Mark your calendars, because August 21 is Avatar Day! What's that, you ask? Is it some sort of new holiday where a benevolent bearded wizard gives you presents? Kinda. James Cameron doesn't sport a beard any more, but he is giving the world what he probably thinks is the greatest gift of all -- a free, 15-minute clip of his new, 14-years-in-the-making CGI spectacle movie, Avatar! Unfortunately, you need to go to an IMAX 3D or other 3D theater to see it. Because it can't be fully appreciated on the Internet or TV, of course. Which is apparently why absolutely zero footage has been released from this enormous movie that comes out in less than five months, aside from a few pieces of artwork and the footage that was recently shown at San Diego Comic-Con. Description of the footage ranges from highly positive to "lower your expectations". Based on what I've heard (a lot) and seen (very little), they're already pretty darn low.
So, in a nutshell, the movie is about the Earth government discovering a planet with life on it, but they're ten-foot-tall blue people who don't like outsiders, so they have to clone their own ten-foot-tall blue bodies (with pointy ears and tails) that they can remote-control around the planet. They're called avatars, like these people are playing World of Warcraft or something, which I guess they kind of are. The army runs the show, Sigourney Weaver plays the scientist, and Sam Worthington plays the main soldier/avatar, and he's in a wheelchair. Cameron says his inspiration was "every science fiction book he read as a child," which is telling, because if you take all of the sci-fi books of the 1950s, you'll get a lot of familiar-sounding ideas like these that have been done over and over to death.
The aggressive humans aggressing on an alien culture can be seen in Starship Troopers (book and movie) and even the recent CGI movie Battle for Terra. The "infiltrating an alien culture in disguise" gag has been done literally dozens of times on Star Trek. And the ten-foot-tall alien thing was done in Battlefield Earth, not to mention Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which was touted for its realism, and featured a dramatic storyline where human soldiers and scientists interacted with the spirits of a dead alien race, and bombed spectacularly. The animation for this film may be incredibly lifelike, but if the ideas aren't compelling or original, then maybe it's not worth spending 14 years on -- especially if you refuse to let anyone see the effects except under the optimum conditions, i.e. in an IMAX theatre. It's certainly a canny move to show people how cool IMAX and 3D are, but as Chris Rock once said, "Can't we get a motherf---in' peek?!"
While the SDCC footage has not been released to the general public, toy company Mattel did show off their toy line there -- minus the massive blue Na'Vi aliens, of course. There are alien creatures, but nothing more fantastical than anything that menaced Anakin Skywalker at the end of Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. The vehicles look like pretty standard military sci-fi, first seen in the G.I. Joe cartoon and toy line 25 years ago, and the giant military exo-suit they had on display is straight out of the 1990s series Exo-Squad. Without the big, blue aliens, the figure of Worthington's military character looks like the most generic toy solder I've ever seen, and I really have to question the necessity of an action figure of Sigourney Weaver as a doctor. (The "Bald Doctor" figure was a long-time peg warmer for Final Fantasy.)
As I write this, I wonder if I'll get an angry letter from someone on the Avatar crew, who couldn't stand the "meh" attitude of a CHUD reviewer and took him to task. And that guy had seen it! Me, I'm sure once I see the movie's revolutionary mix of live action and CG, I'll be impressed, if not blown away. [Or not. I saw the footage at Comic-Con and while the 3D CGI was visually stunning and provoked a strong intellectual response, the characters were completely two-dimensional and the touchy-feely indigenous people/nature vs. military/industrialization subtext didn't exactly have me, or the crowd, pumping our collective fists. -- Daniel Manu] All I'm saying is, if you want to get people to worship your movie like a god, show us something we haven't seen, and don't make us have to drag our asses to a theater to see 15 minutes of it when we don't even know what the movie frickin' looks like. It's been a long time since Titanic, James, but it's been an even longer time since The Abyss, and I don't think the Titanic crowd is gonna be so quick to line up for this one.