Unopinionated is a brand new editorial series where I explore “unpopular opinions” and why they’re unpopular in the first place. This week: loving Avatar is a hard thing to do now more than ever.
In October, I made a friendly bet with a fellow movie buff who was convinced Star Wars: The Force Awakens would dethrone Avatar as the highest grossing movie of all time. It’s now February and my friend has conceded, seeing as how Star Wars is still roughly $800 million short of the 2009 3D epic and hasn’t even surpassed the #2 spot, Titanic.
Not even adjusting for inflation.
How did I know The Force Awakens would fall short? It wasn’t with all the confidence in the world, just a simple memory of how Avatar took the entire world (namely China) by storm with the introduction of 3D to the mainstream. It was the movie that spurred the release of worldwide theaters just to house the IMAX technology necessary to watch it. For that reason, this was a global movie in which people saw 3D and IMAX for the very first time, hence all of the rereleases that would drive Avatar to an impressive box office take of well over $2.7 billion.
It was obvious to many people like myself that The Force Awakens wouldn’t draw in those same numbers worldwide, but I find it hard to blame anyone for believing a movie as hyped up as the new Star Wars film deserves to perform better than one of the most generic science fiction films in recent memory. Who wouldn’t want such a fun movie starring Han Solo again to do better than a dated rehash of Dances with Wolves?
That said, an “unpopular opinion” held by many is that Avatar isn’t just an average movie. It’s a terrible film that doesn’t deserve its box office throne. This unpopular opinion was brought to me by fans of The Force Awakens who are simply frustrated with how the numbers turned out, but for my first Unopinionated, I’ve decided to address the fact that Avatar is an average movie, not a bad one.
And to do that, I’ll be addressing three key aspects of the film: the Good, the Bad, and the Meh.
On a visual level, Avatar truly was a remarkable film when most of us saw it in late 2009/early 2010. What the movie does with color depth and digital effects is something 3D movies are still imitating today (and poorly most of the time). While you can’t judge a movie solely on how it looks, you can certainly credit effort where it’s due, and Director James Cameron offered something truly beautiful that pushed the needle forward for how CGI can transcend the “uncanny valley.”
The movie also boasts a wacky creativity for its fantasy sci-fi setting. The character designs are inspired, the environments are as vibrant as they are subtle, and every application of CGI fits naturally, from the action scenes to the computer animated characters.
This fusion of live-action with computer animation is nothing to scoff at, and for many moviegoers, a by-the-numbers plot is all the film really needed to impress. What Avatar excels at is scope, in that it uses its effects for an impressive feat of world-building that makes its plot far more accessible than it deserves to be.
It’s telling that Sam Worthington (the lead actor) has less animation than the characters made by a computer. He’s meant to be a straight man to the wonders of Pandora, but he’s severely lacking of any charisma that compels our interest.
He’s not terrible, but he’s also not very good. And the same can be said for most of the characters meandering Pandora with their simplistic motivations that don’t boil down to much more than anti-war propaganda even our college professors would fine overbearing.
Which brings us to the main complaint lobbied at Avatar: its plot is too familiar and undemanding when you hold it against the beauty of the movie itself. Like one of the early IMAX offerings that felt more like a test run of what the technology could do, Avatar comes across as if it was purposefully written by amateurs, which is a startling contrast to the detail put into pretty much everything else this movie has to offer.
Cameron remixes many techniques from his previous films in Avatar, such as the forbidden love dynamic of Titanic, the droll narration from Terminator, the space marine aesthetic from Alien, and so on. Any other director would get a pass for this, but because Cameron’s work is so iconic, this mixing and matching is too obvious to be appreciated.
And of course there’s no avoiding how reminiscent Avatar is to Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, and pretty much any other film featuring the story of a white man learning the ways of an indigenous tribe.
When it comes to plot and interesting ideas, Avatar doesn’t try anything new, but to the film’s credit, it doesn’t fail outright. We just hated it more at the time because we were disappointed at how close Avatar stuck to a formula, rather than provide the sort of genre twist worthy of such an ambitious film.
Honestly, there isn’t much. You can complain that the dialogue and cartoonishly evil villain are draining, but they aren’t atrocious qualities. Avatar mostly plays it safe as a predictable romp on an alien planet, which makes it regrettably average, not bad.
Yes, the film has its share of haters, and their criticisms are usually valid. But analyzing Avatar as a piece of film requires an honest look at everything it offers, not just the parts that distracted you. Pandora is a well-made paradise of science fiction. The 3D is expertly used to create a sense of immersion that no other movie had yet accomplished in the same way. The entirety of the film’s experience created a sense of awe for its many viewers…dragged down by some unfortunate compromises.
When this movie came out, many people likened it to the first Star Wars, convinced it would capture the imagination of the next generation. I think it’s safe to say that never fully came to pass, mostly because Avatar‘sstory was too formulaic to grab viewers at every level. While Star Wars was also a bit cheesy, its rich and interesting characters managed to make up for it. Avatar, on the other hand, only has what will soon be dated visuals and an accompanying footnote to hold itself up as an accomplishment.
Is there an unpopular opinion you think deserves the Unopinionated treatment? Shoot me your suggestion in the comments.
I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni
What is the true story that inspired the myth? This is the question In the Heart of the Sea tries its hardest to answer, at the expense of something perhaps deeper that could have been explored within the true men who sailed the ill-fated Essex.
Strangely, the film expects you to have some previous knowledge about this tale of survival, as it eliminates its own suspense by starting with the premise that at least one person made it out of this story alive. There’s a better story in here about whether or not the cabin boy is the one telling the truth by the end of it all, but the movie trades this intrigue for something as emotive and tragic as Titanic.
The problem is that actually being familiar with the Essex story makes In the Heart of the Sea difficult to swallow, considering how far off this retelling of the book of the same name is from what truly happened during this 19th Century disaster.
To make up for this, the movie presents much of its biggest moments as art, with matte painting backgrounds and an attention to sprawling ocean vistas that spell doom for the sailors. But hardly anything pictured onscreen is believable, especially compared to most modern CGI in 2015. You’ll quickly lose interest in which backgrounds are somewhat inspired and which are purely green screen.
Some of the best scenes involve the actual whaling, a practice that is hard to watch, which makes it that much more entertaining. I shuddered (but couldn’t stop watching) when the cabin boy had to slide down the stomach of a rotting whale in order to gather the valuable blubber that felt worthless, which serves as some excellent foreshadowing.
In the Heart of the Sea is certainly passable when demonstrating the mighty themes of man versus nature. Much of this is compelling and will cause pause for anyone reflecting on the fact that these events weren’t all that long ago, and the lengths men went to for the sake of short term wealth certainly didn’t pay off the way they expected. When honor trumps the grotesque bond formed in cannibalism, that’s how you know you’ve watched a movie that is missing a few crucial scenes that tell a more interesting story.
My bias might come through here, but I’ve found the work of Ron Howard pretty unambitious, discounting any of his work from the early 90s. He’s certainly good at what he does, but I can’t shake the feeling that he was destined to be better.
Between this and the underwhelming Blackhat, 2015 hasn’t been a banner year for Chris Hemsworth, even if you loved Age of Ultron as much as I did.
I hate when other people do this, but…read the book. It’s better.
I forgot to mention that the cabin boy is played by Tom Holland, AKA our future Spider-Man. Along with Cillian Murphy, this movie is a superhero fan fiction waiting to happen.
This week on the podcast, Kayla and I talk about In the Heart of the Sea at length. Spoilerish alert: she’s not a big fan either.
Since the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is less than a week away, we discussed and ranked all six movies. Plus, we made pizza bets over whether or not The Force Awakens will become the highest-grossing movie of all time.
Later on, we read your comments from last week’s show and get lost in a wilderness of tangents.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK: (Two this week!) Do you think The Force Awakens will topple Avatar as the biggest movie of all time? Also, what are some classic movies you’ve never seen before? Now’s the time to get this off your chest.
Before we go any further, let’s get my opinion straight. I’m speaking to M. Night Shyamalan directly when I say, STAY AWAY FROM AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER. FOREVER.
There, that’s all I wanted to say, aside from the rest of this.
Strangely, some people don’t blame the once promising director for the insulting mess that was 2010’s The Last Airbender, including Shyamalan himself. We’ll get to the lunacy of that, but first I should mention that this is still a minority opinion. A terrible opinion, but a minority opinion all the same.
Venture Capitol Post posted an article yesterday with an unforgivably misleading title that shocked and scared the eyes of hopefully only tens of readers:
‘Avatar: The Last Airbender 2’ Confirmed: Director M. Night Shyamalan Defends 1st Film from Longstanding Criticism.
Um…No, this movie is most certainly NOT confirmed. Obvious clickbait headline isn’t just clickbait. It’s actually beyond clickbait, transcending into a full on clicksnare.
Nowhere in the article does it say that The Last Airbender 2 has been “confirmed.” They don’t even get the name of the movie right in the title, which should be the first red flag.
No, this article only covers a few link shares to other articles published over the last few months that point out Shyamalan’s interest in continuing the franchise. In fact, I can’t find anything new or relevant in this article to explain why it even exists. So let’s keep going!
‘Avatar: The Last Airbender 2’ director M. Night Shyamalan continued to defend his first film from long-standing criticism. He is also reported ready to push through with a sequel.
Source? Nope. There’s no source for this at all. Venture Capital Post just asserts this and moves on like it’s not the biggest bombshell fans of the animated series have seen since the first reviews for The Last Airbender came out. Who edited this?
According to Movie Pilot, the filmmaker was not to blame for the Nickelodeon cartoon adaptation’s failure with critics and audiences alike.
First, it’s Moviepilot, not “Movie Pilot.” Also, they’re shamelessly sourcing an opinionated article not written by Moviepilot staff, but written by someone who’s never seen an episode of the show they’re talking about. I’m not making that up.
Let’s jump over to that “Movie Pilot” article and see what writer Rohan Mohmand has to say (and yes, it’s ironic he shares the name of Tenzin’s son).
M.Night Shyamalan is an original thinker.
Nope, nope, keep going. You can do it, Jon.
I still haven’t seen the respective show,
Wow. Yeah, so Rohan sings Shyamalan’s praises for a few paragraphs, citing that the early success for the filmmaker based on his only two widely accepted movies, The 6th Sense and Unbreakable (a case can be made for Signs, but not a good one) lends to the fact that the failure of The Last Airbender has nothing to do with him.
Because directors don’t make both good and bad movies, according to Rohan. Especially when they’ve made like five abysmal movies in a row. You know what came out before The Last Airbender? Oh, just a little train wreck called The Happening.
In that movie, the “original” Shyamalan presented a world where plants make us kill ourselves. And that’s when we learned that originality doesn’t necessarily make something good.
Today, it has been almost six years since its release, and whenever someone brings the subject of The Last Airbender it is Shyamalan to blame.
Is this a surprise? He’s writing this like it’s not valid to blame the person who spent the most time making the movie happen and overseeing its execution for how bad it is. Granted, not every movie is bad because of the direction, but how can you argue that The Last Airbender doesn’t suffer from its many Shyamalanisms?
But Rohan’s not finished. He cites an interview Shyamalan had with IGN about this (sorry about the inception-level article sourcing. It’s not my fault, I’m only the director of this article).
This is from Shyamalan, explaining what went wrong with the movie:
“My child was nine-years-old. So you could make it one of two ways: you could make it for that same audience, which is what I did, for nine and 10-year-olds, or you could do the ‘Transformers’ version and have Megan Fox. I didn’t do that.”
First, that last line, “I didn’t do that” wasn’t cited by Rohan for some unexplainable reason, so I added it. Second, what world does Shyamalan live in?
You know what else was made for nine and 10-year-olds? Avatar the Last Airbender, which is considered by many to be one of the greatest animated series of all time. But it’s not geared toward people who like Transformers, so Shyamalan had to “adjust.”
What kind of backwards opinion is this? Your movie sucks because you made it for kids? Have you ever seen a Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks Animation movie? You think those movies are hits because they appeal to adults ONLY? No, they appeal to a wide demographic. Kids AND adults can watch a movie like Beauty and the Beast.
In what universe do you have to believe that if you shoot for a wider demographic, you end up creating something akin to Transformers?! You know what, I actually can believe that someone as deluded as M. Night Shyamalan believes he’s making bad movies because he thinks anything else is Transformers. That’s the same delusion that must be related to his obvious and utter failure to understand how to make a kids’ movie, or why a good kids’ movie is good.
Rohan (hopefully) digresses:
Defending his film, there’s nothing that we can do, for as the director, and also as a fan of the show, Shyamalan has all the rights. But, the question is, is he really the person to blame for the failure of The Last Airbender?
YES. Is this a trick question?
The answer to the question above is a “no.”
I hate everything.
Shyamalan is not to blame for the failure of the film. In fact, he is owed an apology.
Should I punch my computer now?
Last summer, Joblo penned a piece spreading the word, the story behind the making of The Last Airbender, divulged passionately on the AvatarSpirit.net forums.
So now we’re officially sourcing forums.
The story, however, is no longer available on the forum.
I wonder why.
It was published by someone who worked on the production of the film and the increased attention got her concerned as her career was going to be in jeopardy.
How do you know this? And can’t you also argue that she took it down because it was full of false information skewed by her opinion? Nope, let’s just take this at face value and source it as evidence.
I’ll give you the gist. This person claims that 80% of the decisions for The Last Airbender came from the producers, including the casting of the girl who played Katara.
She argues that this casting was nepotism on part of the producers, and it resulted in them having to alter the ethnicities of many other characters, leading to the major backlash this movie suffered from before it even came out. None of the characters looked the part.
Only later would we realize that none of the actors acted the part either. Katara herself lost all of her best moments from the show (holding her own against Zuko, giving the inspiring speech to the earthbenders), and Sokka’s cleverness and wit was replaced with…brooding and being serious all the time.
Of course, Rohan would know this if he had watched an episode of the show.
The disgruntled forum hacker blames everything on the producers. The lack of budget, the story changes, the effects not looking right. Basically, she props up the basic challenges of any film as something that the director couldn’t control.
Except, we’re not talking about a novice director. We’re talking about M. Night Shyamalan, who at this point in his career DID have clout as a film director. I can understand a newcomer like Colin Trevorrow getting steamrolled while making Jurassic World, but you can’t give someone like Shyamalan the same pass.
And this unknown person claims that Shyamalan just gave up because none of his ideas went through. In other words, he didn’t do his job of upholding good ideas, so he’s the victim.
You know who else “gave up” on their movie? Josh Trank with Fantastic Four. You know why everyone still blames him, even after writing that cringe Tweet? Because he’s the director. It’s his JOB to salvage what the producers pick apart.
And blame the producers all you want for getting in the way. You CAN’T, however, blame them for the execution. You can’t blame the producers for the gross mispronunciation of the characters’ names. That was from Shyamalan. You can’t blame the horrendous closeups and terrible camera work. That was from Shyamalan. You certainly can’t blame the bland dialogue and writing that comes from every other Shyamalan movie and is present here (because he wrote it).
What, were these the same producers who made The Happening happen?
So Rohan concludes, claiming that Shyamalan is classy for taking the responsibility and not blaming anyone else. That’s fine. But you’re in a dream within a dream if you really think he’s not to blame for why this movie still causes physical and emotional pain for any fan of the show who’s reminded of it.
Back to Venture Capital Post, who is spinning the wheels of what you can get away with in an article that does no real work:
It is undeniable that Shyamalan is a master writer-director in his own right with successful supernatural films under his belt including ‘Lady in the Water’, ‘The Village’, ‘Signs’, ‘Unbreakable’ and 1999’s cult favorite ‘The Sixth Sense’.
Just…no. It is not “undeniable.” It is, in fact, incredibly deniable that Shyamalan is a “MASTER” because only two and half of those movies were well-received by critics. Lady in the Water? Seriously? The movie that received a 24% on Rotten Tomatoes before it was “cool” to make fun of Shyamalan?
Look, I love The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable as much as anyone. And I didn’t “hate” Signs and The Village. But to call the man a master is hyperbole, andsaying it’s “undeniable” is transcending hyperbole.
But Venture digresses. The writer points out what Rohan did — that Shyamalan said to IGN once that The Last Airbender is made for nine and 10-year-olds instead of everyone who else who watches Transformers, which is why “you don’t get it.” Virtually ignoring every other kids’ film that has proven the exact opposite.
Then Venture rightfully acknowledges that the creators of Avatar (Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante Dimartino) don’t even acknowledge that The Last Airbender even exists. Yeah, it’s the Lake Laogai running gag that us fans have been using to cope for five years now, and it’s pretty effective.
According to Den of Geek, Shyamalan planned to push through with a sequel as evidenced by the introduction of Prince Zuko’s sister, Azula, at the end of the first film.
Wait, that’s not according to Den of Geek, that’s painfully obvious from watching the movie. Did you really have to source a website to know that they planned to make this a trilogy? Is this real life?
However, despite previous news that he had already penned a first draft for the follow-up, no updates have come up since then.
This sentence flies in the face of the earlier one in this article, which claimed that the sequel WAS reportedly happening. Oh, and it also clashes with the headline of the entire article. This is real life.
You’re probably wondering why I’m going to so much trouble to rip these articles apart, and it’s for a few reasons. The biggest is that I don’t want someone to stumble across them and take them in as actual reporting. This is a PSA.
Second, I love this franchise more than any other on television. I love the characters. I love the animation. I love the world they created. I love the comics. I love the spin off. I love the fan art. I even love the pilot episode. OK, the video games are hit and miss, but I still enjoyed playing them.
So I’m going to dissent with writers like Rohan who let their love of Shyamalan get in the way of honest criticism. And for the most part, he does a good job of explaining why he loves this director and wants him to succeed. I have no problem with that, even though I disagree.
My main issue is with a website like Venture Capital Post for all of the reasons I’ve already gotten into. And if you come across garbage articles like this during your time on the Internet, then I hope you do the same and call them out for it. We deserve better.
On that note, I’d like to welcome you to Lake Laogai.
I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni
Listen, I love movies. I also love television. They’re fantastic mediums that provide the world with a seemingly endless supply of great entertainment. But the real potential is in the world of video games. The world of truly interactive entertainment.
The main difference between these three mediums is the fact that video games haven’t been around quite as long. They have immense room to grow, even as the way we experience games continues to shift toward the smart phone in contrast to the blockbuster console.
That said, too many websites and smart discussions decide to talk about how “cool” it would be for so-and-so video game to become a movie. And I get that. I’ve talked before about how great it would be to see more of the Mass Effect universe on the big screen (though it would likely fail if it centered around Commander Shepard).
But for whatever reason, people default to a supposed need for making a movie out of something we already enjoy as gamers. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? I think so. Here are a few of the best examples I can think of (for now):
[Note: I’m excluding the topic of licensed games from this discussion. No one likes them. We already know why. Let’s just not talk about it.]
The idea of translating the Christopher Nolan “dream-within-a-dream” universe seems like a natural step forward for an indicate, complex plot that almost demands user interaction.
Exotic locations that are tied to one narrative structure without feeling forced? Check. Varied combat that is put on its head by gravity-bending mechanics related to other plot points within the story? Got it. Compelling characters working together via a heist mode that is both unexplored and familiar at the same time? Hey, Grand Theft Auto 5 already showed us how to do it.
I’m not a gaming insider by any stretch of the imagination, so I’m completely unaware if someone out there is already working to make this happen. If so, then they have my support.
5. Avatar: The Last Airbender
Yes, ATLA already has a trilogy of video games based on the popular TV series. They were nothing special, to be clear, and I think it would be a waste of time and money to retread that story, or even the sequel series, Legend of Korra.
No, the real potential lies in Wan, who is the first Avatar. Revealed in a special two-part event during Book 2 of LOK, Wan’s story is one that takes place in a world that is reminiscent of Miyazaki (intentionally), and his journey to becoming the first Avatar completely lends itself to the structure of storytelling we see in gaming. Wan learns each of the elements by traveling the Spirit World and grows stronger as he realizes his destiny. Perfect.
Of course, that’s just one rabbit hole for a game developer to go down. Thanks to ATLA’s attention to world-building and beautiful combat (a weird combination of words, but totally accurate), crafting a video game that is both creative and fun to play would be a cakewalk if taken seriously.
I’m not even sure why this infamous cult-classic hasn’t already been transformed into a video game, but here we are. I suspect that the idea has been tossed around quite a bit already in the right board rooms.
Many would agree that this Joss Whedon-built space western has the depth and real estate to give gamers a fun tour of what lies beyond Alliance Control. Sadly, I doubt it would work to bring back the original cast for a continuation of the short-lived TV Show and its subsequent movie, but a good team of writers could easily breathe new life into the franchise through video games.
3. Game of Thrones
Can I just say it? We’re sick of Lord of the Rings as the go-to franchise for medieval mayhem (OK, that’s an exaggeration). One world we’ve yet to see play out in video games is the 7 Kingdoms of Westeros.
[Note: there’s a licensed Game of Thrones already. And it sucks. We want the real deal.]
Of course, there are two options. You could either develop an open world game a la Skyrim that tells a brand-new story within George R.R. Martin’s carefully crafted world of dragons and others, or you could do what the show has done – but with more faithfulness to the source material.
If you’re unaware, the HBO series known as “Game of Thrones” (which is based on the series of novels by Martin called A Song of Ice and Fire) is only loosely based on its source material. It makes for great television, but the expanded possibilities of side quests and drawn out storytelling could bring the world of Westeros into a full picture of what it’s meant to be.
2. Pacific Rim
This is another movie on this list that has already had the video game treatment attempted. And again. It sucked.
But a Pacific Rim video game that was conceived and executed from the ground up? One that was built to be a self-contained world with blockbuster graphics? That could definitely work, and it would be a great way to tell the story of the first battles between the Kaijus and the Jaegers. A story that was only briefly explained in expository dialogue.
Also, giant robots.
1. The Mask of Zorro
I’m not putting this as #1 because it is objectively the best idea on this list (truthfully, I didn’t order these by which would be “best”).
No, I’m putting this as #1 because I am a well-known fanboy of anything “Zorro.” And yes, The Mask of Zorro is my favorite film of all time. Judge away.
But I believe a video game centering around the Fox would make for some great entertainment, regardless of my bias. Assassin’s Creed has already shown us how impactful and thrilling it can be to sword-fight our way through fully realized historical settings.
Though Zorro the character isn’t based on real history, careful attention to the setting (California, or Spain if the game would be based on the novels, instead) and rich echelon of characters that made the film great would translate beautifully to interactive storytelling.
Plus, with two new Zorro films planned to release in the coming years, the Zorro hype is about to reach its hype. Take notes game developers!
Honorable mentions (because opinions)
Bladerunner – bringing this up is basically required.
District 9 – but with more of what we saw in the third act.
Almost Human – overblown TV show, but great candidate for gaming.
Elysium – see District 9.
In Time – I can’t be the only person who liked this movie.
Hunger Games – prequel anyone?
Peter Pan – Neverland deserves the open-world treatment.
Yes, I know I didn’t get to the wealth of other examples. If you think of any ideas, sound off in the comments!
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