After 12 years and hundreds of millions of dollars, expectations are so high for Avatar that it seems impossible for James Cameron's latest film to live up to the promise of being a game-changer not only for 2009 audiences, but for the history of the medium itself. It certainly hasn't helped that Cameron has spent the better part of the last year proclaiming that it would be unlike anything anyone has ever seen.
Interestingly, however, what all of this hype may actually do is create the mistaken sense that Cameron's movie is truly unprecedented, bizarre, or otherwise unfamiliar in its form, structure and storytelling. The one thing that Cameron seems to understand best is that technological revolutions – one of which is essentially what he's staging here – are best packaged in familiar forms. In which case, we took a look at the movie and highlighted the top eight characterizations, plot points and ideas in Avatar that will immediately feel recognizable to his fans, much less moviegoers long since steeped in the conventions of contemporary moviemaking.