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Against the Avatar Tide

January 6, 2010

I wanted to stand up and say, “The Emperor Cameron has no clothes!”

OK, I don’t want to offend you if you really loved Avatar and agree with those who say it’s one of the greatest films ever made. I would just like to argue for a higher standard. Certainly it will be one of the highest grossing films ever (though no one talks about total audience, which likely is not the highest ever, given inflation of ticket prices.) And, it is visually and sonically amazing. The visual achievement alone does make it a landmark film.

I’ll try to speak to my point.

A great film is a complete film. That is, a film is more than its visuals or technological advances or music or script or acting or editing or directing. A truly great film is created when all of those elements come together into one coherent whole. By this standard, Avatar misses the mark for me. Honestly, when I left the theater (yes, I saw it in 3D) I was saying to myself, “All that money and nothing for a script writer!”

Were there any characters that were not clichéd stereotypes out of a hundred other movies that you’ve seen? And what’s with the creative names for things: ‘unobtanium’, ‘banshees’? This is the best the writers could come up with for creating an exotic future world? I hate to say it, but the first thing that popped into my mind when Sully was introduced to the banshees was another epic adventure film, Dinotopia! My kids watched it over and over on VHS. Cameron totally ripped off the whole deal with the Skybax (sp?) for Avatar.

Were there any events that you could not predict miles away? Were there any crises that you felt in any way would not work out for the heroes? Other than on the most superficial level, I didn’t really buy the romance between this noble indigenous princess with all the knowledge of the natural and spiritual world and the moron from another planet? What was she thinking? I know what Sully was thinking ’cause she’s a hot, basically naked, princess. (I’ll give Cameron credit for actually having Sully’s character change over time, but in the most predictable way.)

It’s OK if you loved it and want to see it over and over. To me, it’s like an amusement park ride.

However, I actually believe that it is possible to make a really expensive film, with killer effects that have never been seen before, that is really popular, and at the same time not insult the intelligence of your audience. I mean, you have every tech guru on the planet working on the visuals, why not put a crack team of writers on the script too? Peter Jackson did it with the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. He had real literature as his starting point, and he chose to honor it. I’m not just all about weird indie films as the highest expression of the art. There are other examples, even within Hollywood. I just think James Cameron doesn’t respect the audience and got caught up with his toys. So, he made half the film that he could have made.

Personally, I can’t wait to see what a real, complete artistic team will be able to do with the technology Cameron and his team developed. It’s an incredible toolset, and in the hands of real artists it will bring us more than just eye-candy.

Just as an aside, here’s an article from the LA Times that explains any naysayers as reactionary conservatives. Thought it was funny.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 7, 2010 9:13 am

    This analysis made me laugh:

    • January 7, 2010 9:20 am

      Awesome Marti! Thanks for the tip.

      I expect someone is doing the same with Dances With Wolves and any number of other films that come to mind when watching Avatar.

      I need to look for the inevitable video trailer mashups. I know there was one done with Avatar and Team America. Here’s a link to that one: http://mashable.com/2009/12/09/avatar-mashup/#

  2. January 7, 2010 9:26 am

    OK. Now I had to look for more.

    Here’s a newer one – Fern Gully/Avatar trailer mashup. Enjoy.

  3. January 8, 2010 11:42 am

    Great to see you blogging, Tom. And refreshing to read a view of the film that is out of the mainstream.

  4. Jenna permalink
    January 10, 2010 7:35 pm

    This was very interesting to read. I am impressed with your well thought out look on the film.

    To me it WAS the greatest movie I’ve ever seen. Not because it fit the “standards” of what a great movie is. It is impossible to have a set of rules in the entertainment industry.
    Who creates the rules?
    Where does it say these elements are what it takes to create the perfect movie.
    Every person has a different perspective on what “best” is. For example. My idea of what a great movie is, is probably very different from yours.

    So the argument isn’t: Avatar is the greatest/is not the greatest.
    The argument is: What makes a good movie?

    That is an answer that will never be correctly answered.

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