Oscars Revelation: Is Avatar the New Star Wars?

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The same day that the Oscar nominations became official, the narratives were laid out by the mainstream media. This is the year of David vs. Goliath, of big budgets vs. low budgets and sure things vs. long shots.

Fair enough. But when I was calling around to friends Tuesday afternoon, a far different narrative was taking shape in my caffeine-addled brain. For starters, this was the year that resurrected sci-fi. And second: This is the year of spectacle vs. story, of effects vs. emotion.

Now most years, I’d jump at the chance to side against the shallow CG spectacle, whatever the cost. But, honestly, Avatar is not your run-of-the-mill CG orgy. This is one of the most impressive, game-changing doses of CG I’ve ever encountered. It took me to a place that no movie ever has, and it’s sort of hard for any film lover to dismiss that sense of awe.

Avatar crossed a new sensory threshold. And in my book, that gets a whole lot of points.

Now I know there are some out there who are comparing this year’s Oscars season to that of James Camerons’ last film, Titanic. There again, it was David vs. Goliath. But when it comes to Avatar versus Up in the Air (or just maybe The Hurt Locker), it isn’t 1998 that springs to mind but rather 1978. The year of Star Wars versus Annie Hall, when a groundbreaking technological achievement went up against a reserved and droll romance.

IMHO, 2010 is 1978 all over again, with a story versus a spectacle. Both brilliant in their own departments. But I think it’s rather telling that Avatar was not nominated in the screenplay category. It’s not Jake Sully that Academy voters – or I would venture, most moviegoers – fell in love with. And it’s not the characters, acting, or plotting that will win Avatar the best picture statue.

If Avatar wins, it will be due to the film’s Wow factor; largely the same reason Star Wars was contender so very long ago.

And even if Cameron suffers the same Oscars defeat that George Lucas did, there’s one consolation prize: Star Wars, Oscars be damned, still went on to be one of the most influential films of all time, changing the way a whole industry thought about producing, distributing and marketing its product.

The same will be true of Avatar.

More at Techland: See our full Avatar coverage.