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David Poland

By David Poland

The "Avatar As Death Of Storytelling" Fallacy

After I read Monika Bartyzel’s December 27th piece n Cinematical, ‘Avatar’ and the Death of Storytelling, my instinct was to explain in some detail why this was wrongheaded.
Four days and a third view of the film from start to finish later and I am less inclined to do so… because the argument Bartyzel makes is so lame and unsupportable by anything other than the hubristic urge to piss on what’s popular, it is not worth my time or yours. Somehow, we are supposed to just buy the premise that the storytelling is weak… and discuss from there.
To give the author and those who wish to dance naked in the warm drool of the headline their due, the headline is more clear in its argument than the wandering, unfocused article. Bartyzel seems to suffer the child-journalist’s difficulty (and I have no idea how old or experienced Bartyzel is… the name has never registered with me before) of confusing personal disappointment with the objective failure of others. Worse is the rhetorically moronic trope of “if they had only made an effort!” Oy.
To wit: “(How the frak can James Cameron have cooked this story up for a decade, waiting for technology to catch up with his vision, and not want the story to be killer?”
“What could Cameron have done? It seems all too simple — workshop the script, get advice from trusted names, put similar effort into all aspects of the film.”
Or, hey, he could have made Avatar into a blog and just pulled stuff out of his ass instead of making the movie.
Do I think that Cameron should have found someone he trusted who would have told him that some of the clinker lines in the film could have been smoothed down? Yes. But a half-dozen pieces of overly gung-ho dialogue is not “the end of storytelling.”
If you actually look at Avatar clearly, thinking seriously about the storytelling, it is as complex as any film Charlie Kaufman has ever written. What it is not – and I think that this could be be and should be seriously considered by writers who chose to think about film seriously – is particularly oblique, as many of the films that “serious” critics choose to love are. But what’s funny about that is that if you really start to think about what’s been set up in Avatar, nature perhaps being hard-wired in a literal way, Cameron is throwing out as big an idea as any studio film has offered in years.
Avatar is a genre movie. Absolutely. And when it isn’t thrilling the audience, it is usually reaching for emotion, not intellect. But it is also a master class in story structure. The weakest parts of the first act – all the Basil Exposition moments – are all paid off in a big way in the third act.
I defy any of the bashers to come up with a major element of the movie that doesn’t actually make sense in the context of the movie. I’m sure there are a few minor ones… there always seem to be a few, even in the most highly regarded films. But this is not Charlie’s Angels: Full Frontal or Bad Boys II or even Transformers, #1 or #2, randomly inserting action sequences that never quite fit the context of what minor story that is being offered.
What Avatar is not is as dark and mysterious as The Dark Knight. There is no evil character as strong as The Joker. Our hero and heroine are not as brooding and focused as The Batman. And the moral questions of Avatar are not as clearly stated or as yes/no as The Dark Knight. But all that said, the story structure of the movie is more successful than TDK at delivering on what it promises.
Everyone and anyone should be welcome to prefer one kind of discussion of ideas at the movies over another. I am in no way suggesting that Bartyzel or anyone else needs to bow to Avatar, either for commercial or aesthetic reasons. (And the “we are the rebels under attack by big bad money” shtick from the bashers is unrelenting.) But attack what you really don’t like. Please don’t feel compelled to so grossly overreach as to attack a complex and working structure – the columns holding the visuals up – in order to try to bring down the whole thing.
Avatar delivers more, I would argue, than people realize, not because the storytelling is weak, but because audiences – however smart – have a hard time seeing the story for the digital trees.
Let’s just take a part of the third act of the film.
At the start of the act, the humans who have taken the side of the Na’Vi against industry, the military, and indeed, even humans in general, move forward without discussion and without a plan. They have changed sides 100% and behave as a native would instinctively. They need to get out of the enemy’s stronghold and to get back to what is now their home.
What makes this interesting and complex is that just one scene before, this group was still working with the other humans to try to mediate. Without dialogue explaining this, the audience understands what’s happened. And the first thing this band of New Na’Vis does when free, also without explanation, is to take – as best they can – control of their avatars into their own hands and away from the belligerent humans.
Once they make this transition, Cameron flips the entire movie. Jakesully finds a way to become a leader again and brings the military insight that if united, the indigenous population could fight off the intruders. (Ironically, to my argument, the existence of other tribes isn’t introduced until this scene… one loose thread.) Suddenly, the Sky People are on the defensive… suddenly they are rationalizing not that they have a mission and hate those in their way, but that if they don’t attack first, they will be destroyed by those “blue monkeys,” who are organizing only because the Sky People trying to annihilate them.
Cameron then flips the movie again, introducing the concept of a nuclear weapon, with the threat to bomb out the second most important place for the Na’Vi (the white tree).
And Cameron flips the movie one more time with the arrival of nature to defend itself.
This represents four major power shifts in the third act alone. None of it is casual, random, or even confusing. It is clear to the audience without being spelled out. They feel it. And that is a real achievement in story telling.
Again… I am not saying that the film is flawless. I am not saying that box office gross = quality or social importance or anything else. All I am saying is that the movie is hitting people in a real way and to try to take that away by claiming, without a real argument, that it’s “just visuals” is irresponsible and dumb.
Those of us who write fot public consumption about movies always have a choice. We can try to figure out what is going on with audiences when they latch onto a particular film. Or we can judge them as we judge the movie and try to argue why those stupid people have been suckered into thinking they are enjoying themselves. I guess there is a third choice… bowing to whatever is commercial… quote whoring on whatever level. And I often think the “I’m so much smarter than them” arguments are a response to those quote whore types… and completely forget that real people find real enjoyment in these films and there may be a reason that we have not yet considered.
I have no idea how anyone can stand the Twilight movies or the Sex & The City movie… but they don’t only pay to see these films… they LOVE them. I got it a little more on Mamma Mia!. And I still feel fine about saying these films SUCK without having to demean those who love them. Yes, me saying it will anger and/or embarrass some who love them. But that’s just the gig.
What is NOT the gig is arguing that Twilight is the end of cinematography or that Sex & The City was the end of feminism or that Mamma Mia! is the end of singing by male leads or, for that matter, Meryl Streep acting without mugging.
Heck… if you aren’t intellectually curious, that’s okay too. Maybe that’s your niche! If it is, please disregard all I just wrote. So sorry to get in the way of your malevolent fun.6

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83 Responses to “The "Avatar As Death Of Storytelling" Fallacy”

  1. Brian says:

    I didn’t have a problem with the story, but I did think a blaring weakness that brought it down for me was the Jake Sully character.
    There was never one moment that the Na’vi body and life wasn’t better for him.
    Make him a hard-ass Marine who’s forced to go on this mission – a guy who’s actively excited to help wipe out the Na’vi? THEN you’ve got a real character arc when he makes that turn to help them. The overall plot is basically the same, but now you’ve got a conflicted main character, which is far more interesting.
    Sorry to play “this is what they should’ve done” – I know it’s kinda lame to do so.
    Worthington’s performance didn’t exactly help Sully either. It was kind of bland.

  2. jeffmcm says:

    I agree with both of Brian’s points. The dramatic conflict was wayyy too tidy. The greatest degree of complexity in Jake’s character was, what, him telling his video diary “I don’t know if I’m coming or going” (paraphrase) which is a classic example of telling and not showing, and pretty much tucked away as an unimportant aside anyway.
    Also, I think it’s interesting, DP, how you’re using the story ‘flips’ as evidence that the story is strong, when I’d use the exact same moments to show that the screenwriting is undisciplined and undemanding. In one shot we see, say, Michelle Rodriguez still being a loyal marine, and five minutes later she’s on Team Na’Vi defying orders – Yeah, I get that she’s changed sides, but I don’t get what happened in the middle (from anything in dialogue or visuals) or what her motivation might possibly have been. The movie shrugs because it doesn’t care, and audiences shrug along with it.

  3. Devin Faraci says:

    You’re right, Dave, the audience is able to follow the story clearly. The use of hoary cliches and tropes will do that for them.

  4. Avatar SPOILER –
    Personally, my favorite moment in Avatar is the shocking choice for Ribisi’s seemingly heartless company man to let Jake go back to the Na’vi and warn them of the coming attack. Ribisi could have been just played as a soulless corporate drone, but his moments of almost accidental humanity and understated remorse made the last act that much more compelling.
    SPOILER ends.
    I think part of the problem is the continuing misconception that screenwriting begins and ends with clever dialogue. It’s why people were confounded by the Oscar wins for Titanic and Return of the King, for example. Sure Pulp Fiction had great dialogue, but it also had solid storytelling and a reason for that dialogue to exist. It’s the difference between the artistic failure of Death Proof and the artistic success of Inglourious Basterds (where QT’s trademark rambling is a tool for building tension and drawing out suspense). Screenwriting is about plotting, narrative, scene construction, AND dialogue. Sure Titanic had about a dozen cheesy lines, but all of the action beats, plot turns, and general storytelling was written by the same guy who wrote that cheap Picasso joke.

  5. SJRubinstein says:

    Well, didn’t Cameron get script help from a trusted source? It’s not on IMDB, but in the credits I saw Laeta Kalogridis listed as an executive producer, which is usually code for “wrote extensively on the film, but wanted guaranteed credit not subject to WGA arbitration [or perhaps Cameron wanted to be contractually on as sole written/directed and, as he’d been working with her on “Battle Angel” and “The Dive,” she was cool with it].”

  6. jeffmcm says:

    I will say that Transformers 2 is a much, MUCH better movie to use for the ‘death of storytelling’ argument than anything Cameron has ever done.
    (And Scott, Titanic didn’t win an Oscar for screenwriting.)

  7. David Poland says:

    Devin… I have downloaded your “hoary cliches and tropes” single from iTunes… you can stop selling.
    But seriously… do us all a favor and name a genre film or two that you think DOESN’T resort to what you would call hoary cliches and tropes.
    And if you are starting with The Dark Knight and The Joker never explaining himself, do remember that the same can be said of Cesar Romero’s Joker.

  8. SJRubinstein says:

    How ’bout “The Departed?”

  9. jeffmcm says:

    Yeah, all movies are full of cliches, so then the dividing line becomes, do they rub you the wrong way or not? And for Devin and myself, they did. This isn’t something you can rationalize away in either direction (by which I mean, I can’t convince anyone to pay more attention to the storytelling gaps if they don’t want to, and you can’t convince me to pay less attention to them since that train has already left the station).

  10. Devin Faraci says:

    I don’t really like THE DARK KNIGHT very much, actually. But one thing I learned in grade school is that ‘They did it too!’ is not a valid excuse.
    There will be people who will tell you that there are *randomly chosen number* of stories out there and every story is a variation on those. Maybe that’s the case, but if so it means that it all comes down to the telling. And if you’re not telling your story in a new, interesting way – and I don’t mean using new tech, but the actual art of the telling – it’s going to come off like a boring rehash of what’s come before.

  11. Mr. Gittes says:

    Come again Dave? How is Avatar as complex as anything Charlie Kauffman has written?
    Detractors are placing their criticism on Avatar’s plot, not so much on the film’s lack of clever lines. For example, not a single Na’vi raises a red-flag when Wes Studi suddenly allows Jake back in the tribe after he…jumping on a scared banshee? Does that action completely erase Jack’s admission to the tribe that he was an informant for the Marines? Not one, Dave. And that’s not okay. A movie asking us, among other things, that it’s okay to believe so-called native people must require outside influence — white influence — in order to survive is ludicrous. This has got to stop. I’m looking at you Ed Zwick.
    Whereas The Dark Knight made its themes and ideas and questions so thoroughly ours, Avatar asks us to see ourselves in Jake and Zoe Saldana and accept the story happening around them. I could not accept it. My loss, I guess. And there’s not a single moment where Cameron introduces a “cool” scene or action that made my jaw drop. The Jason Bourne films are full of them. Children of Men told a somewhat familiar story in an entirely new way, too. Avatar is a rehash.
    My loss, I guess.

  12. jasonbruen says:

    I don’t know how people think Jake’s switching to the Na’vi was convenient and not set up. As a Na’vi, Jake could walk and there were numerous scenes of him exploring the environment – to which I thought Cameron effectively showed Jake was awed by it. And what of the scenes/lines of him confused as to which of him was a dream (either as a marine or as a Na’vi)?
    I agree with DP, it may not be the deepest story in the world, but it works well and combined with the visual element of the movie, makes for a striking movie that is obviously hitting with audiences.

  13. Crud, you’re right Jeff. Apologies for neglecting to double check that, but my point still stands, for whatever it’s worth.

  14. leahnz says:

    devin faraci, how can you have published this rather disgusting excuse for writing on cameron and claim to be even remotely objective about anything he does?:
    you should be ashamed of yourself. how anyone would even read anything you’ve written after this defies reason

  15. lazarus says:

    Not only did Titanic’s script not win an Oscar, it wasn’t even nominated, the first BP winner to have that distinction since The Sound of Music, which was, of course, a musical.

  16. a_loco says:

    Even if you don’t like Avatar, which I can understand, you have to admit that in a year when Transformers 2 makes over $400 mil, only a fucking moron would say that James Cameron is causing the death of storytelling.

  17. David Poland says:

    A great screenplay, SJR, but loaded with cliche… and cliche from the original, I should add.
    Maybe you were kidding.
    I prefer the Departed screenplay by far over Avatar. But one of the things that makes it work so well is that it lingers in the cliches and out-cliches them. No?
    And Devin… thanks for not playing. I get it now. Your mantra is a hoary cliches and trope itself.
    As for J-Mc, Gittes, etc… good on ya. I don’t necessarily feel how you feel, but I wouldn’t argue your position of whether it worked or didn’t. What makes me nuts, however, is this kind of overly broad dismissal of something on some alleged higher level without being able to make the argument in a specific way.
    You both have made completely reasonable arguments about not loving or liking this movie here. Others have too. But there is a big leap between, “I didn’t buy it” and “It’s only about the images.”

  18. torpid bunny says:

    I’d have to see Avatar again to judge it’s script as a structure. I come at the question with the firm conviction that Terminator and T2 are well nigh perfect scripts, masterpieces of character development and pacing pacing pacing. So I’m disposed to trust Cameron. As I’ve said before, Cameron doesn’t focus on intellectual or conceptual matters. That’s not his bag. So if that’s what critics are looking for, they’re missing the point.
    If I had one criticism of Avatar I would say that too much was put into 150 min or whatever the run time is. I would have loved a 3 hour+ Avatar, giving us, for instance, a little more nuance in Jake’s conversion to the Navi cause and a little more development of his existential/phenomenological confusion (but maybe that’s just interesting to me), and yes, a little more detail about the Navi and their society. It doesn’t really affect the immediate enjoyment of the movie, but in retrospect it’s kind of a problem that Jake has barely any relationship with a Navi other than the heroine. I think a lot of little problems in the movie could have been resolved with a slightly longer run time. And why not, P Jackson gave us 200 min movies.
    It’s interesting that people are comparing Avatar’s script to TDK. Scott Mendelson wrote a rock solid review of TDK, and really went into the problems with the script, primarily that TDK needed to be 180 min+ or (my preference) two different movies.

  19. stingaree says:

    Not the death of storytelling but the worst dialogue of any movie (except perhaps The Room) since Ed Wood was behind the camera. The story construction is lame (far too many examples to mention) but the movie is entertaining. Not the best I’ve seen this year, not the best I’ve seen this month, not the best I’ve seen in the last week. Should be top 10 for technology and technology alone.
    Has anyone seen “The Jazz Singer?”

  20. stingaree says:

    Not the death of storytelling but the worst dialogue of any movie (except perhaps The Room) since Ed Wood was behind the camera. The story construction is lame (far too many examples to mention) but the movie is entertaining. Not the best I’ve seen this year, not the best I’ve seen this month, not the best I’ve seen in the last week. Should be top 10 for technology and technology alone.
    Has anyone seen “The Jazz Singer?”

  21. Thanks for the props, but I wasn’t the only one to draw that conclusion about Dark Knight’s running-time. I think even DP mentioned it. I rather liked The Dark Knight, more so than Avatar personally (I’m sure some of you have noticed that I’m a bit of a Batman nerd), but I think that in itself gets into something that has long troubled me about film criticism. In that, if something is imperfect, it is automatically a complete failure. Dark Knight has a slightly flawed screenplay and several plot holes, but it’s still a terrific and terrifically entertaining movie. Avatar too has issues, but it doesn’t mean I don’t rather enjoy it. It’s a variation on ‘good’ being the enemy of ‘perfect’. Especially with films that have hype and/or Oscar bait movies, it seems like the films either are masterpieces or absolute crap. We, as a critical community have to remember that we are allowed to ‘like’ a movie if it’s merely good. We’re also allowed to ‘dislike’ a movie if it’s not good but not awful. Avatar is a very good movie. Just because it’s not my favorite film of the year doesn’t make it a bomb.

  22. Tofu says:

    The comparisons between Avatar & TDK should end with the Box Office. I’m finding it odder and odder that they are coming up together beyond such discussion.

  23. Me says:

    The bigger issue about the death of screenwriting, rather than Avatar – with a script that has been gestating for so long – would be the recent trend of scheduling a movie based on a release date without a finished script. Too many movies go into production before the scripts are done, or as done as they should be. Where’s that article?

  24. IOIOIOI says:

    David, is it really wrong to imply this film has been sold on it’s visuals? It’s been sold as an amazing looking CGI spectacle, and the people bought it.
    So it’s reasonable for people to go on about the death of storytelling, but they are using the wrong movie as an example. Rightfully, it should be fucking Transformers 2. Easily the stupidest piece of moronic shit to ever feature a great fucking character that deserves better.

  25. mutinyco says:

    I think there are other movies more deserving of the “death of narrative.” Like…say…L’Avventura, Mulholland Drive/Inland Empire, 2001, pretty much anything by Bunuel or Godard, etc.
    Movies have always contained a tension between visual and narrative — they are, by definition, a visual experience. Whereas in the written word there’s a very logical structure as to how ideas are composed, with images the artist can create something as classical as Casablanca or as disruptive as Lipsett’s Very Nice, Very Nice.
    To my point of view, at this point, I consider a narrative in film to simply be a forward motion of images, regardless of whether there’s an identifiable traditional “story.”

  26. sashastone says:

    It’s so great to hear your thoughts on this movie, DP. Thank god for you.
    Don’t listen to the haters. My theory on Avatar’s dislike in general by the fanboy set (led by Devin, lol) is that they’re so used to films like this being aimed at them that they’ve slowly, systematically become conditioned to films designed to appeal to them, starting from age 13 on up. So naturally they are let down and confused when a film like Avatar comes out – wow, actual depth! The fanboys are thrown off and the world stops spinning on its axis. It will take them a decade or so but they’re eventually evolve/come around.
    Happy New Year to you. Hope all is well with the fam!!!

  27. mutinyco says:

    I’m not a fanboy…

  28. Glamourboy says:

    Dave, seriously, you’ve got to stop with the Avatar stories…I don’t understand it. Its like your mesmerized or something. Article after article…its just numbing, really. We get it. You love the film. You want to defend it at every attack. Please, aren’t there some other deserving films to write about?

  29. jeffmcm says:

    I think there’s a difference between ‘death of narrative’ in Transformers 2 vs. ‘transcendence beyond narrative’ in, say, Antonioni or Lynch.
    Sasha, as someone who dislikes (but doesn’t hate) Avatar…”So naturally they are let down and confused when a film like Avatar comes out – wow, actual depth!”
    How does this jibe with my complaint with the movie being that I think it lacks depth?
    This is the year I lost my fanboy cred: I didn’t like Watchmen, Star Trek, or this movie.

  30. IOIOIOI says:

    I hardly know you jeff, but you have never ever come across as a fanboy. So I doubt you had any cred to lose.

  31. Gonzo Knight says:

    That Cinematical article is so dumb and embarrasing it is sad.
    First of all, Avatar is superb storytelling. Yes I know it’s not what Bartyzel means when she talks about the “death of storytelling” for even she cannot possibly be that dumb but it’s a point well worth making. Avatar tells its story superbly. As for the story itself, well…
    Let me start by saying that the joke is on Bartyzel. Like 80% of the people who critisize Avatar’s story she really doesn’t get it. Her disappointment and the comments that follow afterwards prove it. She says she cannot believe Cameron and co. could not have taken the time to make the story better. At no point in time did the woman consider what Cameron was really after. It’s one thing to flat out say I don’t like what this movie is about. But to complain it’s not good enough is quite something else. That’s a very important point.
    In reality, Avatar’s story is very polished – as polished as anything Cameron ever wrote. That, too, is just a side effect of a bigger story:
    Avatar is an INCREDIBLY REACTIONARY movie and quite self consciously so. For the first ever truly major 3d movie (at least in Cameron’s own eyes) Cameron created the biggest pastiche of films I have ever seen. I’m talking a Hero with a Thousand Faces and then fucking some.
    Seriously, I am still in disbelief at how many things Cameron dared to throw into that one friggin movie. It’s quite amusing.
    Cameron doesn’t just STEAL he grabs by handfuls in order to create not just a story but an experience. One of the chief pleasures of Avatar, which may or may not be due to it being built in 3D is that it is also a read between the lines movie. I don’t mean that in spot the source kind of way – that’s just plain distracting but Avatar does have a sort of depth to it that is just underneath the surface. The characters are archetypes (if with some interesting mutations) and that might be the reason why most of them seem to have more going then just the story tells you. That’s good storytelling.
    On to my main point. Cameron had seen “Lord of the Rings” and “The Matrix” (along with its sequels), “Mobile Suit Gundam” and “Saving Private Ryan” too (along with dozens more). He didn’t just watch them. He also took notes. He absorbed them and combined and tried to call them all out one by one and in order to use their strengths and to show what they could be like if done in 3D (and probably to one-up them too, of course). He also remade some of the scenes from his own films for he clearly considered them to be important enough to revisit. This is a movie for other directors to look at, recognize themselves in and come away thinking about what it is they just saw.
    No it doesn’t all work equally well but it’s only because something will never sythesize to perfection no matter how much time one invests into them. Also, Cameron has some clear limitations too when it comes to writing but he’s not a hack and again I have little doubt that he gave the story a proper amount of attention. He cut more than we’ll ever know.
    All of this combines to make Avatar’s story incredibly derivative. But much like many other films that are built on mythos, while not original Avatar’s story is not bad either. In fact, I would argue that apart from the embarrassing “I can’t believe they are not Native Americans” bits near the beginning, the story is pretty damn epic.
    Amusingly enough, Cameron seemed to pay a tribute to nearly all major religions. I say this with a certain degree of admiration. There is ambition to what Cameron is going for and it’s one of the things that make “Avatar” such a cool ride.
    One of the single biggest influences on Avatar’s themes (and this isn’t something a lot of people have picked up) is Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke”. I can write pages about what Cameron took from that film and the extent to which it informed his own movie. I have little doubt that these similarities are not mere coincidences.
    Among other anime Cameron had absorbed is “Gundam” and “Black Magic M64”. This reminds me. In many ways, Avatar is like anime and like a lot of anime it has a lot of shortcomings. These shortcomings could and should be pointed out and that’s a perfectly healthy things.
    Unfortunately, more often than not, people who criticize Avatar either don’t get it or do it because they feel threatened by it.
    The fact that Poland felt like he had to (yes, had to!) bring up TDK shows that a lot of fanboys really want a dick measuring contest even as they are the first ones to cry foul when their dicks come up short.
    Not really a dig at TDK itself (yes, I feel I have to be explicit) though I will say that TDK has it’s share of deviations from perfection too.
    Hopefully, this post wasn’t too difficult to follow. Enjoy.

  32. torpid bunny says:

    The comparison for me was simply that they are both epic stories with an excessive amount of incident for their run times. Personally I was unmoved by TDK but loved Avatar. I guess I go for the blue elf people rather than the men in tights.
    Scott I wasn’t reading David at the time but I did read your exhaustive review! Good job.

  33. torpid bunny says:

    Totally agree that there’s a lot of connections with Princess mononoke, (nothing Miyazaki’s done since comes close in my humble view). Not sure I agree that Cameron intentionally took elements from those movies, but it’s kind of an academic question.

  34. Gonzo Knight says:

    Also, did anyone else catch the “Neon Genesis Evangelion” connection?

  35. Blackcloud says:

    The Dark Knight is a better movie than Avatar in almost every respect.
    “Avatar is an INCREDIBLY REACTIONARY movie and quite self consciously so. For the first ever truly major 3d movie (at least in Cameron’s own eyes) Cameron created the biggest pastiche of films I have ever seen. I’m talking a Hero with a Thousand Faces and then fucking some.”
    Not sure I’d call it reactionary, but I fully concur with the rest of your assessment.
    “This is the year I lost my fanboy cred: I didn’t like Watchmen, Star Trek, or this movie.”
    I’m with you on the first two, Jeff, less so on Avatar. I like it, but less for what it’s about than for how it is about what it is about.

  36. leahnz says:

    “Also, did anyone else catch the “Neon Genesis Evangelion” connection?”
    the evas

  37. leahnz says:

    and just a little thing, but the gunship helicopters in avatar are quite halo hornet-esqe

  38. trombleyjr says:

    David Poland, I don’t understand how you can ignore Devin’s piece about James Cameron he wrote back in October linked by leahnz because you’re the best at calling people out on their b.s… And that piece is so over the top it’s even worse than this moronic article posted at cinematical.
    Here’s a choice quote:
    “A pompous asshole, Cameron comes across like a blowhard and a phony throughout, one of those Hollywood tough guys whose only life experience comes from buying his way into the world of adventure.”
    Faraci’s problem has nothing to do with reiterative mythic tropes – otherwise he wouldn’t like horseshit like GI Joe or Watchmen or for that matter HARRY POTTER. A story about a chosen naive fool who learns he has a great destiny and has to confront evil that mirrors him?? I mean fuck, you’re gonna take Dark Knight to task for simple mythic tropes – which it actually does not have – and proclaim love for that series? The perceptions espoused in the Cameron piece are pathologically stupid and betray an ill informed bias that colors his hypocritical, drama queen preening ways. Faraci loves a bitch fight on the Internet cause it equals traffic, and more than all else he loves hating something everyone loves, so that he can reinforce his elitist notion of his taste being superior.

  39. zyg says:

    thought avatar’s story was fine. a bit on the simple side but that may be to keep it palatable for the widest audience possible.
    never understood the feeling dialogue was too on the nose or dumb. it serves its purpose. adequate and direct — again probably with a mind to appeal to the widest audience
    character arc is there. funny — i liked quaritch the best. his character was most clearly defined and willful. sully sort of went along for the ride. agree, may have been better if sully were all about destroying the local yokels to get at the mineral deposits — that’s been put forth many times all over internet.
    as i’ve said before, think avatar has way more story than, say, for instance, latest star wars installments. those barely had plot, let alone story.
    would assume there will be far more subtlety and complexity in stories for avatar sequels. it may be that the opposite will be argued for those — that is, ‘story too complex’, ‘too many talky scenes’ (‘that require i utilize my mind to follow along’), ‘characters too complex — touchy-feely’, etc
    avatar does not represent death of Story

  40. Martin S says:

    Gonzo – It wasn’t hard to follow. It was a flowery way of saying Cameron re-treads himself and swipes from others, but we’re supposed to embrace it. You’ve made this argument before, but you miss the point.
    It all comes back to The Abyss, which is the last time he attempted complicated characters/relationships with complicated effects. It didn’t pay off and would have derailed his career if not for the CG development that sold Arnold on T2. From that point, Cameron made a choice and sheared his characters to the bone in a Keep It Simple Stupid approach. It’s paid off in spades.
    This isn’t to say he doesn’t have complex ideas or can no longer write that way. He does and can, but his interests lie with the creating the technology for the spectacle. So after Titanic, how could you question your own formula? You would be crazy to deviate. Just read Devin’s synopsis on Project 880, the Avatar precursor.
    The ideas present are old-school Cameron, but he jettisoned most in an attempt to streamline the narrative, which is what hurt The Abyss and forced a re-shoot of the ending among a myriad of other issues.
    It becomes a matter of perspective. Does he shave complexities because the visual is so dense he doesn’t want to lose the audience, or does he think the audience is a bunch of morons that can’t keep up. I usually go with the former, but when you know how he’s treated people professionally, personally, etc… you can’t dismiss the latter.

  41. The Big Perm says:

    I’d say The Abyss was his “only” time at trying something like that. In the end, Cameron is a guy who likes a propulsive narrative where you know who the good guys are, and who the bad guys are.

  42. christian says:

    What makes AVATAR so different story-wise is its very explicit pro-eco, anti-imperialist tenor, so much so I thought it might hurt the box-office.

  43. Ponderer says:

    “The ideas present are old-school Cameron, but he jettisoned most in an attempt to streamline the narrative, which is what hurt The Abyss and forced a re-shoot of the ending among a myriad of other issues.”
    Uh, no. The ending was NOT reshot, though as Wikipedia notes, that was the speculation at the time. As Cameron notes, he cut things for the theatrical release that the executives wanted him to keep in, like the entire wave sequence.

  44. messiahcomplexio says:

    “What makes AVATAR so different story-wise is its very explicit pro-eco, anti-imperialist tenor, so much so I thought it might hurt the box-office.”
    I thought the same thing Christian, until I remembered it was a FOX production.
    Doubt the boys at FOX NEWS are being given a lot of leash to criticize it on its “leftie” petagree, as it might cut into RUPERT’S bottom line.
    And since they are the main instigators of that sort of thing…

  45. Cameron is a master at story structure. He has proved it time and again. Avatar, Titanic, Terminator 1 & 2. These are well-told stories.
    What Cameron is not, and doesn’t care to be, is a clever wordsmith. He keeps his dialog simple and utilitarian. He wants his movies to appeal to a global audience of all ages. And they do.
    Yes, Avatar is in many respects unoriginal. But originality is overrated. In past ages, it was not highly valued. Homer, Vergil, Dante, Milton, Shakespeare all borrowed plots from previous writers.
    Shakespeare, while being one of the greatest wordsmiths ever, was not original in his plots, and not particularly good at story structure. I would argue that Cameron is a better storyteller in terms of plot than Shakespeare was, but no match for Shakespeare in terms of character or dialog.
    Critics value clever dialog and complexity because difficult movies leave an important role to play for interpreters.
    Cameron is playing a different game. His movies don’t need interpreters, and leave critics with no vital role to play. Cameron makes movies an eight year old in India can understand, but one a college professor at Oxford could also enjoy.
    Overall, a great movie, and a well-deserved success.

  46. CleanSteve says:

    Thank you, David.
    I disagree on the Kaufman thing, but I hate Kaufman. I DON’T get it. I don’t WANT to get it anymore. But that’s another story.
    I’ve said it before: IT’S NOT BAD STORYTELLING. It’s basic honed, relateable storytelling. Besides, if a studio is spending $200 million on a film WHY WOULD THEY WANT A KAUFMAN STYLE SCRIPT? So it can gross $5.3 million? Kill careers? So one PURELY LEGITIMATE argument is that it a script that millions can relate to as they need those people to warrant this investment.
    Two, all this “tell not show” stuff is bullshit. In the first ten minutes the film SHOWS you what Sully’s moitivations are. He doesn’t have monologue on his legs. He mentions them, but there is no “woe is me, if ONLY I COULD WALK” Oscar bait.
    But when he enters the avatar, and the scene builds without him speaking…his actions…busting from his restraints…running. Well, maybe I’m one of the dummies Faraci has pompously railed against, in his dirty CLICHE Che t-shirt, but that SHOWED ME EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW.
    The movie also, as Dave says, bravely embraces religion AND biology. It embraces them as ONE thing. Again, guys like Devin abhore religion so since it’s spiritual then it’s pandering!!!!
    The Michelle Rodriguez character is clear, too. She is with the avatar project, but she also has a job she has to do. She enters the final battle on the human side because it is her JOB! She is also torn. And she eventually makes a choice. Why is that not clear to anyone? Again, it did show rather than tell.
    I don’t begrudge anyone the right to dislike the film. I don’t give a flying fuck. But as David points out the loudest vitriol is from morons reacting out of anger at the concepts or that it didn’t tell a hip non-linear story, or be cruel and audience insensitive. It also seems most of the palookas really don’t know ANYTHING about story-telling, or writing in general. Beaks is unreadable. The Cinematical article is like a high school newspaper rant (you use the word “frak” but criticize Cameron? Really??).
    And Devin –who I’m singling out only because he did have the guts to post and respond– is essentially following the same cliched script he has used since he wrote his first web article. He is a pompous, elitist asshole. Hateful, degrading and the type who would yell at a person asking for an autograph at an airport. he IS James Cameron, without the achievements Cheap shot, yes, but he does hang out with the guy who made –snicker!– GRIZZLY PARK– and said that MEG was gonna be a LOTR level film. Oh, and Devin was on board with a MEG movie being made. Did he read that cliched, turd of a novel? Yet he thought it’s be a good movie….scripted by Shane Salerno?? All this makes Devin’s opinions really quite moot. Devin likes shit sometimes, just like the rest of us.
    One more thing: Devin IS an asshole, but I kinda like that. He speaks his mind, doesn’t apologize, and moves on. I admire that. I’m an asshole. I LOVE that Cameron is an asshole. Not everybody has to be a fawning baby. He IS a human being. He doesn’t owe anybody anything. Plus, that guy wanted an autograph. He SOUGHT the autograph. He had nothing bad to say about the film until Cameron snubbed him. That guy is as much of a douchebag as Jim. Personally, I’d jizz in my pants if Cameron told me to fuck off. JIM CAMERON TALKED TO ME! HE WAS GENUINE JIM CAMERON TO ME!! SWEET!
    In fairness, i LOVED LOVED LOVED Devin’s article on the 4th Twilight book. And he is a GOOD write, unlike Beaks, who never met a thesuarus he didn’t make love to.
    Enough with the personal attacks though. AVATAR dislike is fine. But pompus, ignorant, “cliche,” badly written, degrading to humans who have found joy and relatability to a slice of entertainment, pandering to the other haters and simply ATTENTION SEEKING articles like this say more about the insecure writers than they do about anything else.
    I will say this: the sudden, jarring, WAY to quick from the score to that SHITTY song as the movie ended pissed me off. Enough with that garbage, JC. Thank god we didn’t get Madonna crooning THEY MOSTLY COME AT NIGHT (NEWT’S SONG) over the ALIENS credits. And GOLLUM’S SONG sucked too.

  47. CleanSteve says:

    Ok…I think I need to write lyrics to THEY MOSTLY COME AT NIGHT (NEWT’S SONG).
    I have nothing else to do today.

  48. CleanSteve says:

    What rhymes with “facehugger”??
    Sorry….it’s ok to laugh, ya know?

  49. Blackcloud says:

    “I would argue that Cameron is a better storyteller in terms of plot than Shakespeare was, but no match for Shakespeare in terms of character or dialog.”
    That curious statement can’t be allowed to pass without explanation. So explain it.

  50. Gonzo Knight says:

    Martin, you say it was easy to follow but then you start putting words in my mouth.
    I never said we should embrace Avatar because a lot of its elements were borrowed from other films. It’s not about giving Cameron a pass while patting him on the back because he did as well as he could. No what I meant to say was that the way Cameron brought those elements together and PRESENTED them on the screen is interesting. And the things that he did add to the story made it fresh.
    Also, enough with the “keep it simple stupid, crap”. I think you making Avatar more common denominator than it actually is.
    To present a complicated story in a streamlined way doesn’t necessary mean the story is dumb. It could be, in fact, a mark of a good storyteller.

  51. The Big Perm says:

    I like that CleanSteve mentioned “frak.” That word basically made me not give a fuck about what that writer has to say. Someone who says frak is going to have a highly nerdified opinion on things, especially sci-fi.

  52. christian says:

    Because you made me laugh CleanSteve I’ll forgot about that Shakespeare thing.
    “What rhymes with “facehugger”??”
    Love Bugger.

  53. Nicol D says:

    The film(s) that people should be comparing Avatar to in every respect is not The Dark Knight…but Apocalypse Now (one of the greatest films ever made) and Apocalypse Now Redux.
    One is a form of mythic storytelling that will last for ages, the other is a film stuck in 70’s Vietnam era politics. Redux failed by introducing the scene at the plantation where the specifics of Vietnam are discussed. It took the film out of the realm of mythology and man’s poetic heart of darkness and cheapened the film. Having Sheen smile and bringing in Playmates was worse.
    That is the failure of Avatar as a story and script. Yes, it wants to be Matrix, Star Wars, Apocalypse Now, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Harry Potter and all of those wonderful epics of film and literature. But those scripts succeed because they do not go into the realm of specifics and transcend ages.
    The Force can be any religion. The Empire can be fascist or communist. The same can be said of Soran, Voldemort and so forth. People interpret the plight of Luke, Harry, Neo, Alsan, Frodo as “righteous” and being their own and go with it. Lewis and Tolkien, a Christian and a Catholic both knew they could not specifically introduce their faith as a literal worded concept in their stories.
    Avatar, by being literal and specific in its “types” forgoes mythos and traffics in cliche. It is about evil bad AmaaaaaarrrriKKKans, up against hippy gaia earth worshipers from the 60’s. This is not, Kevin Costner studying native culture to add another chapter to western mythology in the glorious Dances With Wolves. This is James Cameron, admitted child of the 60’s, trafficing in a very facile, simplistic childlike world view to make a specific political point that is cliched as the everyone says it is. The structure of Avatar is fine…the dialogue can be clunky…but this facile literal mindedness is what ultimately tanks it. It is what makes the script manipulative and childish and what will hurt it on DVD 2D where it will get its final judgement. Lang is not a villain that can be transposed to mythological history nor are the Na’vi every religion. Lang is Bush/Cheney and the Na’vi are like those wealthy white eco worshipers who steal from every religion for “enlightenment”. I suspect Cameron would relate a lot to the book “Stuff White People” like…if he had a sense of humour.
    On the big screen Avatar is a spectacular visual experience. But I suspect the reason why the defenders are so on the defensive is they know the criticisms are right. Avatar is not mythic even if its budget is. Its literal script is derivative and any emotion felt (I felt none) is mostly felt by those who already share Cameron’s view. Even 300 feels far more mythic by not being literal minded.
    The Dark Knight understood mythology even though it has plot holes. In other words, Cameron gets the music that has to be played, but he is tone deaf to the result.

  54. Ponderer says:

    “It is about evil bad AmaaaaaarrrriKKKans”
    Uhm…where in the movie is it even expressed that the company or anything about it is American? The answer? NOWHERE. It’s extremely vague as to specifics, if not attitude – I think you just brought your own baggage to it.
    And you know, you may call the worldview cliched, but we keep burning down millions of acres of rainforest land. And oh yeah, the next Bhopal is always around the corner (thanks Union Carbide!). You call it cliche; I call the callous inhumanity of corporate politics as a timeless reality.

  55. trombleyjr says:

    Nicol D –
    DVD is where Avatar will get its final judgment? Don’t make us laugh. It’s already being judged, on its way to being one of the most successful movies ever, and a clarion call to remind audiences why a MOVIE with a crowd is a thrill in itself. Avatar on DVD is just gonna be gravy.

  56. leahnz says:

    if you rationalise that ‘the company’ is ‘evil imperialistic america’, then avatar jake represents cameron’s ‘idealised america’: a bit of a self-interested loudmouth lunkhead but ultimately a brave, righteous leader who knows he can’t go it alone and unites the people to prevail over tyranny in the best tradition of idealised american values

  57. jeffmcm says:

    I think Nicol is an ass, but The Company is definitely a thinly veiled ‘corporate America’.

  58. Alboone says:

    Dave I love you. On avergage you’re very articulate and also possess a keen intellect of how the business works. But it pains me to say that I think you’re drinking the kool-aid on this one. Your case for story complexity citing the 3 examples concerning the 3rd act is the VERY THING that is wrong with the movie itself. There is no proper setup for the reversals. Nothing with any kind of weight attached to the choices the renegade humans make in aiding the Na’vi. Usually in a Cameron movie things just don’t happen. They DEVELOP. There is a difference you know.

  59. mutinyco says:

    I’m curious about one plot development. When the humans decide to attack the tree, they give Sully one hour to talk the Na’vi into leaving. So why do they attack while he’s still there and not wake him first? I mean, their guy is right in the line of fire. It just seems like a convenience to have Sully attack the ship.

  60. Nicol D says:

    Your evaluation would be right on if Cameron did not deal in specifics. If the Na’vi weren’t so lefty hippy New Age, and there were not so many Bush/Cheney and 9/11 references. I believe you are right that this is what Cameron believes…but by using specifics his movie dates and stays in a moment of time. Much in the same way Redux dates Apoc Now.
    Bringing my own baggage to it? No…this is exactly what Cameron said it was about. It is why the defenders love it so much; because it is a hard left political tract in text. Cameron says that what it is; have you read no interviews with him at all? He called himself a little hippy girl who wants to put a flower in the butt of a gun…
    …waitaminute, do you think maybe he and Lana Waschowski know each other?
    I am not talking financial judgement. I am talking cinematic history judgement. The Phantom Menace and Transformers 2 are hits easily on a plain with Avatar. What do people do generally when you mention them…they cringe.
    That is what I am talking about.
    Whose ass exactly do you think I resemble? A nice sumptuous Kate Beckinsale type ass or a doughy, fleshy Danny Devito type ass. Just wondering?

  61. CleanSteve says:

    I didn’t bring up the Shakespeare thing, Christian, but I’ll forgive YOU because I like your rhyme. I was gonna go with “space hunger.”
    “You smashed throught the window
    and saved us from the face hugger
    it was game over for my heart
    I lust for you with space hunger.”
    You get the idea.
    Mutiny, I maybe 100% wrong but I think it may have been the general going rogue because he Ribisi let them go without his knowledge. I seem to remember somebody cluing him into Grace and Jake with the Na Vi.
    Again, I may be 100% wrong.

  62. leahnz says:

    “I’m curious about one plot development. When the humans decide to attack the tree, they give Sully one hour to talk the Na’vi into leaving. So why do they attack while he’s still there and not wake him first? I mean, their guy is right in the line of fire. It just seems like a convenience to have Sully attack the ship.”
    gunships at the ready, quaritch reconnoiters the natives with his binocs and sees avatar jake and avatar grace tied up by the navi. he says quite clearly and somewhat gleefully something to the effect of, “looks like diplomacy has failed!” and gives the order to strike knowing full well the traitors jake and grace will almost certainly be killed. it’s quaritch’s call and he does it all sipping serenely from a cup of coffee

  63. mutinyco says:

    Wait. When you say traitors, you mean Jake and Grace are traitors to the Na’vi, right? So if the Na’vi are going to kill them, or Quaritch perceives this, why weren’t they woken up? I still don’t get that.

  64. leahnz says:

    no, quaritch clearly sees jake as a traitor to the company cause (perhaps you need to watch the movie again if you are so unclear on the storyline), he had no part in allowing him to return for an hour to try to talk the navi into leaving, that’s selfridge; quaritch believes as shown earlier in the piece that based on jake’s video diary the navi will NEVER leave hometree and he gives the order to strike the tree knowing jake and grace are there and he clearly doesn’t care if they die

  65. Nicol D says:

    “…it’s quaritch’s call and he does it all sipping serenely from a cup of coffee…”
    Our past, current and future differences aside; I read your posts and know that you have watched a lot of films in various genres and such.
    Isn’t it exactly that presentation of Quaritch that makes him a 1D cliche? Darth Vader has 3 dimensions and hidden histories, Voldemort has a hidden past that makes him similar to Harry, even in The Matrix, Neo and the Machines meet at a half way point. There is nuance. I love Stephen Lang and am so glad he is back, but, these visual depictions are too cliche for Cameron. They are easy writing. Where was William Wisher?
    I think the problem is Cameron has spent too long doing 1 Dimensional villains that were not human (Aliens, Terminator, T 1000) that now his human villains are lacking and feel unhuman. At least in True Lies he wanted the film to have a satirical underpinning. Avatar is filled with a ponderous gravitas that makes these images too easy.
    Did you not feel that at all?

  66. mutinyco says:

    Well, there’s a pretty minimal chance I’ll ever sit through the movie again. Anyhow.

  67. leahnz says:

    well nic, i’ll try to answer your question – and preface this by noting that even a few days on i’m still less than fresh from new years so i’m not gonna try to think too hard:
    no, i did not feel that what you said, particularly not after repeat viewings of avatar, which afforded me a better understanding and feel for the structure of the piece and more insight into the nuances of the storytelling, themes and characters.
    i NEVER judge a movie on what i think it should be or expect it to be – and i get the feeling that’s happened a great deal with avatar – i judge a movie solely for what it is, how it makes me feel, if it makes me think, if it moves me, if i’m remembering it the next day, if it worms its way into my heart and soul for whatever reason.
    i find avatar sensual, heartfelt, fun, tragic, endearing and exciting, like a strange, delirious fairytale for all ages, not perfect by any means but i don’t care one iota about perfection, perfection is a huge snooze (i also find avatar quite amusing and i’m slightly embarrassed to admit i’ve developed a bit of a crush on particularly avatar jake – he’s like that cheeky dick jock in high school you had a crush on but wasn’t at all your type, but you dreamed about him feeling you up under the bleachers none the less).
    there’s a brief scene in the middle act where jake and neytiri are sitting in a tree after jake first flies his creature and they’re describing to each other how they banked and turned on the wind and so on that is just so singularly lovely, conveying their strengthening connection in mere moments just beautifully; also, the moment near the end — SPOILERS — when human jake is dying and neytiri cries, “my jake! my jake!” as she puts on his oxygen mask and they look into each other’s eyes, both in their true forms, and jake strokes neytiri’s huge face with his little hand and she places her huge hand over his and sheds a tear; that moment gets to me, which is saying something considering it’s a moment between an animated giant and a human being.
    as far a one-note cliched characters, quarritch didn’t bother me in the least, he’s just a twisted badass by-the-book ex-military merc through and through doing his job, betrayed by an ingrate cripple, his one dimension is perfectly fitting and i find him rather hilarious.
    trudi’s a bit undercooked, her death is so abrupt and only focused on for a brief moment when jake can’t contact her (i agree with someone who said somewhere in one of the threads that the movie actually could have been a bit longer) but i think the weakest link is definitely selfridge, tho on subsequent viewings i actually caught more going on with him than i did the first time out, glimpses of conscience and humanity. i think he’s far and away the greatest failing as far as the main characters go, cameron bizarrely wimped out with his main baddy for some reason but it certainly wasn’t a deal-breaker for me, it is what it is, no biggie.
    as for vader, voldemort and the other villains you mentioned as being so much more three dimensional, for one thing i think they’ve had the benefit of the span of several films to develop whatever depth of character they have, and i also think said depth is exaggerated with benefit of hindsight and goodwill filling in the blanks of fairly one-note, cliched portrayals that have become iconic to varying degrees over time.
    like any fantastical movie, ‘feeling’ avatar is utterly dependant on suspension of disbelief, and if that doesn’t happen for you then of course the film seems silly and shallow. this whole ‘drinking the kool-aid’ concept is interesting because it implies those people who feel the thrill of the movie are somehow deluding themselves, when in fact it’s the people who don’t feel the thrill that are the unfortunate, parched ones. i know from personal experience exactly how it feels not be bowled over by a film others seem to absolutely love (i like ‘TDK’ just fine but i don’t consider it a classic and i don’t feel the tsunami of love for it like some) and yet i don’t feel compelled to pick the movie apart at the seams, berate it and tell the people that love it that they are deluded, because they most certainly aren’t.
    i honestly don’t get this resentful, tear-it-down attitude some people have, like they are owed something and pissed off as hell they didn’t get it. those who say avatar is merely visuals and no heart are REALLY saying THEY only saw the visuals and didn’t feel the heart, which is much different and far more respectful of the fact that the movie experience is not singular and just about the film itself, but the meld of the film and the mind of each individual viewer and where the story takes them emotionally (or not)
    got a bit off track there but i’m not mentally fit to try to edit so i hope that makes a degree of sense anyway

  68. Lane Myers says:

    DP, I enjoyed Avatar a great deal and agree completely that Transformers is a much better example of horrible storytelling. But can you answer a couple of quick questions:
    1) It seems pretty clear that Cameron was trying to create an epic love story. At any point during the film were you truly moved?
    2) In your opinion, storywise or characterwise or dialogwise what would you consider to be original in any way?
    I think that the fact that other critics and many movie goers are having trouble answering either of these two questions positively is what is at the root of all the criticism.
    Again, i agree that calling it the death of storytelling is retarded.

  69. Nicol D says:

    We will obviously disagree on this but thank you for your response.
    I do not doubt your response was heartfelt.
    Happy New Year.

  70. christian says:

    My bad, CleanSteve.
    I like “Space Bugger”

  71. leahnz says:

    no worries nicol and same to you for 2010. it was nice to have a friendly exchange and i can certainly live with agreeing to disagree on avatar!

  72. Martin S says:

    Ponderer – Uh, no. The ending was NOT reshot, though as Wikipedia notes, that was the speculation at the time. As Cameron notes, he cut things for the theatrical release that the executives wanted him to keep in, like the entire wave sequence.
    My mistake. I mixed re-edit for re-shoot, probably thinking of the restoration work. A lot of what Cameron had said in retrospect does not jibe with any of the word at the time, much like Piranha 2 or how Arnold ended up as the Terminator. Wiki says Cameron realized he (Arnold) was better suited for the Terminator role than as Reese, the role he was originally look to play. Arnold and Henrikson tell a completely different account that makes more sense because Arnold was coming off of Conan.

  73. sashastone says:

    “1) It seems pretty clear that Cameron was trying to create an epic love story. At any point during the film were you truly moved?”
    How much time you got? First time I saw it, I was wowed by the visuals. Second time, I started to feel for the characters. The third time, I cried at least four times. You feel like you know them, you root for them, you like them. I was deeply moved by Jake waking back up in his limited human body — legs that didn’t work mainly. The juxtaposition of his smallish legs in the wheelchair and his big long strong legs as his avatar was incredibly moving. But I guess you have to be someone who yearns to be something or someone other than who you are, at least at some point in your life, or to know people who have felt that way. A transformation like that can only be lived out in fantasy. But what a fucking fantasy.
    I was moved by Sigourney Weaver’s character period. Imagine that, a female scientist. I was incredibly moved by the story of that giant flying red animal – and how only five people had ever ridden it. When Jake decides to do that – that scene is riveting.
    I was moved when they shot down Home Tree. Yeah, if I gave two shits what people thought of me I’d probably be embarrassed that I was being moved by a story that wasn’t real on a planet that wasn’t real – but I was. Not just the gigantic scope of the fall tree (I’ve never seen anything like that on film) but the tragedy of knocking out the network on the planet.
    I was moved by Neytiri – almost every scene but specifically when she flew with Jake through the canyons. If a part of you doesn’t swoon at that point, well what can I say. I loved how she was so badass and how he had to keep up with her. The momentary snags in the story when there is a stupid line here or there – it didn’t matter because it moved so steadily onward there was hardly time to notice.
    The cut when we see them locked up is one of the best shots of the year. Just visually – maybe the most artful thing Cameron has ever done.
    I was moved by the colors everywhere – the glowing lights at night — it is so beautiful the only thing I’ve ever seen remotely close to it are those hippie fairy cards they sell at the Bodhi Tree. Again, to not gaze at the wonder and be moved by it – well, what can I say. I cared about the characters — I wanted the Na’vi’s world to continue and for the humans to go home. It was thrilling to watch them fight. Probably most moving of all was when the planet itself fought back.
    2) In your opinion, storywise or characterwise or dialogwise what would you consider to be original in any way?
    All of the above is original. Let’s go through all of the movies released that are popular and heading for the Oscar race. Any of those original? William Goldman, I think, is the one who said a great movie is what you expect will happen, just not in the way you expect it to happen. And that’s what happened here. But Pandora itself is original. A network of trees with more electrical connections than the human brain. A creature that connects with the nerve fibers in the tip of its tail – all original. The whole fucking movie is innovative – we’re really going to hear people whine about originality when we have this kind of revolution of cinema happening?
    But let’s go through them shall we? Inglourious Basterds – unoriginal – a mosh of other great movies and cultural references. A great film? Yes. Up in the Air — original? Not really. It’s a typical Peter Pan story and it rips off The Graduate — A great film? Yes. The Hurt Locker – not a lot of originality there – it echoes some of the best war films ever made. A great film? Oh, yeah. You see, originality is a tad overrated. The only film writer I can think of who creates movies that are completely original would be Charlie Kaufman.
    “I think that the fact that other critics and many movie goers are having trouble answering either of these two questions positively is what is at the root of all the criticism.”
    No, not many movie goers. A small, vocal group on the internet — a bunch of Christians and many right wingers. Men more than women “have a problem with it.”
    Sorry for the long post.

  74. leahnz says:

    bonza sasha stone, i’d kiss you right on the mouth for that but that’s a little creepy so a peck on the cyber cheek will have to do :-*
    (and interesting comment about “more men than women have a problem with it”, i’ve noticed that as well, and i’ve been saying all along that women will dig avatar but got shouted down for saying so here so it’s great to hear someone else say it and see that prediction bearing out)

  75. oldguy says:

    The whole movie is innovative..hmm.
    Avatar represents an example of good craft – good fx, good use of tech, good story structure, well-shot stereo. No breakthroughs.
    As with many other people, I was disappointed at how shallow and predictable the content turned out to be.
    I was surprised that the ‘military imperialism = bad, indigenous people = good” core was so blatantly made redundant by the fact that the poor old blueskins didn’t have the brains or balls to defend themselves, and could only triumph if they were roused by ‘one of us’ who had mastered their entire culture in 3 weeks of native immersion. (Let’s face it, it was so easy for our white protagonist to do better than any Na’vi had for 7 generations that it happened off camera!)
    I found that this ingrained 18th century attitude revealed more about Cameron’s insincerity that any other part of the lip-service he paid to political correctness throughout the movie.
    Avatar is by no means the Death of Storytelling.
    Its just another shallow McMovie. I’ll sit back and enjoy – but I don’t try and pretend it’s significant.
    (o?pin?ion: neither true nor false, a personal view, attitude, or appraisal.)

  76. Telemachos says:

    It’s all a glass half-full/half-empty deal. If you think of AVATAR as a popcorn movie with a bit of extra heft, you’re entertained by it and the flaws don’t bug you a lot. If you think of AVATAR as a meaningful, potentially insightful movie with some popcorn elements, then you’re almost certainly disappointed.
    I knew people who were disappointed in THE MATRIX because it didn’t explore the philosophical elements sufficiently, but just used them as a jumping-off point for some cool action, for example.
    Personally, I think AVATAR is one of Cameron’s weaker films, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying it a lot.

  77. jeffmcm says:

    One problem for me is that I think Avatar thinks of itself as a meaningful, insightful movie.
    (Yes, Leah, I know that the movie only exists on hard drives, celluloid prints, and in the hearts of children everywhere).

  78. Telemachos says:

    On one level, Jeff, that’s true — in that Cameron wanted to have some messages in his film. Then again, it’s exactly what he’s been doing with every movie of his since ALIENS (TRUE LIES is an exception, I’ll grant) — and they all tend to be a very simple, “obvious” message. THE ABYSS: “Don’t destroy yourselves”. T2: “Don’t destroy yourselves with nukes”. TITANIC: “Classism is bad, mmkay? Don’t be constrained by society!” AVATAR: “We should really probably not devastate the Earth due to greed.”
    At the end of the day, I think he’s more concerned about whether the audience is along for the ride than hammering out additional morals and messages. I mean, it’s not like this movie was made by Sean Penn.

  79. samigs says:

    DP, you said:
    “(Ironically, to my argument, the existence of other tribes isn’t introduced until this scene… one loose thread.)”
    I don’t believe this is a loose thread… When Jakesully first meets all the Na’vi people they ask him what Tribe/Clan he is from, hinting the Na’vi people aren’t the only tribe in town.

  80. leahnz says:

    movies are inanimate objects! (for jeff)
    “…Cameron wanted to have some messages in his film. Then again, it’s exactly what he’s been doing with every movie of his since ALIENS (TRUE LIES is an exception, I’ll grant) — and they all tend to be a very simple, “obvious” message. THE ABYSS: “Don’t destroy yourselves”. T2: “Don’t destroy yourselves with nukes”. TITANIC: “Classism is bad, mmkay? Don’t be constrained by society!” AVATAR: “We should really probably not devastate the Earth due to greed.”
    why only since ‘aliens’?
    those messages above are the blatantly obvious, but i don’t necessarily believe those are the messages people tend to connect with most in cameron’s films. he’s had basically the same message running thru all his flicks from the start, which is, “the least among us can rise to the occasion and save the day”, enabled in some way by the POWER OF LOVE
    this is a universal story most people can relate to as a human ideal even if it isn’t true in a practical sense, and cameron has rather uniquely invited women to participate in this ‘ideal’ by using female protagonists in many of his films.
    terminator: sarah, average girl waitress rises to the occasion to become the mother of the future, enabled by kyle
    aliens: ripley, everyday starship crew member and mother rises to the occasion to become survivor/saviour, enabled by love for newt
    abyss: brigman, everyday blue-collar oil rig manager rises to the occasion and saves the world, enabled by lindsey
    T2: sarah, guardian of the future rises to the occasion to prevent the end of days, enabled by john
    titanic: rose, desperately unhappy suicidal upper-class girl rises to the occasion to save herself, enabled by jack
    avatar: jake, paraplegic ex-marine rises to the occasion to redeem himself and save a planet/people, enabled by neytiri
    (‘true lies’ is a bit outside the cameron paradigm so leaving it off too)
    not to say that the other more obvious messages aren’t there or impactful, just that i think the theme ‘the least amongst us can save the world with the help of the power of love” is the message people tend to tune into emotionally

  81. Telemachos says:

    …”enabled in some way by the POWER OF LOVE”
    Sounds like someone needs to do a Youtube remix of Cameron’s filmography to Huey Lewis’ awesome song. 🙂
    I don’t disagree with what you say, Leah — what’s what his stories are. But post-ALIENS they’re also mixed together with a very blunt, very straight-forward message… blunt to the point where it’s no longer subtext at all, but often literally spoken by the characters.

  82. palmtree says:

    Two things…
    Avatar is emotional because of its technology, not in spite of it.
    And the story’s theme of using fear to govern and “ends justify the means” is a timeless one. 1984 for one.

  83. leahnz says:

    telemachos: true
    “Sounds like someone needs to do a Youtube remix of Cameron’s filmography to Huey Lewis’ awesome song”
    absolutely. i think cameron is a big sappy romantic at heart
    (tho i’d have to go with the other ‘power of love’, far less jaunty than huey’s but one of the most haunting love songs of all time: i can’t even hear it without belting out the chorus – much to the chagrin of anyone one within a 2k radius)

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon