“You’ve never experienced anything like it,” gushed the LA Times about Avatar, James Cameron’s motion-capture extravaganza. And if you aren’t a Cameron connoisseur or an avid gamer, you might put all stock in the novelty of cutting-edge illusion and feel just as effusive. I may not have experienced the marvels of Avatar bundled together into one parcel until now, or its “game-changing” 3D effects, but I still felt like I’d been down this road before. Not to say I wasn’t left breathless by the film’s look or thrilled by its outstanding action sequences; if I checked my watch once or twice, it wasn’t during the climactic battle between airships and dragon-mounted archers, which swept me up into a gleeful place six feet above my chair. Avatar is for the eyes and breast. It’s achingly beautiful, a 70mm version of World of Warcraft’s loveliest zone, Zangarmarsh, with its humid, violet luminescence, its drifting tendrils, its spots of blood-red, and its alien fungal forms. But it’s not an original. It’s a realm that pervaded twentieth-century fantasy illustration and late twentieth-century games like American McGee’s Alice, but Cameron shouldn’t be faulted for grasping that realm’s allure and reproducing it in its finest form to date. There’s no reason why the visual feast of better video game art direction shouldn’t be adapted for the multiplex. It’s evident that Cameron himself feels this way. He suggests as much in the movie’s title and premise.

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