Against the Avatar Tide

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

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.

Iranian Filmmakers Keep Focus on the Turmoil

Wonder about the power of the arts to influence culture? I suppose that, in media-saturated cultures like the U.S. and Europe, it’s hard to pinpoint influences of individual works of art. But here’s an article about the effects (or feared effects) of filmmakers in a closed society.

Iranian Filmmakers Keep Focus on the Turmoil –

A key quote:

‘During the reign of the Shah, “we went to see films not just to learn about national cinema but to look for hidden references to tyranny and domination,” said Hamid Dabashi, the Hagop Kevorkian professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University, who has written extensively about Iranian cinema. Professor Dabashi said that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was well aware of the influence of film in a nation where art and artists were esteemed in all corners of society.

“He remembers well how arts, literature and poetry were very much the modus operandi of the 1970s, which led to the revolution,” he said. “It has always had a tremendous influence and it has always been there.”’

Today, the current regime is doing everything it can to contain the ideas expressed in the arts. This has driven many filmmakers out of Iran.

The supreme leader held a meeting of film directors late last month, lecturing them on how film was not really art but was a tool of political propaganda. He said that the Oscars (like the Nobel Prizes) “do not have any value and artists should never work to make movies with the purpose of winning such prizes.”

Are we just about reaching for prizes, for box-office returns, or are we making our art to influence our culture in revolutionary ways?

Avatar… glimpse into another culture?

The Yanomamö are the embodiment of everything Cameron wants to extol in his film. And even better yet, they are real!

This article just caught my eye today, especially because one of the primary goals we had in making our film, The Enemy God, was to strive for a hyper-real, immersive experience into another culture. In our film, the culture is very much real, as is the historically verifiable story. The Yanomamö of the Amazon are the embodiment of everything Cameron wants to extol in his film. And even better yet, they are real! It’s just too bad that Hollywood seems bored with actual culture that is full of drama and action and beauty and intrigue.

You can read the review in the Washington Post: ‘Avatar,’ ‘Young Victoria’ offer glimpses of other cultures

I admit that I’m very interested in Avatar. Certainly as a filmmaker I want to see what they have done from a technical standpoint. This article doesn’t give Cameron many points for story quality, though it seems unanimous that the film is amazing visually.

So I’ll just admit that this post is going out in the hopes that there are people out there who think blockbusters are fun but also want to discover the joy and amazement that real life and cultures can bring on the big screen as well.

Art, Creation and Christ

“…no one looks at a painting and begins talking to it to find out why the painting made itself. Behind every painting, there is a painter…”

There is a powerful love demonstrated in Creation and creative acts. This article [via Pioneers Media Archive – Art, Creation and Christ] from tells of the connection two people made in Hungary. Zoli, a young man who recently attempted suicide, is also an artist. As their conversation progresses, the author makes the observation, “…no one looks at a painting and begins talking to it to find out why the painting made itself. Behind every painting, there is a painter…”

I think this is one of God’s greatest gifts to us – the ability to express the inexpressible, to communicate in multiple languages: sound, light, space, touch, color, smell.  All of them are channels given to us by our Creator and each has a unique ability to reflect something of His character and action and love for His Creation.

I’m thinking of people I may know, like Zoli, who need to be told that they are beautiful creations, loved, and reflecting the image of God, no matter their circumstances.