The consensus is in: James Cameron's Avatar is the greatest movie ever made, according to the fans. According to critics, it doesn't have much in the way of plot, characters, ideas or originality, but it's so dazzling that it's one of the best movies of the year! As one of the few who was underwhelmed by this new movie, I would like to know why Cameron was given such a low bar for excellence. It seems to me that to qualify as one of the greatest films of all time, or even one of the best movies of the year, some of the mandatory requirements ought to include strong plot, characters, ideas and/or originality, and not just visual effects alone.
In this business, spectacular visuals usually don't make up for a tired plot, half-baked characters and an obvious message. Just take a look back at Shane Acker's 9, which suffered from exactly the same problem: great design, little else. It earned a paltry $31 million (about the same as its budget) and scored a mediocre 57% on Rotten Tomatoes. Then look at Aristomenis Tsirbas' Battle for Terra, which came out last May and featured almost exactly the same plot as Avatar. It scored only 47% on Rotten Tomatoes and less than $2 million (though it was made for a much smaller budget and received a much smaller release). Both 9 and Battle for Terra showcased similar clunky storytelling and a similar obvious, heavy-handed attempt at sending messages. And no one even nibbled. Likewise, someone pointed out recently that the plot of Avatar is even closer to the 1992 animated film Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, which -- let's face it -- didn't exactly set the world on fire either. (Some have defended Cameron's "old" story based on the fact that he wrote it 15 years ago, but Ferngully came out 17 years ago.)