to reconsider and how would you feel about that?’ I think out of loyalty, if you think about it, in some fashion, really, both Jim and I independently, have been with FOX for over twenty years. Jim did TRUE LIES for them, he did TITANIC for them, he did Aliens for them, you know, I was an Exec at FOX starting in ’89 and so it’s our home. And when the opportunity came to stay there, I think that loyalty and going back to allegiance, it was really about allegiance, we said we can’t portray something we don’t believe in ourselves. 

 

Janet Walker: Since you’re releasing on Earth Day.  AVATAR is an environmentalists dream and nightmare. What parallels do you feel can be drawn from AVATAR to our own environmental issues? 

Jon Landau: I think that good science fiction in general whether it’s in Literature or in movies challenges us to examine how we live our lives today. I think that’s what AVATAR does. It raises awareness of issues, again, I don’t think it preaches. It doesn’t give you any facts, it doesn’t give you any figures, it raises awareness and challenges people to go out and discover and learn and then make their own decisions.  That’s really what it does and I think it does it both environmentally and socially. I don’t think it’s just about environmental; it’s about socially how we interact with other cultures that we might not understand. And when I say, we, that we is whoever that audience is whether in China, the Middle East, Brazil, I think that’s the exciting thing for me, I’ve traveled a lot with the film, and seeing the international reactions people have and how universally consistent they are. Because, if you have a comedy humor plays differently in North America than in South America and this doesn’t. That’s one of the things Jim is so skillful at in all his movies and that’s why I think, whether it’s The Terminator or True Lies, which had humor in it, the universal situation of a husband and wife and a marriage and a this and a that it played.

 

Janet Walker: I’ve heard Mr. Cameron explain that AVATAR was the movie he “was born to make.” What convinced you that this was the movie he was born to make?

Jon Landau: The script! I mean when I read the script, we got to back now, this is like 1995, Jim wrote the original script, it was like a half-novella, half script at the time. I read it and I fell in love with it and then I was terrified. Because there was no way we could make it . . .you know, at that time. Jim doesn’t do anything the wrong way and we made the decision to put it on the back burner until 2005. It was the script. And reading that and reading it and the themes that are in it today that seem so relevant he wrote about fifteen years ago.  That’s the amazing thing about Jim to have the foresight to see this is the direction where the planet is going and not just the film industry. To have a movie, the core of it is a love story, the core of it is about understanding, the core of it is about don’t judge a person by their color, their looks, and the AVATAR’s themselves represent wish fulfillments. Whether it’s wanting to be taller, wanting to be skinnier, you want to be younger,  we intentionally had the Sigourney Weaver AVATAR character created eighteen years earlier than the movie so her AVATAR could have the eighteen year younger version look of Sigourney.    

 

Janet Walker: What are your most memorable moments from the entire journey?

Jon Landau: I think my most memorable moment in the journey is the first time we premiered the movie in London.  Why do you make movies? You make movies for audiences. You don’t make them for yourself; you don’t make them for your cast; you don’t make them for your friends that you may invite in to give their opinion while you’re going through the process; you make it for an audience. And we were in London so it was not an LA based audience It was a more international audience. Going there and seeing the reaction for the two hours and forty minutes of the movie while people where watching the film, I was watching the people. Because that’s the real art and seeing their reaction and getting the response was by far the most memorable and most rewarding moment.

 

Janet Walker: The Academy wasn’t as responsive as I’m sure you hoped. How do you explain that? 

Jon Landau: Well, number one, I just want to be clear my disappointment with the Academy is not about Best Picture, is not about Best Director. It’s about our technical people in sound and in editing that did not win. Because when I look at what they accomplished, they had to create a world of sound. They didn’t just have to take world sounds and make them work in a movie, they had to create a world of sound and make it live up to the visuals that were up there. That to me was the most disappointing. James Horner who write this incredible score. The people responding emotionally to the movie you don’t do that without a score. Not taking anything away from any of the other movies but just the complexity and the level of detail it is really remarkable. So that’s my disappointment.  

 

Janet Walker: It seems the public embraced the film’s message of technology and progress verses the  environment. What are your thoughts on the possibility that the films message will change the decision making processes of world governments or corporations to where it reaches a level of political awareness?

Jon Landau: I don’t know if the film itself will do that but what I think the film has done, it has created an awareness and put people like Jim, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe, Sam in a position, where they now as people where these issues are pointed to can have more of a say. Jim, Sigourney and I were, last week and early this week, down in Brazil and one of the things Jim focused on was a dam project that being built. Well, there has been a temporary stay on that ordered by the courts. So, it’s not the movie, it’s what it allows people to do outside the movie that has an impact.

 

Janet Walker: If we are brave enough to incorporate the necessary changes in our lives that save the environment what do you hope people will say about AVATAR when watching in the year 2050?

Jon Landau: Number one, I hope people still find it entertaining. Number two, I hope they say AVATAR was one small ingredient that added to a global awareness of a rising crisis.

 

Jon Landau and I continued to talk after exhausting my prepared questions until notified that it was time to wrap it up. He was gracious and kind with zero pretension, charming and so very un-Hollywood. Simply, he’s informative, nice and engaging.

 

AVATAR Blu-ray DVD edition releases on April 22. Own it on Earth Day; participate in the Million Tree Initiative; have a tree planted in your name.

 

For more information on AVATAR: www.avatarmovie.com

 

Very Special Thanks to Jon Landau and Twentieth Century Fox.

 

 

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