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James Cameron’s Pocahontas?

Making the circles online:

James Cameron's AvatarIt’s funny ‘cuz it’s true (click to enlarge)

This made me laugh, especially because a couple of these crossed my mind during the movie.

Not to bag on Avatar; I’m a sucker for James Cameron’s particular brand of insanity. The guy’s a madman, but he can sure create spectacle on an unheard-of scale. I picture George Lucas weeping in a closet somewhere, grinding his teeth. I appreciate world-building in any medium, and Cameron’s world feels alive in a way that the prequels never did. And even if its characters are Cameron-boilerplate, at least it had characters – something some other blockbuster directors tend to leave out. Plus, Sigourney Weaver. So it’s all good.

In other news, I’ve returned from the wilderness. Expect posting to resume… well, now. Hope everyone had a good holiday.

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12 comments to James Cameron’s Pocahontas?

  • Silly me… I forgot to thank Another Voice for bringing this to my attention. Thanks!

  • Another Voice

    ‘Avatar’ – it’s like ‘Captain Eo’ without the glam rock aspects…

    Speaking of George Lucas, another Internet mime that’s been racing around Hollywood. It’s an amazing seven-part analysis of ‘The Phantom Menance’. The entire thing clocks in at 70 minutes, but if you can overlook the not-safe-for-work attempts at humor, it contains an amazing amount of film school level commentary on just went so very, very, very, very wrong with the prequels. It’s not a geek-level nitpicking of the movie, it highlights the important elements of ANY movie…and definetly something Disney should take a good look before they start the paniced rush job for ‘Pirates 4′.

    The first segment can be found at http://www.youtube.com/user/RedLetterMedia#p/u/7/FxKtZmQgxrI . Bewarned – you’ll have to get used to the ‘character’ affectation at first.

  • I highly – HIGHLY – recommend that everyone watch that linked video about Phantom Menace. I saw that about a month ago and stayed up way past my bedtime watching all seven parts. It really crystallizes what’s so wrong with that film, and puts a bunch of random inchoate nitpicks I had with it in focus. I always *felt* these problems, but the guy does a great job of spelling out why it matters.

    And yeah, the “comedy” bits get a little intrusive. I don’t really mind the “character”, as I typically enjoy bizarre deadpan humor (Mitch Hedberg, Strongbad, etc.), but the little skit parts are ridiculous and wayyyyyyy too long.

    Nevertheless. Watch it. It’s pretty revelatory, and has some bits at the end with George Lucas that I’d never seen… I was shocked to see the folks at Lucasfilm were actually taken aback with what they created!

  • Another Voice

    Seriously, this has been the “must see” video all over town since it came out – and the ones pushing it are Oscar winning writers and directors. I really wonder what what George must think of all of this. The guy behind this has just announced another video for ‘Attack of the Clones’ is on the way.

    The behind the scenes stuff after the first edit veiwing are priceless. I hadn’t seen that before either and, having suffered a few of those stomach churning ‘WTF happened’ meetings myself, I can only image what went down at The Ranch when everyone realized what a disaster this whole thing turned out to be. The immediate defensiveness, blamestorming and general state of denial that Lucas falls into reminds me of a certain, balding, lanky former Disney CEO’s reactions (“Sir, we told you ‘they’re hurt by water’ cheap fix wasn’t going to work – just give us the fracking money for the SFX!’)…

    Speaking of impending disasters, the announcement of the 2011 release date for ‘Pirates 4′ may, it turns out, just be a marketing ploy. Sony has delayed ‘Spider-man 4′ and moved ‘Thor’ into the same release date. Disney’s announced ‘P4′ for Thor’s old spot – it’s rumored – just to block anyone else from jumping in there. Why do that? One hears whispers about a possible postponment of ‘Tron’ so they can make in SuperMagicWonderAwesome 3D…just another reason why I hate what ‘Avatar’ is doing to Hollywood.

  • Another Voice

    A final word on ‘Avatar’.

    James Cameron spent over half a billion dollars, took ten years, untold technology and the labor of thousands of people – and what we got were a bunch of stereotypes blowing each other up real good.

    Walt Disney and a handful of artists took some ink and some paint and made us cry for Bambi’s mother, made us cheer when an elephant flew, filled us with joy when Cinderella got her gown. People who saw ‘Snow White’ as a child now see their great-great-grandchildren enthralled by the exact same movie.

    Spectacle lasts only as long as there are sparkles on the screen. True art lives forever in your soul.

  • WC

    @Another Voice re: “A final word on ‘Avatar’- very well put and so very true. Thanks.

  • RandySavage

    Almost all stories, particularly films, are based on well-established archetypes. Bambi and Cinderella, for example, are based on the “Abandoned Orphan” archetype. Avatar, Pochahontas, Dances with Wolves, etc. follow the “Going Native/Noble Savage” archetype.

    A film’s merits should be judged on things other than which archetype it follows, i.e., the quality of the storytelling, dialogue, characters, visual aesthetics, creativity, etc. Phantom Menace scores an F in many of these most important areas. I couldn’t watch more than five minutes of that birdbrained Voice condescendingly telling things about TPM that were already very obvious as to why George Lucas failed on almost all counts.

    Avatar is night/day when compared to Phantom Menace. Avatar is far from perfect (some boilerplate dialogue (“Oh..my…God…), cliche moments, screeching of the Netanyahu lady, etc.) and adheres closely to its archetype, but Avatar also has directorial panache, visuals, music and editing have the ability to electrify an audience. And, to boot, it makes a relevant and important public service announcement about the beauty and importance of today’s imperiled Pandora (aka rainforests).

    Personally, I find a lot more enjoyment and value in Avatar than in any of the old WD hand-animated features like Dumbo or Bambi.

  • Chaddy

    Wait.. Why are we comparing Avatar to Dumbo and Bambi, again? I know this is a Disney fan blog, but Avatar doesn’t strike me as belonging in the same thematic catergory as Dumbo and Bambi. Pocahontas? Yes. Dumbo? Not so much. And I think I’d rather see Avatar again than Pocahontas.

    Obviously Cameron’s story isn’t being widely praised for it’s originality, but rather it’s effectiveness. It’s funny the text above compares Avatar to Pocahontas, but do you honestly think that Pocahontas was the original version of this “outsider sent to infiltrate collective becomes beloved insider” movie? Is it just me, or does the text seem to imply that since Avatar is essentially a dressed up Disney movie, that somehow it’s just a movie for kids, or somehow not to be taken seriously?

  • AV: You bring up an excellent point, which I hadn’t quite considered – what in the world could Walt have come up with if he’d had a shot at this technology? Imagine him and Ub and the artists all going nuts.

    What was so mindblowing about the panicked footage of the Phantom Menace screening was that I would never have guessed that anything could have ever shattered Lucas’s carefully-crafted latter-day cloud of self-delusion fueled by people like Rick McCallum. It’s Elvis in the 70s all over again. I just never expected to see reality shatter through all that.

    Randy: While I agree that Avatar is completely different from Phantom Menace, I didn’t find the video condescending at all. The longer it goes on, the deeper it gets into *why* the film is a mess and there are a lot of things that I honestly hadn’t considered before. It’s easy to get bogged down in criticizing specific corny lines or scenes, or ripping on JarJar. But the film’s real flaws are deeper than that.

    I do agree that just because a film follows certain familiar tropes that doesn’t mark it as a failure. We have, after all, been telling a handful of stories over and over for millennia. I do wish that Cameron had tinkered with the formula a bit, and given the characters some of those odd little touches that makes Aliens so great, but like I said – I’m a sucker for his stuff. I’m not immune to spectacle and Cameron always puts every cent of his insane budgets on the screen. He also knows how to stage and direct action, which is an increasingly rare skill these days. I won’t go on a film-school rant, but in the shaky-cam era it’s become increasingly difficult to get a sense of place during any action scene. It also doesn’t hurt when your editing and production design are top-notch.

    You won’t mistake his dialogue for Howard Hawks, but he sure makes pretty things – many of which blow up. And ladies with guns. Always the ladies with guns. Anyway, I enjoyed Avatar. What can I say? I was engrossed.

    AV: You mention TRON being postponed for 3D reasons, but wasn’t it always going to be in 3D? I’m really irritated by the 3D mania in Hollywood, but I will say that if anything would be enhanced by 3D it would be something trippy like TRON.

    The 3D thing has been making me crazy for a few years now, but I certainly don’t blame Cameron. This was happening wayyyyy before Avatar. In fact, I blame one person – Eisner! After all, animation has led the 3D vanguard and it all began with Disney Digital 3D ™ and Chicken Little. Disney, more than anyone, has pushed this tech as a way to keep driving the kiddies to the theater.

    In fact, do you remember around 2000, before they had the tech to do digital projection and 3D, and the plan was to release everything in IMAX? Up-sizing an animated classic every year, adding in a cut musical number, and putting it out in IMAX? That, to me, was the forerunner of their little 3D initiative. But they only got a couple out before people stopped showing up…

  • Bootom of the Grass

    Poor Avatar, Spaceballs it’s not. In 3 years people will be laughing for all the wrong reasons.

  • Another Voice

    Someone could probably make themselves a nice master’s thesis comparing ‘Snow White’ and ‘Avatar’. Both were films that pushed the “state of the art” in relatively new forms of filmmaking for their days and both found immense financial success. But that’s where the comparisons stop.

    What Walt did was to take the narrative structure of film and to strip out all the extraneous visual information. Animation, by necessity, uses the most bare minimum – color, movement, line and form – to convey information. The characters in the film are the exact opposite of photo-real, they are outlines filled in with blocks of color. Yet Walt created characters with which people could immediately emphasize and relate, he allowed pure story and pure emotion to come through. And the film was done so well it’s remained a facet of American culture for more than eight decades.

    James Cameron took the exact opposite approach. He filled ‘Avatar’ with more visual stimulation than any other movie in history. It is a spectacle of lights and imagery. The unfortunate thing is that he stripped out character and story in order to emphasis the pretty lightshow.

    A character archetype refers to role which a character plays in a plot: The Mentor, The Trickster, The Ally, and so on. Obi Wan Kenobi, Merlin and Jimmie Cricket are all Mentors; they instruct and guide the Protagonist’s growth to face the challenge before them. The character’s themselves – their personalities, their actions, their motivations – are all very different. At least in memorable stories.

    When you take characters we’ve already seen many, many, many times before and simply change their names and appearance…then that makes the leap from “archetype” into “cliché”. And when you take cliché characters and place them in a story we’ve already seen so many times before – then we enter the realm of triteness.

    This is important because clichés and the trite destroy a story. If you already know what’s going to happen then there’s no tension left. Without tension there’s no involvement with the characters. And without involvement with the characters there is no emotional involvement from the audience.

    Walt understood this and knew it would be a problem for his films because everyone already knows “they live happily ever after”. That’s why all if his film adaptations are so heavily dependent on subplots and secondary characters. See how much screen time is spent on the main plot of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and then look at how much time is spent with the Three Good Fairies. Now we have tension and emotions built around new, fresh characters. We may be aware of the ending, but the ‘how we get there’ is now new and interesting.

    A movie without any emotional attachment is just a spectacle. Those don’t last long because they have no meaning for us. But spectacles are much easier to make than compelling stories, which is why Hollywood is so attracted to them. Film history is littered with big box office, “game changing” movies that are laughed at now – does anyone really watch ‘How the West Was Won’ today or think that ‘Around the World in 80 Days’ deserves a Best Picture Oscar?

    Walt found this out too – with ‘Fantasia’. As beautiful as the film is, it left the audiences of its day cold and uninterested…much like the vast majority of audiences of today. The only segment that really worked was ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, a short that featured a unique character that faced a problem we could relate to (screwing up in front of the boss). From then on out, Walt knew that what drove his features would be story and characters, not technology. Sure, there was still a lot of technology still to come, but it always firmly in service of story.

    Sadly for today’s Disney – they have lost that knowledge and are now just another movie studio. Hell, these people made and broadcast “Conveyor Belt of Love”. With an Animation Department that’s still struggling to find itself and a live action unit that’s been told to make ‘Tron Legacy’ “more 3D!!!!!!” it will be a true struggle to avoid the coming gimmick-filled blockbuster mentality that’s coming our way.

  • Chaddy

    Hasn’t Hollywood been in the habit of churning out gimmicks to sell movie tickets for most of it’s history, Another Voice? It’s far from a coming phenomenon.

    I think your take on Avatar is misguided. In your judgments I sense that you seem to be confusing the task of making sense of the hype surrounding the movie with the task of judging the actual movie itself. As I said before, I haven’t heard anyone christening the movie the greatest story ever told, like many did with Titanic. (talk about hype! Yeesh.) But I have read many reviews and chatted with many folks who WERE moved by Avatar’s simple story, charming characters, and yes, extraordinary visuals. If critics seem to be overly-enthuisiastic to call the film visually groundbreaking, I encourage you to remember that they are critics. They use words like “spellbinding” and “groundbreaking.” For most people, though, Avatar was a great time at the movies. It wasn’t the same noisy and condescending idiocy of Transformers 2. Nor was it chillingly effective like Cameron’s own Alien. But it was very good at what it set out to do.

    And I disagree with the thought that the movie was filled with visual distractions. What was there to be distracted from I wonder? The story? Too simple. If you mean to say that the movie’s scenes were packed with too much information, well then I can empathize. Some movies take the visual busy-ness too far. But I think Avatar falls into the catergory of being visually rich rather than distracting. The scenes were lovingly painted by a small army of artists who invested years into getting their vision onto the screen. I see the fact the the edges and corners are filled with delightful details that you look for on a second viewing as being similar to enjoying a Disney ride where you notice details you otherwise missed the first time around. Are not Miyazaki and sometimes Pixar films the same way?

    But like you I did wonder through my one viewing of the movie what Walt would have thought of it and the technology used to bring it into being. My thoughts? Well, I’m not going to even attempt to try and speak for a dead man. So I’ll leave that thought alone. What could Walt have done with the kind of technology Cameron used in Avatar? God, that would have been amazing. We could only dream. But a movie doesn’t have to be made by Walt Disney to be good and moving.

    And by the way, which character from Snow White do you empathize with?

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