Avatar

Dead eye.  One of the biggest things I notice about all CGI movies are theeyes. They're dead. dead eye

James Cameron has solved that by using motion capture to specifically record the actors' emotions from the eyes.

Neytiri eyes

But I'm not here to talk about how he made it.  Mostly because it's beyond me.  I only understand the reasoning behind it like solving dead eye.  Sounds like a disease.

So here's a list of what I truly loved about the movie as a whole:

  • No over usage of CGI as a replacement for story.
  • No over usage of 3-D.  In acting there's a fourth wall, the wall removed so the audience can watch.  Rule is to never break the fourth wall.  But many 3-D movies do because it's 3-D.
  • All of the actors did an incredible job.
  • It didn't feel very heavily directed.
  • Clear plot, clear themes, clear characters types.
  • And most important of all, there was a good story.

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I don't know if it's because I've been so obsessed with story and writing for the past few years, but there were some parts that were predictable, only because the story required it.  Certain key supporting characters died, certain story elements had to happen to drive the plot, the theme and climax. The ending was definitely predictable, and I mean the ending after the climax.  But what was strange was I wanted that ending.  I desired it myself.  And I know why.  Cameron made it important, subtly.

Spoiler alert:

Jake Sully is a paralyzed war veteran.  Without saying it or making such a big deal about it, he wants his legs back.  When he takes over his avatar, he runs out into the open with pure joy.  He's laughing, yelling, and sprinting, then he takes a moment and digs his toes into the dirt.  That tiny scene was aforever moment.

At that point I was certain Sully was going to be permanently place in his avatar body.  I knew it before I watched the movie.  When it happened it was wholly satisfying like eating a warm chocolate cookie.  There were little things like the digging toes in that emphasized the need for that ending. It really speaks to how Cameron doesn't over do things like using the technology both given to him, and invented by him.  He's a storyteller at heart, knowing how to use little things to make certain story elements big.

I've experimented with that in writing myepisodes.

ENT HOLIDAY FILMS

Trying to make something big by making it a big deal is a big big mistake.  In one of the writing seminars the teacher made fun of beginner writers when they write about the first serendipitous moment between two lovers.  Paraphrasing here:

"The world stopped as I gazed into her eyes. The ticking of my watch slowed and the flakes of the first snowfall hung in the air.  The hustle of the streets silenced and I felt my heartbeat yearn to feel hers."

I must admit, when I first heard that I wanted to rush to my manuscript and make sure I didn't do something similar.

The whole point here is that James Cameron played it well when he told his story.  I didn't feel overwhelmed by the technology.  I didn't feel overwhelmed by the directing.  Another words, I didn't feel his hands in the movie (an example would be the first three episodes of Star Wars).  The actors were awesome. For example, Sigourney Weaver's character as the dedicated scientist didn't play up to stereotype.  Sam Worthington's performance as Jake Sully felt relaxed, which contrasted well to his avatar character (nicely done, communicating a message).  There was a scene where he watched his brother's cremation, which felt false.  But at least it wasn't forced like having flashbacks.  And it was OK being false, since it was a small scene, despite requiring to be emotionally heavy.

Avatar is what storytelling should be like, whether computer imaging is involved or not.  I left the theater totally uplifted and inspired and still feel the same as I type these words.  I can't wait for the sequels.

Nothing New Under the Sun

"What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun." Ever heard this?

As a storyteller, this can be a very limiting view.  Or is it?

Romeo_and_JulietWilliam Shakespeare's version of Twilight

A prominent screenwriter in Hollywood, David Freeman, gave a seminar.  There are hundreds of seminars I could have attended, but why did I go to his?  If you go to his site, he talks about techniques in writing.  No theories.  In fact, he gave so many techniques, it was like getting a trunk full of tools.  And in any one job, it’s highly unlikely you’ll use all of them, but you’ll definitely use enough to make your story emotional, something he emphasizes a lot.

He agreed with the quote above, but in a very un-limiting way.

I love going to movies, and one of the pleasures is seeing the previews.  I hate missing the previews like I hate missing the beginning of any movie.  One movie I’m anticipating is Avatar.

When I first saw it, I thought, James Cameron stole my idea!  WTF Cameron?  How’d you hack into my PC?

As I watched the preview, his premise was different.  Similar but different.

Then an image sparked in my mind.  American Indians gazing out into the sea as English ships sailed toward them.

The story of the Native American Indians against pioneering pilgrims is a familiar one.  It’s empire building.  The conflict?  The natives don't want to leave.

Look at Braveheart.  I love that movie.  It’s the same thing.

Look at the battle of Thermopile, 300.

Look at the Mongols invading China.

Look at China’s history of the seven independent states warring against each other for power.

Look at Star Wars.

Look at King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

We have tons of stories based on the idea of oppression.  Sometimes the story ends with unification, like China and the seven states.  Sometimes we have stories of independence, like William Wallace’s fight for Scotland’s freedom.  But they all stem from a single idea.

Avatar is no different.  A powerful force, in this case us in the far future, wants something, a valuable mineral.  To mine it, we have to “politically” move a native race.  Easy enough.  But wait!  The native people don’t wanna move.

And the story begins.

Freeman said there were an unlimited amount of stories that could be told using the story computer.  Look at any story that you love or connect to.  Find a variation.

Turn the hero into a heroin.

Change the race.

Change the time.

Change the setting.

Change anything.

Look at Romeo and Juliet.  Change the time to the present.  Make the male a brooding, James Dean-looking vampire.  Now you have Twilight.

The Princess and the Frog is a great example.  What do we expect to happen when the princess kisses the frog?  The frog should turn to her prince.  But Disney was like, “Hell no. Dat’s been dun.  Da princess should turn to a frog, sucka!”

OK.  I doubt Disney execs would talk like that.  But they used the story computer to churn out what seems like a great story.

The Seven Provinces is a familiar story.  It's about empire building.  It's an underdog story.  It's about a man trying to protect his family in a time of war.  It's about oppression, betrayal, tragedy.  And much more.

There may be nothing new under the sun.  But that doesn’t mean new stories can’t be told using familiar themes.