I was reading about this upcoming sci-fi movie starring Tom Cruise called Oblivion. The IMDb synopsis says:
A court martial sends a veteran soldier to a distant planet, where he is to destroy the remains of an alien race. The arrival of an unexpected traveler causes him to question what he knows about the planet, his mission, and himself.
The plot of Avatar is:
- Guy is sent by military to deal with exotic natives to help pursue military’s interests.
- Guy becomes sympathetic to natives.
- Guy rebels against military, helping natives.
This is, in broad strokes, also the plot of one of my favorite movies, Lawrence of Arabia. The difference is in how it’s done–compare the character of General Allenby in Lawrence with Colonel Hambone from Avatar. (Okay, so that’s not his name. But it should have been.)
This is so often the case with fiction. Another example:
“A video game about someone who causes tremendous damage to a planet, and must then face the consequences of that action.”
This could be describing either Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords or Tonic Trouble. The former I consider to be the greatest game ever made; a masterpiece of storytelling and characterization, complete with a philosophical depth more powerful than any other work of fiction I have seen. The latter is about a purple cartoon alien who fights mutant tomatoes. “The Devil is in the details”, as they say.
Zaphodb2002 pointed out in a comment on this post that if you just give a synopsis of the most basic points, so many great works don’t sound all that impressive. It is, as he said, how the story is told.