Wednesday, 3 March 2010

'Avatar' - justify the lack of risks

A post a bit ago on on 'Avatar' discussed how - had the film taken more risks - it would have made for a better story. First off, yes - the story was very predictable. We've heard it all before. But if it ain't broke, don't fix it!


Here are a few of the risks suggested:

Our hero's journey is smooth sailing: Jake so badly needs his destination that there's never much ambivalence about the journey. This lack of internal conflict manifests when the Na'vi tribe rejects him: his only betrayal of them is the plain fact of his original mission, which he'd had abandoned in any case. Wasn't it obvious that he might be telling others what he'd learned about the tribe? As the first "warrior" dreamwalker, no less.

If Jake instead pursued an explicit and timely opportunity to betray his new friends, his 'going native' afterward would have been a powerful moral turning point rather than a faint point on a 'character arc.'

For me, this was the most predictable and corny aspect of the film. Had Sully had a more prominent betrayal story, it would have seemed far too much like those teen romcoms where the guy goes out with the girl for a bet, then falls in love, then she finds out etc etc. Yawn.

In Dune, off-worlder Paul Atreides is forced to kill to gain acceptance with the locals when his own kind finally forces him into the wilds. In Avatar, however, Jake only has to show up on a fancy ride. Instead of becoming a nonentity after their earlier aikido warmup, Na'vi chief-to-be Tsu-tey could have drawn a line in the moss: I represent the caution and tradition of my people, and you'll have to beat me down to change and lead us. If Jake has to defeat, even kill an ally who hates him, it tarnishes his character--but Pandora is red in tooth and claw, after all, and it is what he's fighting for.

No no no! One aspect of the Na'vi's lifestyle was that they only kill to protect life. Something as primitive as fight-for-a-place-as-the-alpha-male would have been too contradictory. However, a fight alone (not to the death) could have worked?

Jake masters the bow and horse. Why not let one of the Na'vi surprise everyone by getting to grips with some of that weird sky-people tech? And perhaps even do a little betrayal of his or her own.

Without a huge subplot (that would have made the film far too long), this wouldn't have been possible. Such a sub-story would also have been criticised as unnecessary. I recently wrote something with a betrayal in it, to which a fellow writer noted that it just happens to move things where I want them. His story was undeveloped and unwarranted.

That brings us to the disinterested corporate apparatchik in charge of the whole show. He's the real villain of the piece, who gives the natives none of the respect offered them by his soldiers and scientists, at least until his decisions' moral consequences are thrown in his face by Ripley.

Wait... wrong movie. In any case, Mr. Cameron had the right idea the first time around. Kill the slimeball--or better yet, let an alien do it.

By killing the 'man in the suit,' such mistakes would be repeated. By keeping him alive, he is able to tell others what works and what doesn't. So kill him and you have a slightly haunting possibility of a complete reocurrence of the story....but let him live and there's hope for all worlds.

Imagine a scene where a Na'vi suffers a similar injury, and Sully gets to witness as the Na'vi's companions "put him out of his misery". That would give him (and us) the opportunity for some interesting reflections on his new lifestyle.

This is one area where 'Avatar' falls down for me. Why does Sully accept his mission? Because he's a soldier and those are his orders. But deep down there's that personal reason - the chance to get his legs fixed. This seemed to be ignored and never revisited from half way through Act II onwards.

Sully could have had an internal struggle - working legs as an Avatar or working legs as a human. A good chance to revisit this theme would have been in the finale when Sully (as human) cannot reach the oxygen mask to save himself. This was pretty much the only area I thought 'Avatar' needed expanding on.

What do you think? Should 'Avatar' have taken more risks with its story?


Mat said...

AVATAR is a cheesburger to me... I know how it tastes before I eat it... but still I'll be back for more...

Seriously, it's almost a green Matrix, behing itself influenced by Ô so many sci-fi novels. Far of being original... I am desapointed, Cameron is such a talented screenwriter...

What desapointed me the most it is the actual unemotion of hour hero, is unability to appriciate the wonders that surround him and to feel something... I can't identify to such allow, uninteresting, flat minded being. - Yes, it's normal, he is a formated soldier! I agree, but still, he needs this difference that will turn him into a hero...

"Blue is the new Green!"
Green doesn't mean good!
Apparently the subtext of the film say that we will use the technology to come back to our origins, our roots and the REAL... why not... what do you think about it? Did you get this message?

Anyway this film is at the edge of the classical balance of Spectacular virsus Drama... Guess what side won the battle...

It's a great visual show on a very secured storyline, and YES, AVATAR should have taken more risks!!!


J. Warner said...

Yes, "Avatar" could have taken more risks or unique avenues with its story, as visuals aside (which, to me, weren't all THAT impressive after a few minutes), there is not much else to hold onto or to keep one's emotional/intellectual investment in.

For me, it wasn't even that tasty of empty calories (but by no means the worst movie I've ever seen, either -- just mostly mediocre).

オテモヤン said...