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mygif

I agree completely MGK. I really didn’t like “Avatar” at all (an opinion I seem to be holding pretty much alone), and I am completely befuddled when I read — repeatedly — people just waving off the lame story and characterization as if those things are utterly irrelevant.

I just rewatched “Incredibles” earlier today, and there’s more good dialog, believable acting, convincing characterization, and compelling effects in five minutes of that film with old tech than in the entire 2 and a half hours of “Avatar”. The tech they use to SHOW you the movie is the least important part of making you BELIEVE a movie.

“Avatar” was an incredibly disappointing experience all the way around and yes, this is not what a James Cameron movie should be.

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mygif

@Jeff Hebert: You’re hardly alone. I’ve seen several highly negative reviews of the movie. I know I’ve got no interest in seeing it…

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mygif

While Titanic and Avatar may not be indicative of his full body of work, they’re the only non-documentary movies he’s made in over a decade.

He may have once been capable of making a movie that’s simultaneously fun and intelligent, but there’s no real reason to think he still can. I hope whatever he does next will prove otherwise, though.

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solid snake said on December 26th, 2009 at 11:30 pm

First off I consider Aliens to be the best movie ever made, bar none. Having said that , Avatar is somewhere between The Abyss and True Lies on Cameron’s quality scale. Solid, but lacking a somewhat intrinsic quality his better works have. Cameron has even admitted in interviews that sometimes story get sacrificed when new tech is developed. Also why is anything more than 2 years old now refered to as old, (like The Incredibles).

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mygif

“Titanic” wasn’t dumb. Melodrama of a very old-Hollywood style, sure, but not dumb.

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Notthebuddha said on December 27th, 2009 at 12:56 am

“I mean, The Abyss is one of the most ambitious and intelligent science fiction/action movies ever…”

Other than being grossly ignorant of basic water science like personal radios not working underwater and modern ocean vessels being unable to support their own weight out of the water? Or Bud waiting two minutes for Linsey to drown in place instead of leaving immediately and letting her drown on the way and have two minutes less brain damage? Or the aliens’ magical water tentacle and magical cure for decompression sickenss? Or the dropping of the wall-o-water sequence from the theatrical print that at least attempts to address some of the above technical issues?

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ImperatorMJ said on December 27th, 2009 at 2:41 am

*spoiler alert*

Agreed. Ain’t nothing lazier than a literal Deus Ex Machina. God/the planet’s collective consciousness shows up to squash the bad guys. Up to that point, I thought it was interesting, but slow. After that, I pretty much tuned out altogether. Compare that to Terminator 2 or Aliens, where the quality of the action ramps up gradually and so well, and is mostly faithful to its own internal logic, that you’re willing to overlook logical flaws and enjoy the thing without thinking about plot holes.

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mygif

Thing is, is it still a Deus Ex Machina if there is actual foreshadowing and anticipation, and it doesn’t just instantly solve everything?

I think the term’s become a lot broader than it really should be.

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mygif

There’s absolutely no Deus Ex Machina at the end of “Avatar”. Cameron neatly spells out the capability of the planet’s ability to network all of its lifeforms together over the course of the film’s first three hours, and the two big “miraculous” events at its conclusion are direct and logical results of that idea. Of course Eywa is going to come down against the humans. It’s nothing more than a symbolic representation of the collective consciousness of every life form on the planet, and they can all recognize the threat unrestricted human activity poses. And if they network, and consciousness is a form of data, then data transfer makes perfect sense.

This is my complaint about the complaints about “Avatar”. They say it’s unsubtle and brainless. I totally, cheerfully agree with the former, but not the latter. :)

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mygif

Actually, word on the grapevine is that James Cameron made Avatar the way it is so that he could get funding for a far more riskier endeavor coming down the pike.

Despite this, Avatar was an incredibly fun movie, with incredibly well done effects seamlessly tied into live action and probably the finest applications of standard movie formulas that I have seen in the past 15 years.

Its as if a gourmet chef took velveeta, spam and other ingredients taken from a corner gas station and whipped it up into the best dish he could make. Chances are it would still be pretty good, regardless of only using the most common of ingredients. That is what Avatar is – Five Star Gourmet Spam.

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VersasoVantare said on December 27th, 2009 at 6:15 am

Oi, MGK, any chance you could put a search function on your site? It’s a bit of a pest hunting through the archives when I want to re-read an old article.

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mygif

I wasn’t really wowed by the CGI in Avatar, possibly because I had headache that day and headaches are terrible for 3D movies. But it was really hard to forget about the terrible plot and fall into action movie zen. I think my dad put it best.

“At least in Dances With Wolves, the indians weren’t dumb shits.”

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ImperatorMJ said on December 27th, 2009 at 9:42 am

I don’t think a Deus Ex Machina necessarily needs to be unexpected to you the viewer so much as it needs to be unexpected and incredibly fortuitous to the characters. Neytiri flatly ruled out Eywa interceding. You and I knew the planet would join in because how the hell else was that poorly planned attack supposed to succeed? It’s still lazy screenwriting.

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mygif

THANK you, MGK. I’ve been hearing this from people as well. I will say that Cameron’s dialogue is frequently weak, and there’s also been people pointing out that up until The Abyss he had writing partners, but still, Cameron’s usual standards are MUCH higher than this. I think this is true of Titanic as well. The guy’s great with structure and pacing, and he can usually at least come up with a new wrinkle or two in terms of characterization.

There’s an article at Chud.com today about the pre-Avatar “scriptment” that was going around a few years ago–it was obviously too big and had to be trimmed down, but Cameron seems to have literally cut everything that would have made the story interesting: http://chud.com/articles/articles/21969/1/PROJECT-880-THE-AVATAR-THAT-ALMOST-WAS/Page1.html

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mygif

I was a bit surprised with how poor some of the military decisions were in the film.

In particular, if the colonel had reasonable debriefings, then either Trudy wouldn’t have been part of the attack on Home Tree in the first place or would have been thrown in the brig after ditching the mission, and the second half of the movie doesn’t happen.

Then again, a lot of people in the movie (OK, frankly every human in the movie) have a bit of Idiot Ball, and I suspect it can be justified by the faceless company basing a decent amount of their hiring decisions on who they can hire cheaply rather than who would be good at their job.

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mygif

Zenrage: “Actually, word on the grapevine is that James Cameron made Avatar the way it is so that he could get funding for a far more riskier endeavor coming down the pike.”

…What? Cameron’s previous film was the most financially successful movie ever made. If that doesn’t give him leeway to make whatever movie he wants, what does?

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Tim O'Neil said on December 27th, 2009 at 5:31 pm

I don’t know if I would call Titanic the most financially successful movie ever. In terms of gross profit, yes, it made a lot of money – look here – http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/records/budgets.php . But in terms of return on investment, it is nowhere near the monster that Paranormal Activity (471,972.83% return on investment) or the Blair Witch Project were (354,614.29%). If Titanic cost somewhere around 200 million to make and the studio saw, say, 800 million in profit on a worldwide gross of almost 2 billion dollars, that’s only a 400% profit. It may seem like a load of cash, but in terms of percentage Titanic almost had to be the most usccesful movie of all time for it not to be considered a flop, and no matter how much you may have like the movie, it is hard to see its success as anything other than a fluke – an obvious fluke in retrospect, but hardly a “sure thing” in the same was as Spider-Man 3 or Shrek 2. According to all reports, Cameron had to make significant alterations to his original treatment in order to get funding for Avatar. Without an established franchise or brand name, a movie like Avatar was always going to be a huge risk. And even if it makes money (which it looks like it will), that’s still no indication that Cameron will ever get a blank check to make whatever kind of movie he wants. There is simply too much money involved for his projects to ever, ever be “sure things,” not in the same way as someone like Mike Judge, whose movies cost a pittance and flounder in theaters but find a lucrative afterlife on cable TV and DVD.

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mygif

Yes, but my point is that if Cameron had something more risky he wanted to make, why wouldn’t he try making it after Titanic instead of taking a huge financial risk with Avatar?

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ImperatorMJ said on December 27th, 2009 at 10:50 pm

How is that not a Deus ex Machina? That’s the same thing as saying, “It is well established that God is good and therefore loves justice, and that He exists. Therefore, for him to come in at the end and beat the bad guys is not a cheat.”

I don’t care if Cameron did set it up so that we knew Pandora was sentient — it’s still a Deus ex Machina, and that means lazy writing.

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mygif

@Prankster He needed to prove that it was technologically viable first. The riskier endeavor coming down the pike is an adaptation of Battle Angel Alita, and he apparently plans to rely heavily on the tech he created for Avatar. While there’s a bunch of things to criticize Avatar for from a storytelling perspective, and even from a visual design perspective, the technical quality of the special effects is impeccable–and in a way that would have been impossible three years ago.

Moreover, with Avatar, he’s proven that an R-rated CGI cartoon can be a blockbuster hit. After Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and Beowulf were such box-office bombs, it probably took Cameron cashing in every favor he had at Fox to get Avatar made in the first place.

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mygif

It is neither R-rated nor a cartoon (other than the lazy “Ah, it has so much CGI it’s a cartoon” generalization.)

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mygif

I was pretty upset when I learned they totally left out the four elements aspect from the original cartoon, and didn’t even include Sokka as comic relief.

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mygif

@Prankster

Titanic was TWELVE years ago. I’m sorry but its always a case of what have you done recently and James Cameron’s previous film, Terminator 3, was a disaster domestically.

The project he did this one for is Battle Angel.

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mygif

Cameron’s only connection to T3 was a credit noting that he co-created the characters. He didn’t even get a vanity Exec. Producer credit, so they can’t hold that against him.

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mygif

And he didn’t even get that for Terminator Salvation.

Unless you meant the Terminator TV show that he was writing? I know it only lasted two seasons but was that really considered a flop?

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mygif

Actually, scratch that: The TV show was another “Based on characters created by” credit.

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mygif

Are we sure they aren’t thinking of Alien Vs Predator?

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mygif

Tim, if you move the goalposts a little more, I’m sure we can write Titanic off as a flop.

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Tim O'Neil said on December 28th, 2009 at 4:24 pm

I would rather just write off Titanic as a Lovecraftian eruption of elder dread into our unsuspecting world, but that would probably be a bridge too far.

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mygif

It’s interesting isn’t it? I mean, Avatar was a pretty good movie I think. Definitely a pretty entertaining ride.

But when people ask me how it was, when I say how the story wasn’t that good, people generally disagree with me, saying they liked the story. I think maybe saying the story wasn’t good isn’t the right way to express it. It was at least pretty solid story, I guess it’s a story that has been told a few different ways before, without bringing anything particularly new to the type of story. Other than some pretty groundbreaking SFX.

Maybe Transformers 2 just set the bar so low for what people expect from a big action movie that they are ecstatic just to get something that resembles a cohesive plotline.

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mygif

**sigh** It is a Deus Ex Machina in the denotative sense, in that it does involve Eywa (the Na’vi’s “god”) intervening directly into the situation.

It is not a Deus Ex Machina in the connotative sense, meaning a happy ending that depends entirely on authorial fiat and fortuitous coincidence, instead of elements of the plot established over the course of the narrative. If you say in Act One, “All these animals are linked by a worldwide communications network,” and you say in Act Two, “The hero sends out a distress signal through the worldwide communications network,” then it is not a Deus Ex Machina when he’s rescued by all those animals in Act Three. It’s just the end of the story. :)

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mygif

I would say that the “James Cameron makes dumb films” meme started with True Lies at the exact moment that the protagonist and his wife share a kiss IN FRONT OF A MUSHROOM CLOUD.

You can argue the science of that moment. You can argue the comparative qualities of the rest of his movies, but it won’t matter because the internet’s memory is only as far as last stupid thing you’ve done, ergo Superman’s a dick, Obama’s not an ‘merican citizen and James Cameron drools on a camera.

Was it not Nietzsche that said “If you look long enough at the People Of Walmart, that the People Of Walmart begin to look back through you”?

;p

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Tim O'Neil said on December 29th, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Oh, and I think it’s worth mentioning that for all the talk about his last two films being outliers in his filmography – they’re the only fiction films he’s done in over fifteen years, so that’s over half his career as a director.

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mygif

Cameron wasn’t involved in the Terminator series; he co-created (with Murder One and Shield writer Charles Eglee) Dark Angel, the Jessica Alba vehicle about a very Battle Angel Alita-esque character that limped along for two seasons before being canceled to make room for Firefly.

Cameron even directed the second season finale in a last ditch effort to save the show, which had gotten so far from its original premise that I think it alienated the audience.

The filming of the finale, for wrestling trivia buffs, is where guest star Lita recieved the injury that would eventually destroy her wrestling career.

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mygif

Cameron is overated ’bout time people realise that.

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mygif

The meme that ‘James Cameron amkes dumb films’ got started by two things, the first being the backlash against Titanic and the second was that Oscar acceptance speech he did. The camera catching his then wife rolling her eyes at his speech didnt help matters any.

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mygif

OK. Going to IMDB, and stripping out the Videogame titles, Cameron is credited with the following:
1 Avatar (2009) (written by)
2 “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” (31 episodes, 2008-2009)
3 “Dark Angel” (42 episodes, 2000-2002)
4 Titanic (1997) (written by)
5 Strange Days (1995) (screenplay) (story)
6 True Lies (1994) (screenplay)
7 Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) (written by)
8 The Abyss (1989) (written by)
9 Aliens (1986) (screenplay) (story)
10 Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (screenplay)
11 The Terminator (1984) (written by)
12 Xenogenesis (1978) (writer)

I haven’t seen Avatar, so I won’t talk about it. However, Terminator (the entire franchise) is such an overrated mess. The time-travel logic is absurd . From the “We can only send organic material” handwave as to why they don’t just send a bomb back to blow up John or Sarah Connor, to the “I just sent my father back in time to impregnate my mother” paradox.

True Lies is a steaming pile of crap. It’s absolutely absurd in every sense. I can accept fantastic heroic action, but I can’t accept people acting in ways that are just illogical or unreasonable. Between Arnold’s scenery chewing, Tom Arnold’s…well…just Tom Arnold, and the complete mess of a plot, it’s a toss up as to what really killed it. It’s like a trifecta of misery.

Now that the worst offenders are out of the way, Dark Angel wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. It was forgettable. First Blood Part II is a bad movie, not a train wreck, but certainly not a clever or smart movie.

So what’s left is The Abyss and Strange Days. I haven’t seen The Abyss, but Strange Days is fairly good. It’s well structured, the characters act in logical ways, the movies internal logic is coherent, and there aren’t too many gaping plot holes. So basically, there’s one fairly good movie, and two that I haven’t seen. Sorry, that’s not really a great inducement to spend the 20 bucks to go see Avatar.

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