I watched Avatar yesterday.
I watched it at http://www.justin.tv, so it wasn’t in 3D. It was barely in 2D. However, here’s what happened:
As I watched it, I became quite angry. It was the least original movie I recall seeing. It certainly is the least original movie that takes itself serious that I have ever seen.
I must stop myself from reflecting on the film because when I do reflect, I feel indignation and anger rise. This film is, without question, the most blatant hack-job I have ever seen. There is not one original idea–there is not one original frame–in this film.
The visuals look great. Sure. (Even on justin.tv.) $300 million ought to buy you something and obviously none of the money went into the writing or creativity. Some people have nit-picked about sensory, or detail, overload. That is not a problem; it’s how they chose to spend their dollars. (More dollars than has ever been spent on a film.)
Here’s the problem:
Every single scene was lifted from some other movie. Here are a few that annoyed me: The impassioned speech scenes (before the final battle) could have been straight from Braveheart, or Independence Day, or any movie with a speech before a final battle. Even the camera work during these moments was straight from those other films. Also, the cheering and posturing of the two sides (during the speeches) was something a 1st-year, 1st-time film student would write–so tired of a cliche that I could predict when fists would pump the air and when characters would growl.
Much has been made online about the rip-off of the story. Within minutes of the 1st teaser-trailer, hundreds of people were asking: “Haven’t I seen this before?” And “Didn’t I watch this every afternoon?”
One reviewer, who liked it immensely, said that as soon as they walked out of the theater her daughter said,
“Well, that was Fern Gully on crack.” Further wisecracks from the kids and the Husband ensued, referencing Ewok battles, Pearl Harbor, Titanic, Mel Gibson, and Dances With Wolves. Maybe other jokes as well, but at that point I drove off without them.
A simple google search will reveal that, whoa! “Avatar” is “Fern Gully”!
And it is also The Smurfs.
And Dances with Wolves.
And The Last Samurai.
You get the picture.
Going back further sours the film more. The film is such a brazen rip-off, you have to view it as a homage to science-fiction. Otherwise it is just the biggest rip-off in film history. In fact, Cameron says his inspiration for the film was: “every single science fiction book I read as a kid”.
Not only was the story unoriginal (to put it kindly), but the details were uninspired. Star Wars, Star Trek, even Event Horizon have original, iconic vehicles, machines, weapons, wardrobes, tools. The elements in this film were so generic (copied from video games and other films) that after the film is over, you have can’t really remember what anything looked like.
There is no respect for the audience. No care went into the story, or story details. Apparently all the money and thought went into the CGI. Once again. Seems like we just recovered from a blockbuster that was all CGI, no story. Anyways…
Why did this take 15 years to make? It wasn’t to research and imagine wheelchair tech in the future (they really have made no progress in 149 years?!). It wasn’t to create a custom font. Arrgghh! Cameron uses the 2nd most reviled, overused font in typography. Really, Cameron? Even the font is recycled? Just like the music. Several early reviewers commented on how the score is so similar to The Lion King that they were expecting, any moment, for the Na’vi to hold a child aloft on a rock outcropping.
But the worst is the story. The story unfolds so predictably that if the visuals weren’t so distracting, people would likely walk out. Perhaps that is why there is such a heaping-helping of lithe bodies wearing less than swimwear. Perhaps that is Cameron’s final card to keep selling tickets–and keep those tickets in the seats. Anyways, it is like watching the 1982 NFC Championship game. Again. It was a great game; the key players showed up throughout. But you wouldn’t want to watch it again and again and again. Avatar is like watching that game for the hundredth time. We know exactly how it will end, and we know exactly what will happen next.
Which raises atimely point: I understand that the Hero’s Quest is The Great Story… but won’t someone at least try to make an epic that isn’t like watching the same sporting game yet again? Perhaps that is why movie ticket sales have been eclipsed by video game sales: at least there are surprises in modern video games. As one reviewer said: “Avatar wanted to do things videogames are already better at.” Back to the point:
I half-hope that the studio demanded that the film fit a bankable mold. Because the only other explanation is that Cameron has no vision. At all. And steals with impunity. I hate “stealing your way to success”. There is probably nothing else I hate. But stealing/cheating your way to success really, really bothers me. It’s so lazy. It is the evil way to success. Oh, it works. I think of Edison, Walmart, Microsoft (and maybe Shakespeare–gasp!). And, as rare as vision is, lying and stealing likely account for much of the successes we celebrate. But it always offends me. And always increases my appreciation and reverence for real innovation–for the artist and visionary.
The blatant, complete copying of Avatar really upset me. I hope I don’t lay awake stewing about it. I dare not curse Cameron, but he sure has made me angry. Two dynamics common to humans are: no one likes to be lied to and no one likes to be stolen from. Even liars don’t like to be lied to, and even thieves don’t like to be stolen from. So why are people flocking to such plagiarism? Not because they feel good about someone cheating their way to success; not because they want to help the liar or thief succeed. No, stealing-your-way-to-success works because the general public is innocently ignorant of precedents, and we can’t imagine that someone would steal so brazenly. (“I’m sure he didn’t do that.” “You’re making things up.” “You’re just jealous.”) And then (insert person, company, athlete here) achieves glorious success. And then it doesn’t matter. People so worship success they won’t listen to how it happened. But at least two people know, James. You and me.
I have a strong sense that I haven’t conveyed my points well enough–not poetically or dramatically enough, but thoroughly enough. But I leave here with that realization: the extent of the theft in Avatar is greater than I have conveyed, and, stealing your way to success is worse than I have conveyed. Thanks for your time.