SINGAPORE (Mar 5): First, a large screen plays a video explaining Pandora, the lush, primal world captured in the 2009 blockbuster Avatar, directed by James Cameron. Then, the doors open, smoke streams in, and visitors step into a replica of Pandora itself — complete with intricate bioluminescent plants, life-sized replicas of its otherworldly inhabitants and the sounds they make.

The walls are lined with screens showcasing Helicoradians — a single-leaf, Heliconia-like plant. Reach out to touch them, and they shrivel and coil down to the ground. A string of exhibits showcase the culture of the Na’vi, the human-like, blueskinned inhabitants of this world. Another section allows visitors to operate an Amplified Mobility Platform suit, simulating the experience of trudging through the forest as a Na’vi. At one point, visitors can also stop to marvel at the Tree of Souls, a giant tree adorned with long streams of glowing purple lights.

AVATAR: Discover Pandora is an interactive edutainment exhibition ongoing at the Great China International Exchange Square, next to the Sheraton Shenzhen Futian Hotel in downtown Shenzhen, China. The 12,000 sq ft immersive experience is organised by global events provider GES and Singapore-based entertainment service provider Mactus Live. The latter is supported by Motion Media Interactive (MMI), an Asian event organiser specialising in exhibition operations, interactive advertising and mobile gaming.


Replicas of the Na’vi, the blue-skinned inhabitants of Pandora

Speaking via a pre-recorded video at the opening of the exhibition, director Cameron says: “I’m happy to bring you an exciting new exhibition based on the world of my film, Avatar. You’ll be entertained, captivated and inspired by what you’ll see and experience: amazing creatures, intriguing cultures and breathtaking environments, all inspired by the film’s world, Pandora. You will learn not just about this alien world, but also about its similarity and connection to our own planet Earth.”

Set in the 22nd century, Avatar is a science-fiction film about humans’ attempt to plunder Pandora of its resources for profit, threatening its ecosystem. It grossed nearly US$2.8 billion ($3.7 billion) to become one of the biggest box office hits worldwide. The Shenzhen exhibition comes as Cameron is busy filming the next four sequels to the Avatar franchise, reportedly with a US$1 billion budget. “Visitors of all ages will be thrilled with this authentic, immersive and entertaining opportunity to experience the best of Pandora right here on earth,” says Robin Stapley, vice-president of design and creative at GES.

Fans eagerly anticipating the next installation of Avatar can find some excitement at this family-friendly exhibition, reckons Mike Tiong, group executive director of MMI, which helped organise the exhibition.

“The Avatar franchise is very family-oriented; it teaches values such as saving the planet and protecting natural resources,” he says. It is also likely to appeal to children, he adds. “For me, it was very simple. I asked my two daughters what they thought about the idea of having this exhibition, and they said it was very cool. So, the exhibition has [been made possible], and they can’t wait to see it.”

When it comes to movie-themed events and exhibitions, the devil is in the details. Avatar geeks will recognise the various creatures of Pandora on exhibit, from the ferocious viperwolf to the herbivorous hexapede. For those who like a bizarre challenge, one installation gets visitors to identify the creatures from the shape of their waste matter. Along with lighting, the exhibition is also sound-rich. It features some of the plants that make riveting sounds, such as the Cat’s Ear, a woody-stemmed plant with cup-shaped leaves that produces melodies as wind moves across it. There is also an assortment of interactive exhibits to keep young ones occupied. One installation offers a crash course in basic Na’vi language skills, allowing visitors to practise simple words and phrases. Another beckons visitors to perform movements — similar to a dance video game — to “fly” across the Pandoran forest. And perhaps one of the more photo-worthy exhibits is an installation consisting of a mirror and a projection of dandelion-like seeds called woodsprites falling on visitors — a recreation of one of the movie’s iconic scenes. Wave your arms and the woodsprites respond to the movement, flying away in a gust of wind.

For Tiong, a main attraction of the exhibition is the life-sized models. “Suddenly, I realise that I’m so small,” he quips. Putting together this complex exhibition is an exercise in “chaos management”, he says. “It comes down to the nuts and bolts. We were also on a very tight timeline.”


Gracing the launch of the exhibition were (from right) MMI group executive director Mike Tiong, his wife, Tian Yan Hua, and Taiwanese celebrity Richie Jen Hsien-chi

MMI began negotiating with Lightstorm and GES only late last year to bring the exhibition to China. Normally, an event of this scale would take six to nine months to organise. “Despite time constraints, we were sincere about putting this exhibition together in time because we didn’t want to miss the festive season in China, when many Chinese move back to cities like Shenzhen, and many visitors come in as well,” Tiong adds.

The company was also strategic about its choice of Shenzhen for the exhibition to make its debut in China, Tiong says. “We wanted to make a statement in China, which is why we organised [the exhibition] in one of the most high-end, six-star hotels in Shenzhen, located in its central business district. To outsiders, it could be mind-boggling how we put this together in such a short period of time. But it’s because we were able to tap our contacts in China,” Tiong explains.

After its run in Shenzhen, the exhibition is set to make an appearance in other cities in China, Tiong says. Meanwhile, MMI also plans to run similar movie-themed events in both China and Southeast Asia. “On top of family entertainment and roving events, we are moving into themed hotels. Our vision is to have something like Lego land,” he says, referring to the Lego-themed amusement park and hotel in Johor, Malaysia. “We may explore having it on an island in Indonesia or in Singapore. We are still planning for it, but we are sure that we will have one,” he says.

Ultimately, keeping it family-centric is the goal for Tiong. “The more I tell you about my plans, the more it looks like I’m doing this for my children,” he says with a laugh.

The AVATAR: Discover Pandora exhibition runs until April 12.
Tickets are available at www.avatardiscoverpandora.cn.

This article appeared in Issue 820 (Mar 5) of The Edge Singapore.

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