By Christopher Campbell
James Cameron’s Avatar is supposed to be like nothing we’ve ever seen before. So why does it look so familiar? One of the most disappointing things about the film’s promotion so far is how derivative the film looks in the trailer that (eventually) debuted online today. And much of what we’re reminded of wasn’t even that great to begin with. To help illustrate our feeling of deja vu, we’ve captured a few screenshots from the trailer and, where available, put them next to their older visual counterparts.
The first shot that looked familiar to us is still the one we believe to be most similar to its predecessor. We don’t want to say Cameron ripped off Guillermo Del Toro, but we don’t imagine this is intended as homage, either. Likely it’s just a coincidence, but when the blue guy spoke later on in the trailer I was disappointed that he didn’t have Doug Jones’ voice.
We’re not the only ones crushed by how much this movie recalls the Final Fantasy adaptation, a movie that also was expected to be a groundbreaking piece of cinema, yet which was anything but. The sadder thing is that it doesn’t even seem as much like a video game adaptation as it does an actual video game. Hey, if we’re given joysticks in addition to the 3D glasses, we won’t complain. But we don’t think Cameron is that innovative just yet.
Starship Troopers (1997)
Humans on an alien planet being eaten by nasty creatures? Obviously that’s reminiscent of a certain Paul Verhoeven movie. The military outfits even remind us of those in Starship Troopers. We’ll assume there are no references to Nazi propaganda, but we can dream. Maybe there’s at least a Nazi-like character who wishes to wipe out all the aliens in a sort of blue-person Holocaust.
Dungeons & Dragons (2000)
We could have gone easy on the dragon-riding shots and say they’re reminiscent of a Harry Potter movie or maybe even The Neverending Story. But honestly the first thing that came to mind was the atrocious RPG adaptation Dungeons & Dragons. We only wish we could find a screenshot of Thora Birch riding a dragon to show how bad that movie’s visuals are. Not to say Avatar’s effects aren’t better, but the reminder still depreciates our interest.
We’ll ignore the first Star Wars prequel, because this honestly doesn’t look that terrible. But it does look at least as bad as the latter two films in that trilogy. There’s not really a specific shot to focus on with this one. Just look at any of the busy shots, action scene or otherwise, with all that CG mess going on in the background. Is Cameron the new George Lucas? Well the romantic dialogue in Titanic is as cheesy as that of Attack of the Clones, so we’re not expecting much better from the blue person love story of Avatar. But at least Cameron hasn’t gone back and “fixed” parts of his movies, as much as he probably would prefer to with The Abyss.
We’re giving credit to this harsh comparison to our friend Drew Taylor, of The Playlist, who Tweeted simply “Delgo, baby, Delgo,” in reply to his editor’s complaints about the Star Wars prequel similarities. We haven’t seen the infamous animated flop, but we’ll take Taylor’s word for it. How many other movies have strange humanoid creatures embracing like those two pairs above? Meanwhile, Kyle Buchanan over at Movieline compares the same shot to a more color-appropriate one from Watchmen.
There are a number of fantasy films in which a main character is suddenly surrounded by enchanting faerie type creatures. The one that first came to mind, though, is the Lord of the Rings wannabe Willow, a movie that was groundbreaking in its effects 20 years ago but which now looks rather silly. Will there be a giant faerie queen that shows up just after this shot?
It’s actually not much better that Avatar also reminds us of the real LOTR. Maybe if any of the CG creatures looked as real as Gollum, but instead this trailer called back one specific character and one specific failed sequence from Return of the King. Thanks to the archery gear, the Na’vi look like blue elves, and thanks to the seemingly bad CG, we can’t help thinking back to that embarrassing bit of special effects depicting Legolas battling an oliphaunt.
King Kong (2005)
If Cameron isn’t the new George Lucas, he’s at least the new Peter Jackson, attempting to seem like the savior of effects-driven cinema only to really deliver a lot of disappointing CG garbage alongside his otherwise innovative visuals. This is why the shot above, despite first making us think of the groundbreaking Jurassic Park, is being compared to the stuff in Jackson’s King Kong that rip off Spielberg’s film. It looks every bit as messy and cartoonish as the prehistoric monsters of Jackson’s disappointing last movie.
District 9 (2009)
And when Avatar doesn’t simply seem like a Peter Jackson movie, it at least reminds us of a Peter Jackson production, specifically this summer’s District 9. Even though the idea of a human-alien hybrid here involves an intended operation, it is now too reminiscent of the unwanted transition in D9. It doesn’t help Avatar’s case that while different in concept there is still the moment when the hybrid character angrily wishes to leave his prison-like operating room. Does this mean D9 will at year’s end be the more original and influential, if not more groundbreaking, sci-fi movie of the year? We think we should still wait until Avatar is released to really think so. But we’re leaning towards the idea.