What *is* the appeal of Avatar?

Possibly a dangerous question to ask, given that I am the energizer bunny of Avatar-hate, but the movie came up at one of the regular games last week and everyone else at the table seemed to like the film (except the one person yet to see it, who isn’t likely too) and I realised that where I see stunted story that doesn’t do anything after the set-up* a bunch of other folks are seeing unmitigated awesome.

And I continue to not get it, just as I never got the appeal of the Transformers film and the Matrix and a bunch of other things, and while I’m normally okay with that given that everyone reads a film differently it’s starting to bug me a little this time around. I find myself wondering whether the expectations of films have shifted so far into the boundary of spectacle that story ceases to be important, or if there’s been some kind of fundamental shift in the genre of film-making that I just haven’t figured out yet.

So I turn the question over to people who did like the film: what’s the appeal?

*Incidentally, there’s an interesting article on the Avatar-that-might-have-been if it’d followed the original treatment of the film. It seems to answer every major problem I have with Avatar and reads like a film I would have been gushing over if it’d actually made it to the screen (hell, if even a fragment of it made it to the screen *besides* the pretty FX)

  4 comments for “What *is* the appeal of Avatar?

  1. Heather
    19/01/2010 at 7:54 AM

    Peter, I have to say that I have *never* seen the appeal of the film–although I qualify that with I a one who hasn't seen the film and probably won't.

    However, I do have to tip my hat to James Cameron. The man is brilliant–but don't misunderstand me. He's not a brilliant filmmaker; Avatar (from what I have seen and read) has about as much substance as his other hugely successful beat-up but ghastily horrid film, Titanic.

    I was suckered into Titanic, despite my generalised dislike of "disaster films" (eg, Towering Inferno, Armageddon, etc), and it bought me for about ten minutes–until I saw what he was doing. Love story? Rose was a complete beyotch, a thief and a liar, and Jack was an arse.

    But both films have the bells and whistles, and in both cases Cameron has used a Titanic (sorry) budget to use the latest in cinema "oohs and ahhs" for the masses. It's new, it's flashy and it keeps the McDonald's art lover satisfied until they go looking for their next meal. The man has good timing; you have to give him that.

    For the record, I liked the first Matrix but not the others, the first Transformers left me irritable enough not to bother with the second–and I hated Braveheart. 😀

    You didn't mention Braveheart? Never mind. 😉

  2. Ian Houlihan
    19/01/2010 at 8:23 AM

    I for one am an Avatar lover. Not because of the story, but because of the spectacle. I am a spectacle lover (I'm also the one who loved the Star Wars Prequels for no other reason than they looked cool – we won't talk about the drivel which is the direction and the story/plot). The cinematography was excellent (even if it was rendered in someone's PC). The special effects were flawless – and not done by ILM – WOOT! So visually it was a double thumbs up for me.

    Having said that I do like story. On the first take, I must say I liked Avatar's take, but there were key things that made no sense, could have been better explained, or that just hit the cutting room floor because the movie was long enough as it was.

    And then I read the 880 Treatment article.


    That would have been an excellent story, if not a great trilogy of films with maybe an explanation of what actually happened to Sully and how he got in a wheelchair. Perhaps using the Bladerunner line in the airship "Begin again in the Off World Colonies".

    Now having said all of that, lets face it that its not beyond a realm of a possibility that we will see an extended version of the film later on down the track is it? Can you say Aliens: Special Edition.

  3. 19/01/2010 at 6:08 PM

    Modern cinema *is* spectacle and nothing more.

    The only place you get story and character on the screen is in non-Hollywood (usually non-American) cinema and in low-budget – although this is changing now as well. TV still makes a reasonable stab at it as long as you avoid sit-coms.

    So, yes, you are out of touch. And, yes, that is a good thing.

  4. 19/01/2010 at 10:09 PM

    I don't know that this is articulable – you may as well ask people what makes vanilla better than chocolate.

    You may have to take other people's word for it – it's possible to look at it and be moved by the beauty and the excitement and the love story. Obviously you knew what was going to happen – ninety odd percent of stories you know what will happen, and if unpredictability was all we wanted, no-one would watch or read anything twice.

    There was a time when what was in Avatar was what we all wanted from spec fic – the sense of wonder, the love story, the man who struggles and triumphs.

    And as for the almost fundamentalist plot – myths don't have an original plot. If Robin Hood had retired and become a Sussex wool merchant, we wouldn't be telling the story now. Avatar is the retelling of a myth – you could see that in the first thirty seconds – and like a myth it gives concrete shape to our anxieties and shows how we can transform to be redeemed.

    If you take away the Noble Savage and Dances With Wolves and all those nth-hand ideas from Avatar, you're not left with much movie, but if you take that away from us, there's not much left of us, and we'd immediately begin constructing stuff to replace it.

    The two word answer to your question is "sound fundamentals".


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