Crispy Gamer

A Faulty Connection for James Cameron's Avatar?

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Long veiled in secrecy and rumored to be the first film washed in 100% pure unicorn tears, James Cameron’s Avatar made a fancy debut at E3 this week. Before the show’s attendees could see the video game tethered to the upcoming Christmas movie, security guards confiscated phones, cameras and anything that could record. New-fangled 3D glasses were given out. A chipper actor-type narrated the demo, starting off with a glowing introduction for the movie’s producer Jon Landau.  (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
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Landau shouted out screenwriter Zak Penn in the audience, then enthusiastically outlined the basic plot of the sci-fi drama. The film centers on 26-year-old paralyzed veteran Jake Sully, who lost his ability to walk fighting a war he didn’t believe in. His estranged identical twin’s been living across the galaxy, working for interstellar mining company Resources Development Administration on a planet called Pandora. Representatives from RDA approach Jake after his scientist brother dies, because the fieldwork on Pandora’s harsh conditions requires genetically-engineered Avatars locked to an individual’s DNA. Jake wants nothing to do with them until they say the Avatar technology will allow him to walk again. Once he reaches Pandora, he learns of the indigenous 10-feet-tall Navis in conflict with RDA’s private army and decides to lead the Navis into the battle to push the corporation off-planet.

The demo unfurled on a prototype Panasonic stereoscopic TV. For all the talk of the retina-searing vision of Cameron’s opus, the Avatar game came off as oddly pedestrian. Levels we saw featured cookie-cutter space marine types fighting some of Pandora’s exotic xeno-zoological fauna, culminating in a face-off with a blue-skinned Navi warrior. Tables turned and we saw a Navi riding a winged beast taking out a flying RDA gunship. Despite the mesmerizing 3D, the action could have been from any middling game over the last five years. The abilties of the space soldier, the inevitable tedium of stop-and-pop shooter action and the predictable exoskeleton sequences felt hackneyed and worn out. Tons of sci-fi cliches abound–gentle indigenous natives exploited by mean ol' corporations, precious resources taken away with ecological reprcussions–and it's tough to parse as to whether they're coming from the game or the movie.

There’s irony here, because Cameron’s appearance at the Ubisoft press conference indicated that Avatar wouldn’t be the same old crappy movie game. The way it’s shaping up, Avatar looks to be exactly that.