Keep in mind this is an examination of first impressions.
I'm a blogger second and a fan of fantastic film first. That puts me right in line with the legion of geeks who have spent years drifting towards James Cameron's Avatar on the horizon, an unsinkable buoy in the deep sea. Sure, I've spent month after month hearing tale of how Steven Spielberg visited the set and walked away a humbled man or how Avatar promises to do lewd things to my eyeballs, but there's only one component of the hype that has stuck with me.
It was a passing comment made by Drew McWeeny, the always brilliant mind behind my favorite film blog, and even then he was paraphrasing what someone else had told him. And despite being concise enough to fit within the 140 character confine of Twitter, it embodies everything James Cameron, Fox, and all of the fans are up against:
"I spoke to someone regarding some "Avatar" footage he saw, and he said, "It's the T-rex scene, but for two hours.""
This was back in April (and no, I didn't bookmark Drew's tweet, I just Googled it for accuracy) so presumably whoever made that comment was someone with enough clout to see Avatar early, which weights the comment with further presumption that whoever said it is a person of substance. But I care less about the he-said-she-said and more about the bar that comparison sets. A bar I think couldn't be more realistic.
First, if you will, humor me for a moment while I explain how Jurassic Park changed my life. I was seven years old when it came out (yes, I make you feel old, yadda-yadda-yadda; my opinion still counts) and I had never seen anything like it. To say my mind was blown would be to damn the revelation with faint praise. I've done many things between June of '93 and today and taken many personal and professional paths that could have (and should have) altered my lifestyle, but the things I saw on Isla Nublar when I was seven years old always bring me back to the silver screen of other people's imagination.
So, yeah, invoking the T-rex scene is kind of a big deal to me, but it's also a perfect point of comparison for Avatar. I realize I'm no longer a kid (a wedding ring on my hand and a mortgage payment on my back are easy reminders of that), but I don't think it's asking too much to hope for a film that creates a reasonably impermeable illusion instead of a few brilliant magic tricks. And I know that we're talking about just a trailer, but the teasing nature doesn't invalidate the shock of finally seeing something that's been brewing for nearly as long as I've been alive come to life only to discover that the wizards who give us so much are all sharing the same spellbook.
Nothing in the Avatar trailer looks bad, but nothing in the trailer looks as awe inspiring as the T-rex and that's a problem. My gut doesn't care how many A-list filmmakers have been wowed by the process of making Avatar. My gut doesn't care because it has yet to see anything that looks as tactile as a 30 foot dinosaur crushing a jeep. My gut knows that it's been 16 years and my gut, whether it's fair or not, expects to see some improvement between then and now. And if improvement is too much to ask for, at least match it.
The problem lays not in the age discrepancy between then and now. There were plenty of people who are my age now when Jurassic Park came out who shared the same reaction I did because even they had never seen anything like it before. Not only have I seen Avatar's visual prowess before, but it could be argued that I've seen it done better. Just last week I was blown away in the slums of Johannesburg by aliens I was convinced, at times, must have been on set. If first timer Neill Blomkamp can fool me in close ups, there is no reason James "insert macho expletive here" Cameron shouldn't be able to as well.
And maybe he will. In fact, I'm pretty damned sure he will, but that doesn't shake my initial reaction. I have no more a preconceived notion of what a Pandoran dragon looks like than I do a velociraptor, but only one of the two looks like it might actually cut me if I reached towards its glistening rows of teeth. I've tripled in age since visiting Isla Nublar, why hasn't the wizard's spellbook that took me there kept up?