Tuesday, February 2, 2010


The first film up at the Movie Wrench is "Avatar." I don't think there has been a film more talked about in recent years than this one. It seems to be one of those love/hate situations which makes for lots of commentary back and forth. For my part, the movie made me angry. Why? While the visuals were indeed stunning, even revolutionary, the story felt poorly constructed, lacked depth and was riddled with cliches. It felt to me as if the script were a flimsy network made to hang the visuals on, which is a shame as I think both could have been well made without detriment to the other.

The main reason I did not like "Avatar: was the ending. It made me so angry I nearly walked out of the theatre. The entire film, the whole race of Na'vi, the struggle, the time, money and effort all came down to a fist fight. It proved that we as an audience and the peoples of the film have learned nothing since cave man times since violence, one on one violence was the only answer given to this problem of conquest and lack of morality.

There were other elements, though that I would also have changed as they made little sense, or seemed to lack depth.

Problem: Jake Sully's past. Quite honestly, I saw no reason to make Jake a paraplegic. Using this as his motivation to accept the job that was his brother's was obvious and also denigrated those who live with this condition. It also raises questions about the technology present in the movie; they can build genetic, empty, living beings while mixing DNA of both humans and an entirely alien race, but they are unable to repair nerve damage? They can transplant consciousness from one being to another, but wheel chairs still exist? This makes no sense and doesn't bear much scrutiny.

Solution: Change Jake's past utterly. Remove the subplot of his brother as it does not add anything to character or story. Remove his 'accident,' as it, too only distracts from the story and, in my opinion, lessens Jake's redemption at the end of the movie. Instead, make his immersion in the Na'Vi world something that starts to invade his dreams. Let him start seeing the world as Cameron expects us to see it; as something enticing, something we all wish we could be a part of. Have the experience of being in the Avatar be something like a drug, or, as a more obvious metaphor, like playing an online role playing game. As he falls more and more to his addiction, we see gradual understanding replace the simple, drug-like effects of being given the chance to be greater than he is with the feeling of belonging, the realization that what the Na'vi wish to do with their own world is right. Have him really see his own people, his own actions from the outside. Don't make his transition easy. We never get the real impression that Jake is anything like his bellowing commander. We see from the beginning, because of the subplot of his dead brother, that Jake yearns to belong somewhere, to something. We're not surprised that he chooses the Na'vi. There's no real reason for Jake to want to stay with humans or the military. We never expect him to. As such, there is no conflict between Jake and his former life. It's simply set up to be thrown away. Make Jake a stronger, more self-assured character from the beginning and there is not only more conflict but his eventual turning away from his heritage would be a more impressive element.

Problem:The Na'Vi should have a great deal to offer and yet they are portrayed as merely 'lucky natives.' What I mean by this is that with all their culture, the real, physical inclusion they share with the animal and plant life around them, there's really no reason at all they should win any given conflict. The humans and their tech will stampede all over them. We are given glimpses of a world that seems to utterly work together. Everything is indeed one. So why is it that the only solution to war is to fight back with the same old weapons, fists, knives of any other culture? Also, why is it that we have to see yet another example of, "The native peoples were lost but for the help of one.. white... man?"

Solution: Take Pandora one step further, a step I was expecting while watching the film. If there are indeed areas of concentrated life energy, and if each tribe guards one of these mounds, and if the Na'Vi are literally plugged into the other life forms of this world, why not have the world woken by this so-called savior and have it and its people fight back merely by mentally repelling the invading troops? We already know that the "unobtanium" wreaks havoc with the humans' instrumentation. What if the entire planet were emitting this field at once? What if the spirits of all those beings were calling out to the humans at the same time? Could not the Na'Vi then stand proud, showing that their one-world/one-people culture really was better than that of the "greedy, evil" humans? As it is, the Na'Vi just fight back with no unity, no real help from their world other than the fliers that are "slaved" to Na'VI riders. Jake's taking of the great, flying reptile is meant to be a sign that unity is needed, that the entire world must come together, work together. Why does that have to mean a battle? Besides which, if this "unobtanium" is truly that rare and valuable, all that really needs to happen is for the humans to send more military to the planet and this "victory" is easily overturned. As force was used to battle force, there's nothing to say that another general's tactics wouldn't work against the Na'Vi. Better to have a solution that seems more final, one that does not allow so easy a turnaround. Have the planet work as a single being in dire times. Have its elements, Na'Vi, animals, plants work as one great life form when times dictate. This, to me not only seems more elegant but would be more likely to drop jaws at the end of the movie than what turned out to be nothing more than a CG-aided bar brawl.

Problem: Unobtanium. The name is poorly thought out as it forces the audience to stop and pay attention not to a story element but a word that seems to be a joke. Also, we have no idea what it is, what it's for, why it's so valuable. Even the other characters in the movie don't seem to know much about it, other than the business manager. At best, we can guess that it's somehow a unique source of natural anti-gravity. Doesn't this mean that the source of this stone should in fact be in the floating mountains and NOT beneath the big tree that the Na'Vi live in?

Solution: Change the name. Change its properties or move the Na'Vi to the floating mountains. There is too much conflicting information about this mineral. It confuses the audience and also cannot stand much scrutiny. Perhaps the mineral, besides its anti-gravitational properties is also what forms a sort of planet-wide circuitry, the very substance that allows the world's parts to communicate and come together. Since there is no reason for the Na'Vi to even know this element exists, there's no reason, other than their proximity to it to care whether it's taken away or not. Could it not have worked out that the earth beneath their settlements was mined, by them for the stone? Again, it's properties in "Avatar" make no sense while it could be an important element to the story. What if it also existed in the Na'Vi itself, the same way iron exists in human blood? Could this also have made the wrongness of the human's actions more vibrant?

These are the major issues I have with the film. I think the writing was stilted in places, especially in the beginning where it felt like we were just being told all the background parts, and rather jerkily, as they couldn't be introduced more smoothly into the story. Sigourney Weaver's character seemed to be there merely to relate information to the audience.

That's all I have for this post. Next up: Star Wars 1-3

What's it all about?

What this blog is all about:

I see movies. Not as many as I used to mostly because there seem to be fewer and fewer that are well made, engaging or without serious flaw. I used to go to the theatre once a week. Now it's more like once a month or less. So many times I've watched a film and winced as some plot hole or mechanism has made itself known and jarred me loose from being immersed in the story. Since I believe that's the whole point of storytelling in general, captivating an audience for a certain period of time so that you can get your point across, these lapses in storytelling skill really bother me.

So I started this blog to offer up what I see as 'fixes' for movies I've seen. Likely, I couldn't do any better than anyone in Hollywood. On the other hand, I may have a point. These are my opinions only and are done for my own amusement and, in some cases, to exorcise film-demons from my head. I think it likely also a good exercise as I wish to be a storyteller myself.

Comments are totally welcome, but I reserve the right to remove those that are not constructive to the point of being insulting or mere trolling. This is meant to be a creative exercise. I do not intend to 'bash,' but to offer my own solutions to what I see as problems in a given film. Some might argue with my definition of or identification of any given 'problem' in any given film. So be it. Art of all types engenders strong convictions.

Regardless of whether or not people agree with me, thanks for reading the blog.