Monday, August 09, 2010
James Cameron's "Avatar" - radical edit that aids character development
Official Avatar Movie
At the end of August 2010, James Cameron will re-issue (in 3D only) an eight-minutes-extended version of the 2009 film Avatar; there's been all sorts of speculation about what Avatar might be and what Cameron's agenda might be. I've been drumming on about, "It's taken You The People four mainstream films (Dances with Wolves 1990, Fern Gully 1992, Pocahontas 1995 and now Avatar 2009) across two decades to realise that you can't claim what's not yours and then defecate all over your homeworld and expect to survive, as a race."
And you still haven't listened. You still haven't got that one simple fact. Everything you do on Free Planet has to improve your homeworld. Modern man's still arguing about which emoliating wash to buy and whether coal-fired trumps nuclear, as a race.
But this post isn't about that. To engage the common man (the neutered feudal 'consumer') in a discussion about Free Planet has proven to be futile, so I'll resort to HELPING THE FILM DIRECTOR JAMES CAMERON explore character development, just a little more.
I'm sure he's listening.
Quaritch: Cameron knows how to write 'military scum'.
Selfridge: Cameron knows how to write 'corporate scum'.
Augustine: Cameron knows how to write 'tree-hugging hippy'.
Spellman: Cameron knows how to write 'geek'.
Chacon: Cameron knows how to write 'gung-ho'
Sully: Cameron knows how to write 'convincingly earnest'.
Neytiri: Cameron knows how to write 'innocence about to be lost'.
But none of these characters need developing. They're as cardboard, and cut-out as any characters in a two hour 'entertainment medium' can ever be. We the Viewers can 'get' that already and we'd prefer to 'judge by perceived actions'. Showing which specific scissor cuts (not easy to say) generated those narrative relevant traits won't make us enjoy Avatar any more or less than we already would have. The film simply doesn't need all that "ignorant like a baby" and "jar head clan" foreshadowing. Period.
So, where to start HELPING THE FILM DIRECTOR JAMES CAMERON explore character development?
No, where to start the film, Avatar. Where, in the film's two and a quarter hours, to physically press this 'radical re-edit' PLAY button. I have to backtrack slightly before I reveal this. James Cameron clearly loves Manga, he's allegedly been working on Battle Angel for a few years already. Manga is a comic style from Japan, is very visual and infects almost all of Cameron's shots. I think Cameron should slow down, relax, and instead read the fiction of Japanese author Haruki Murakami to enhance his 'character development process' and by this I mean....
James Cameron NEEDS TO ABANDON his character development process, completely, to make Avatar more enjoyable, as cinema.
For me, and this is exemplified in the works of Haruki Murakami, the best stories start at some valid point through their narrative journey. Now, you could say, "So did Avatar. It began at the point where Jake Sully got drafted into the Avatar Programme because of his clever brother." But it doesn't. Ironically, the whole Avatar process gets in the way of the Avatar story. And this is a quick but vital gripe - if all the corporate technology fails within Pandora's FLUX VORTEX, how does the Avatar technology CONTINUE to work during the latter half of the film where much of the action takes place? Eh? Explain that oversight. Jake Sully should have been driving a constantly-glitching avatar as his broadcast-control signal suffered the unrelenting interference from Pandora's localised geomagnetic mischief.
In a moment, I'm gonna scroll through Avatar and find out the optimal position where the real Avatar film should have started. The film, by the device of 'video logging' is (somehow) told in realtime flashbacks by a person who obviously survives. Not only does it show you what happened, it also tells you about it in log after redundant log.
There's lots of this double-telling or show-telling and it could have all been handled as, "Oh, do you remember how I kept falling off that horse?" or, "And that bow, it was so hard for a weakling like me to pull," at the back end of the movie when Sully 'transferred over' in the last few minutes of the original edit of the latter part of the film. That's one solution... back in a bit.
01:17:01 - was the moment when funny-smelling outsider Jack Sully gets his tribal white-finger-paint body markings and is made a ward of the tribe, a co-protector of this little part of Pandora. He becomes, in effect, the ultimate corporate mole. In fact, if you start the film at this point, you have the opportunity to show Sully's earlier cultural clumsiness and physical weediness FROM THE MULTIPLE VIEWPOINT OF OTHER TRIBE MEMBERS. You could have some of the tribespeople misinterpreting Sully's never mentioned cynical or tired side, when his guard slips and he falls back into simple human bitterness towards his 'envoy' role. This would have undoubtedly been shared with other tribes members and a 'resentment' factor could have evolved organically. You'd have a chance to SHOW Sully's character development through multiple witnesses and the viewer would have been in a far less comfortable position with this to-be-hero.
But then again, that's a totally different film. A more adult vision of the diplomatic mechanism.
It might have been better (ethically and technologically) to ABANDON THE CENTRAL AVATAR CONCEPT COMPLETELY and deal with Sully's role in this story purely as a Diplomatic Envoy. Drop the dead twin back story. Drop the marine angle. Have Jake Sully grow up in the civil service, on Earth, as one of many blue giant hybrids and then be SENT to Pandora to perform the delicate task of 'incorporation' on these idiots. Flipping a civil servant's allegiances on its head would have been a far more enjoyable positive-into-negative role reversal. The film already has the idiots, the savages, Sully doesn't need to also be a dumkopf. The film is already storing its logs, one edit at a time. The film already has the mechanical avatars that the military drive, you know, the Ripley-driven Loaders from Cameron's earlier film Aliens.
But there's (amazingly) a Big Picture element missing from James Cameron's AVATAR visual extravaganza, and that's the upload of realtime data back to Corporate HQ. We don't hear a single thing back from head office about The Unobtainium Project. Would you REALLY only send out one pioneering mining posse, ten years in space, knowing of the planet-wide potential for this horribly-named natural resource? No one ever grills Selfridge over the coals, via hyperspace link. No one ever suggests that he's losing control of the situation - after all, he's 'freelancing' three months of R&D time into the 'dozers arrival' for just this one mining opportunity, just off their own backs, for Sully to do his 'befriending the natives' storyline, with no recourse to any developmental deadline or overhead concerns from head office. Is the colonisation of space really going to be this incompetently managed like kids in one urban kindergarton? What happened to structural management, multiple site strip mining and, "Nuke the site from orbit!" rationale?
And the so-called TRIBAL LIFESTYLE: what, are these four year olds? I felt like I was watching the ultimate posh-kids's Lord of the Flies remake. That's not how tribal life is, that blinded to reality. Real tribesmen don't spend their days snarling through ascribed narrative roles. Where are the 'eyes rimmed with flies' or the 'bodies riddled with fleas'? What I'm saying here is, "Where are the adult illustrations of life in a jungle where you invariably pick up some 'interesting passengers' in the intimacies of your person? Where, therefore, is the 'social grooming' we've already been shown in Sigourney Weaver's earlier showcase Gorillas in the Mist?" for example.
No one had a single parasite, not one tick, you know?
I don't know if Cameron has people around him strong enough to say these things to his face - it certainly doesn't come across in his final product. I suspect they're a bunch of, "Yes, sir James Cameron sir," corporate drones who know how to drive a fuzzy-logic interface and keep their noses out of business that's not theirs to poke into, with narry a denouncing shake of the head nor snuffle nor snear.
"I only wanted my stupid legs back, and now look what I've got." would have been a final valid character compromise, as Sully abandons his human heritage and signs up for a lifetime contract as Avatar driver. Instead of this ridiculous Lion King-like Disney birthday eye opening claptrap. Overhead, the corporate armada masses to show these savages who's the daddy. Cos, you know how bullies work, you know they're gonna come back in film 2 and hit Pandora in a way that they'll not be able to defend against gunships with bows and arrows. Nukes at the ready, Captain my captain.
Deploy atomics would have been the best way to introduce Avatar 2 (2014).