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‘Avatar’ — Nothing In It We Haven’t Seen Before

If only it had taken a few moments out of its 160-minute run time to get the characters and story straight

Is it possible that the biggest Box Office champion of all time is just good but not great?

 Of course.
Look at the list of highest grossing films on Wikipedia. Sure you have some classics ("Star Wars: New Hope"!) but "Madagascar 2" is at number 50 for crying out loud. 
Also note how many of the top 50 were released within the last decade. Seven of them are from 2009 alone, including "2012" and "Transformers 2." Considering that "Avatar" had more hype going in than the other 2009 films combined, its success isn’t such a surprise.
It is a good film. Next to "2012" and "Transformer’s 2," it’s almost Shakespeare. I’ve seen it. I even like it. The ending is very rousing. Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang and Zoe Saldana are terrific. I’m just not awestruck.
The story is underwritten, even the fans admit that. The critical decision in the story, the Na’vi taking in Jake Sully, is never explained. The Indians in "Dances With Wolves" outlined some pretty good reasons for taking in Kevin Costner before setting him up with Stands With a Fist.
I don’t see much difference in the 3D and 2D versions. There aren’t any big 3D scenes like in "Coraline" or "My Bloody Valentine." There’s a surprising lack of POV shots given the plot. And I can’t remember anything flying out directly at the audience except for Giovanni Ribisi’s golf ball.
The thing I noticed popping out the most were the subtitles. It’s almost like Cameron shot this the way he would normally as a 2D movie.
The CGI was good but it’s not groundbreaking. Groundbreaking means no one has done this before you.
They’ve been making films entirely in a computer for over a decade now. They’ve done mo-cap. They’ve made entirely CGI generated characters. When you think about it, there isn’t a whole lot they haven’t done with CGI in movies after all this time. Again Cameron never really calls much attention to the CGI, except for the floating mountains. Even there he could have used more dramatic angles to show them off.
And Cameron is a guy who knows how to compose shots. Say what you will about "Titanic," but he shot it perfectly. You always got a sense of the size of the damn ship. Maybe the film looks more spectacular in IMAX, but this is an easy fix.
In "Avatar" there’s too much running around. There’s never a moment when things stop or slow down. I guess what really frustrates me is that "Avatar" could easily have been much better if it just took a few moments out of its 160 minute run time to get the characters and story straight.
Still that hasn’t hurt the film in the box office. But then again being massive mountains of suck didn’t hurt "2012" or "New Moon."
Really, this entire year has been a game changer. This is the year Hollywood perfected packaging and selling big movies both abroad and at home. As impressive as "Avatar’s" total to date is, the other 2009 top grossers have already brought in nearly 5 billion worldwide. Can anyone say “recession proof?”

Michael Lee is a novel writer, blogger and freelance journalist living in L.A. He's been a judge for the prestigious PAGE Awards and blogs about his two biggest passions, screenwriting and food, at Screenwriting Foxhole and To Cook and Eat in L.A., respectively. Lee is also a co-author of "The Insider's Guide to Screenwriting" and has just published his first novel, "My Frankenstein."