I’m sure everyone with a television or Internet access or friends who talk has heard of James Cameron’s Avatar by now, which alone indicates a greenback-laden future for the movie. But as far as its grandiloquent claims of changing the way movies are made and even being “something we’ve never seen before,” I’m skeptical. With its release just a few days away, I’ll tempt fate and say that it doesn’t look like the game-changer it’s touted as. Not that it doesn’t look like a good, fun movie. I mean, tall, skinny cat/goat people sure beat the second breakfast out of Hobbits. But for Avatar to really be the movie I’ve never seen but always wanted to see even without knowing it, it would probably have to be something like a Star Wars-style epic narrative delivered through the immersive atmosphere of the Soarin' Over California ride at Disney’s California Adventure theme park. And I don’t mean a juiced-up version of Star Tours. That would be nice, but without visionary storytelling to quicken it, it would just be a nice theme park ride.
Cameron’s the guy who brought us a Universal Studios stage show “sequel” to his film, Terminator 2, so it’s no stretch to think that he might like to bring a bit of that theme park scale to the big screen. I’m not necessarily saying that the next big leap in feature films has to include staged stunts and live explosions, or that your seating area has to lift you off the ground and fly you over the screen. Though all that might constitute a real leap, none of it would be reproducible on your couch/flat-screen setup, and it’s unlikely that technology that further separates the movie theater and the home theater would replace movies as they exist now. But if Avatar aspires to be a turning point in the very nature of cinema, it will have to be much more than Dances With Wolves meets Ferngully, shot with a camera that costs more than most McMansions.
If we’re lucky, we’ll come out of Avatar having seen merely a great movie. And that wouldn’t be so bad, except for Cameron, who may really believe that he’s bringing us into a brave new world of moviegoing.