This was a blog post made on a DeviantArt Avatar group a few days back. I read it, but I don't really agree with some of it. Maybe you guys want to check it out?
"We all love Avatar here, don't we? We think the movie's fabulous, and is one of the most stunning films to come out in recent years. That being said, there's a lot of people out there that don't care for it, but since the movie had the sheer nerve to make nearly three billion dollars, they have to let us know exactly why.
Avatar, the latest "epic movie" currently out there, is an extremely divisive film. Some people adore it, having not quite blinked the same way since putting on those plastic glasses, and some people loathe it, wondering why on earth $2.7 billion worth of people fell for this flashy crap.
One of the most common beefs people have with Avatar is its weak story. Yes, James Cameron, a filmmaker whose always written his own films, and let's be honest, his writing has never set the world on fire. Aliens was basically Rambo: First Blood Part II with... well, aliens, Terminator is so full of plotholes that I'm surprised it's able to stay together, True Lies was the kind of plot they made movies out of in the 40s... hell, his Titanic was almost a remake of a movie made by the Nazis.
Yet, oddly, we've never really called out these movies for their shoddy writing. Then Avatar comes out, itself probably the most visually and conceptually original film Cameron's ever made, and OOOOOOOOOH!!! Suddenly everyone notices he's a mediocre writer!
Avatar fans are liable to defend the film by, weirdly, admitting that their opponents are absolutely right, "but the movie looked good!"
...Guys, this is not a point in the film's favour. Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland looked good, but it was still the worst film I saw in 2010, though that's probably because I never saw The Last Airbender.
This is a point that Avatar detractors are likely to use, as well. Making a movie "look good" is pretty damn easy these days, and it might be just enough to squeeze out a viewer's interest in a waning industry. Michael Bay's entire success depends on this principle, and Avatar critics are likely to point out that this is just another example.
But is it? Let's sit back and think about it. In the months leading up to Avatar, 2009 was a pretty unextraordinary year for movies. Roland Emmerich had made some more disaster porn, another Twilight and Harry Potter movie were out, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen set an all-time low in coherence, taste and digital colour correction, and the best thing about the year up until then was Pixar's movie Up. This was the year that 3-D really started bringing in fake profits for films, even though attendance was down. These are movies that made money because they looked good, or were something familiar, or both. If that's really all that Avatar had going for it, why did it make THREE TIMES as much as any other film in the year?
Couldn't have been the marketing blitz, nearly every big-budget release had the same exposure that Avatar did. Couldn't have been that it was hyped like crazy: I don't need to think very hard to find a movie that was hyped like nuts and yet made no money (Waterworld, Hudson Hawk, Speed Racer, Treasure Planet, Titan AE). Could have just been James Cameron's credit, I guess... it's the only reason anyone went to see Tim Burton's Alice in Blunderland. But again, I don't need to think that hard to think a guy could sell a movie just with his name, and then the movie made nothing (again, Speed Racer, from the directors of The Matrix trilogy).
But why am I belabouring earnings, you may ask? A movie's quality or value isn't determined by its bottom line. At the same time, however, the moviegoing public does speak the language of the Almighty Dollar, and what we were telling Hollywood before Avatar came out was that we want more derivative sequels, trite adaptations, and more superheroes. My God, the superheroes. Original, entertaining films like Shane Acker's 9 and Public Enemies were met with a resounding "meh." Then Avatar came out, and 2.7 billion voices were heard.
This success for a movie is unprecedented. It's not like it did anything else to rake in these numbers: it had a manipulative advertising campaign, it had McDonald's Happy Meal toys, it did anything any other big movie would have done.
And in the months since Avatar, the movie industry seems to have slumped back. Even more superhero flicks are planned, more sequels, more safe movies. 2010 was a movie-making environment that allowed an atrocity like The Last Airbender to make back double its budget. The afterglow of Avatar was short-lived indeed, and the film industry probably won't be shaken up like this again until Avatar 2.
Yet, through all this, while these filmgoers calmly pay money to see films like Alice in Narnia and Jackass 3D while movies like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World go ignored, they think it's a sound judgment to say that Avatar is tripe. Maybe there's some kind of appeal in being a lone voice against a force that may have changed everything. It's nice to feel like you're an enlightened figure amidst gullible sheep, but I like to actually think that position is one to take because it's right, not because it's different. And, I'll admit, it's difficult when you have to agree with an arrogant prick like James Cameron, but sometimes you have to.
Avatar was a watershed event in modern cinema, it's just a fact. You can muddle this fact all you like by saying you didn't like it and that I shouldn't either, but there's much better things you could be trolling about. Why not close the pool or something?
But that's just the film's cultural impact; what about the film itself? No detractor's going to say that the movie made $2.7 billion "fake" dollars, he's going to attack the movie with such ironclad arguments as "It's FernGully," probably because that was the most embarrassing film they could think of at the time that also had a forest and people knocking it over.
Fern Gully is probably a stretch, because it has the following:
- A forest
- Developers levelling the forest for no real reason
- A male protagonist who doesn't really give a crap
- A weird, unmotivated romantic relationship
- A blunt environmental message made irrelevant because I doubt it was animated with recycled paper
Remember all the magic in Avatar? What about the fairies? Or how the blowing up of Hometree was worse because it was a big, beautiful living part of the forest and not, y'know, the home to hundreds of Na'vi? If they lived in an apartment block that got demolished, would that be an improvement?
Pocahontas is another popular one, because the Na'vi are an awful lot like Indians, aren't they? And Jake Sullivan is so much like John Smith that-wait, no, that's not quite right.
Pocahontas contains the following:
- Native Americans clashing with Europeans
- A vigorous operation to exploit the new land for a precious metal (that isn't there)
- A love triangle
- An Aryan hero who questions his loyalties
- A relationship between two people of two different civilizations
- A hero who gets captured when this relationship is brought to light
The various other things Avatar is compared to mix and match these various bullet points, adding some, forgetting others, all with the intent to "expose the truth" that Avatar is really just a mediocre, 15 year old Disney film. Why didn't any of these people raise the red flag when it was discovered that James Cameron might be a Nazi?
I'm surprised Avatar critics all tend to go for the same comparisons, because if you really think about it, Avatar could really sound like the Bible, or the Canterbury Tales, or Romeo and Juliet, or that story your dad made up when you were six. For centuries, stories have been derived from other stories, because only so much can happen to a human being. In fact, it's believed that there's really only 36 stories. It's the way you set up the characters and settings around that story that makes it different, and though Cameron was able to put a story in a setting that even the biggest curmudgeons have to say "looked good", they're suddenly up in arms that the story is one of those 36, instead of a groundbreaking 37th one. Did anyone ever say the story was going to set the world on fire? No, and it makes no sense to have expectations of something after it already happened, just so you can bitch a little.
What no one seems to grasp is that Avatar is a parable. It's a cautionary story about environmental conservation, believing in your principles, even when confronted with "patriotism", and having the courage up for your mistakes. Parables are not supposed to be especially groundbreaking, they're meant to be simple and easy to understand. Why would anyone want to make a movie designed to appeal to a mass audience easy to understand?
The characters that populate Avatar are often criticized as shallow and pointless, but they're archetypes. Science fiction has always depended on archetypal characters; you might not like to know this, but Private Hudson from Aliens is a cold, hard calculation about what you would like in a character. Nearly every character in every movie ever made started out on a spreadsheet somewhere, and suddenly in Avatar it's a cardinal sin?
Here's an interesting thing about movies that some people might not be quite clear on: they're not like reading a novel projected onto a screen. Movies are interesting in that it's a dozen different elements working together: the writing, acting, art direction, music, sound, concept and theme are all up there on the screen at any given time. And the great thing is, unlike a book which is just writing, different things can be achieved in a movie by emphasizing one part and de-emphasizing others.
For example, Pines of Rome just came up on my iTunes, reminding me fondly of the Disney movie, Fantasia 2000. It doesn't have any story to speak of, or even really acting (voice acting, at least); it's all art direction, music, and concept. Did anyone complain that Fantasia 2000 completely lacked a story? Of course not, that makes no sense. It would be like complaining that a book of sheet music has a poor plot.
And that brings us back to Avatar. Fans of it can admit that the story is "weak" or "bad" and agree with these nags, but they're missing the point. The story isn't weak, it's de-emphasized. It's meant to be a vehicle for the other parts of the movie, because that's the fabulous thing about this medium: it can use different parts of what puts it together.
The only filmmaker I know of that could balance every part of a movie is Christopher Nolan, especially with his film Inception. It combined terrific writing, terrific acting, terrific visuals, terrific art direction... annoyingly familiar but still terrific music, and terrific concept. He's an enigma to the Hollywood system: he's a totally original filmmaker in every way, yet Inception was the fourth highest-grossing movie of 2010. What to do with such a challenging figure? ...Let's just fund Tim Burton's Alice in Gothland so we don't have to think about it right away.
My point is, if you like Avatar, you don't have to be so apologetic about it. The people that didn't like it can go ahead and not like it, but they have retroactive expectations of it, so that they can bitch about it and feel like they've "seen through" this lucrative fraud. It's not like they've finally noticed what a scam artist James Cameron is, because they presumably haven't started railing on Aliens or Terminator. Nostalgia goggles work the other way, I guess: "This movie is awful because it did not come out when I was six." You don't need to apologize for Avatar, though, if you feel you must. Avatar's a big movie, it can take care of itself."