Last week, after 12 years of anticipation, the general public received its first look at James Cameron’s long-awaited science fiction epic, Avatar.
Given the sudden deluge of promotion after a long absence of any real PR for the film, high excitement just might plow over any inherent weaknesses the film may contain. Granted, at this point, every observation is mere supposition. That said, the trailer hints that trouble lies beneath the film’s glossy IMAX veneer.
At just a hair over two minutes, the trailer crams in a collection of stunning imagery, almost no hint of plot, and barely a whisper of character. Most of Avatar’s visuals thus far resemble other films. We’ve seen giant mech-warriors wage bloody war; we’ve seen gargantuan creatures devour humans. Even the floating rocks resemble a scene from a Final Fantasy game.
Reaction, depending on who you read, is a little mixed at this point. People coming out of the 16-minute “Avatar Day” IMAX preview last Friday have raved over the presentation. Kyle Smith’s initial enthusiasm praises every taste of eye-candy, and seems hungry for more. USA Today quotes one viewer in Alexandria, Virginia who called it "mind blowing."
On the other hand, the two-minute trailer released last Thursday left many viewers doubtful. The glimpse left film critic and author Jeffrey Overstreet underwhelmed. Disappointment rounded discussion in an Ain't it Cool News Talkback forum with one talkbacker even calling it a "blueman version of Last of the Mohicans."
There’s no question the stereoscopic IMAX 3D rendition will amaze anyone with eyes. The visuals, though tainted with unoriginal particulars, still look gorgeous. Cameron has always shot his films with layer and depth; working his magic in 3D is the next logical step. The film, however, should not have to depend on the way it’s viewed. A CGI Gollum still managed to enthrall without the aid of 3D glasses, or a 50-foot screen.
I’ve written before that Cameron’s films provide an experience more than a mere story. Telling/selling a story at that level means ensuring that the experience serves the narrative. Flip that notion, and you wind up with something more like The Phantom Menace.
Avatar premieres December 18, 2009. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.