Avatar has two major selling-points: James Cameron's return to directing and the innovation of 3D CGI motion-capture with "3D virtual cameras." While I have no doubt the technology is impressive, the trailer does little to distinguish itself from various Final Fantasy XIII trailers. They've both got impressively exaggerated geography, flying islands, too-shiny surfaces, and mysterious races with unnecessary apostrophes in their names (Na'Vi, fal'Cie). Alas, I suspect the videogame will have the better script. Or at least the less-painful and embarrassing script.
It's hard to believe that James Cameron hasn't made a movie - aside from a deep-sea documentary or two - since Titanic. And yet Cameron doesn't seem to have moved on that much: the subject matter of Avatar seems to resemble earlier Cameron films like Aliens and The Abyss, though Avatar also seems to have an eco-friendly message - I can't help but wonder how many beautiful Na'Vi trees the film's doubtless brutish humans will despoil. Big budget, new technology, ecological consciousness... Avatar won't be Cameron's Waterloo, but it may be his Waterworld.
The film, aside from its technical aspects, seems designed by committee. According to all-knowing Wikipedia, Cameron wanted to replicate "every single science fiction book I read as a kid." Alas, all those separate stories seem to have blended together into something utterly generic-looking. Wikipedia also explains that parts of the Avatar tie-in videogame worked their way into the movie itself; clearly this is a film with coherent artistic and aesthetic visions. Consider Cameron's persistent dedication to his craft, his drive to produce the best of all blockbusters: "he kept tweaking his Na'Vi aliens, asking his all-male crew over and over "Would you want to do her?" Oh well, Cameron's doing nothing new with awkward sexualization: Disney executives apparently try and ensure that any "Disney princesses" are "fuckable." (Link, alas, doesn't have full text of that article)
The Avatar trailer is almost entirely wordless, perhaps to accommodate MST3K-style mockery . The one line we hear in the trailer is Cameron patting himself on the back: "This is great." As you might have guessed, I don't agree. Another wordless trailer, however, has me very excited. Christopher Nolan is one of the few directors who has made films to rival Cameron's in their popular success, yet his filmmaking philosophy is radically different. Cameron, like Lucas, loves CGI and new filmmaking technology. Nolan is disappointed when he can't film a real stuntman really flying over real Hong Kong. While Cameron is taking vehicle designs from his game developers, Nolan is in his garage designing and building scale-model Batmobiles. And while both Cameron and Nolan can make damn good popcorn movies, Nolan's are far deeper and far smarter.
After The Dark Knight made over $500 million domestically, quite a few people expected Nolan's next film would be another Batman. Instead, Nolan decided to do a science fiction film called Inception. Though Warner Bros. hasn't said too much about the plot, there are some indications that the plot will bear resemblances to The Matrix, some Philip K. Dick films and other such movies about the nature of reality. The trailer shows a surreal fight taking place in a hallway that seems to be tilting around the combatants. Yet the few seconds of fighting seem to lack the "style" and "cool" that made the Matrix films seem inhuman. This is a real fight, surreal sci-fi setting or not. Indeed, the film seems to have a somewhat gritty look reminiscent of Nolan's Batman films, which seems appropriate for a film where (to quote a tagline) "Your mind is the scene of the crime." Nolan has done well with crime (The Dark Knight, Memento, Insomnia) and with the fantastic (The Prestige); I hope he can combine the two "styles."
Time will tell if it's good, but as of right now Inception is just about my most-anticipated film of 2010. I doubt it will be as popular as The Dark Knight, but it wouldn't surprise me if it were as good. And I have no doubts that it will be a finer film than Avatar.