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avatar-20091209114742827The pre-Avatar media blitz was something else, wasn’t it? Seemed you couldn’t pick up a magazine or turn on the telly without seeing a profile of James Cameron. When I read the New Yorker‘s take on him, I got hung up on this:

“Creating a universe is daunting,” George Lucas said. “I’m glad Jim is doing it—there are only a few people in the world who are nuts enough to. I did it with ‘Star Wars,’ and now he’s trying to challenge that. It’s a lot of work. I do believe Jim will take this further out than anyone’s ever conceived of.”

That’s pretty heavy — Lucas has spent his whole life creating his universe; Cameron’s film is (far as I know) a one-off. In fact I never would have wondered whether Avatar would be the “next” Star Wars if I hadn’t read this — so perhaps that was a little gamesmanship by Lucas, perhaps he was intentionally setting the bar too high. Because Avatar is not the next Star Wars. It’s a good movie, certainly a quantum advance in digital effects, but it doesn’t come close to Star Wars in terms of complexity. Does it create a universe? Sure, or at least a planet. But the nagging question I had for George Lucas is this: Is creating a universe really so hard or rare? Films don’t do it too often — look back through the top-grossing films of the last few years and Avatar is, indeed, the first blockbuster sci-fi/fantasy since Revenge of the Sith in 2005. But that doesn’t mean there’s a dearth of universe-creating. It’s just happening in video games.

As I watched the opening scenes of Avatar, I felt like I’d been through this before — this was Halo, or Doom, or Bioshock. The intro was uncannily like a video-game setup. I couldn’t shake that feeling throughout — that Avatar was a good film that might ought to have been a video game. There’s no way to check this, but I wonder whether the critics and viewers who are so nutso about Avatar happen to be a bit ignorant about the state of console gaming.

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