Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The most common complaint that one might hear about this movie is how predictable the story is. How the good are essentially good, the bad are bad and how the main characters never die, how the last person to die is the main villain and until that moment nothing seems to faze him and nothing can kill him before that time.

I enjoyed the movie in spite of these cliches. And this blog post is sorta a defense, sorta analysis of the movie. Its too easy trash the movie without looking at how bad it could have been. I know that the most common complaint will be that he should have spent it less on special effects. But look at the trailer of the movie. It basically says this: "New planet, hero has to infiltrate, he does it, falls in love with local and then turns around and defends locals finishing with big battle". If you expect anything else, you should probably not go to watch.

So why is this better than Transformers, Star Wars (the new ones), Spiderman 3, Daredevil,Terminator 3 & 4, the Aliens vs Predators and so on. Its because this one knows that you will care about the visuals if shown the right way. I'm not the best authority to talk and defend movies. Check out Roger Ebert's blog for a much better defense. Or maybe Ram Gopal Verma's post. (Ok, he may not be much of an authority in a way, but considering that he makes movies, and sometimes good ones, we should believe him with a pinch of salt.)

The point is, you get movies like the Matrix very rarely. And on the surface of it, The Matrix is pretty much a similar template. The trick they employed in that movie was to take this template and layer it additional significance and more scientific (and philosophical) language. LOTR is essentially a good versus evil tale. A very basic adventure story enriched by the detail of this world. And this is what Avatar does: it takes a standard story and layers it with the detail of the world. Much of the details are visual.

But James Cameron started of on this movie with the "mind-blowing visual experience" in mind. He delivers on that. The camera always pauses to show everything. Roger Ebert and Eric Snider (two film critics whose opinions I love to read) talk about how action movies use quick cuts and confusing shots that make it hard to decipher whats happening. This movie takes a lot of time to show that action. One style of shots I loved was the one which is used in recent war movies: a long shot which shows the general formation, overall view and then camera moves, as if handheld, and zooms in one detail to call our attention to it. You know that Cameron wants to show you his technology because he uses this zoom thing show those weird animals, birds, geological formations, armies, machines and so on.

Script deconstruction (well.. my attempt at it anyway) SPOILER ALERT

From what I understand, the movie seems to be 4 acts, most movies are 3 acts. James Cameron seems to love making 4 act movies (read Todd Alcott's post on this). First act ends when Sully gets stuck on Pandora and is saved by Neytri. Act 2 is his discovery of Pandora and falling for it. It ends when he decides to go against his bosses. Act 3 is the scenario where things go haywire, Pandora gets hammered and it ends with the humans escaping to side with the natives. Act 4 is the final battle.

The movie introduces the humans and their motivationsin the first act, and spends the second act on Pandora. Act 3 is mostly action with characters not fully committing to their decisions and choices and Act 4 is where all things come together; the choices made by the characters give us the result and things resolve. The movie earns points on making the planet Pandora seem real, and fully developed. There seems to be a lot of back story that is hinted at.

The funny thing is, how some dialogues used in tons of war movies by the generals of the good side, when used almost similarly here by humans, seemed to evocate a negative reaction from me. The humans are the bad guys in this movie and those dialogues highlighted that in this movie. In all other war movies, such dialogues, a little padded up, lead the men to victory.

(I secretly hope that film experts and film buffs discover my blog and trash me for this post and show me where and how wrong I am. Pradeep, you start first)

1 comment:

  1. Aah, am I little late in responding to this? I agree with you almost fully. James Cameron delivers on what was his first promise regarding Avatar. Mind-blowing visuals. (3D is the way of the future for cinema, for sure.) The story can be over-simplified to a good vs evil tale. But as you so rightly pointed out, so can The Matrix Trilogy or LOTR. What sets this film so apart is that human beings are on a side which they are not normally used to being. In reality, human beings are exactly on that side. I believe that this aspect could have been explored more, but I will not fault Cameron for it. At the end of the day, like The Dark Knight, The Matrix, and so many movies in the recent past, Avatar does what cinema should do - take you to another world. (These are movies that I love inspite of being influenced by a whole different school of cinema. Wait, is there such a thing?). I do feel that the story can still be fit into the regular 3 Act Structure, but I wont go into that, since I believe that a script structure is like a retroactive analysis tool. You write the story that you want and believe in. If it falls into 3 acts, then great. If not, who cares? On the whole, Avatar has its ups, downs and in betweens. Perhaps that is what makes it good cinema...