Archive for the ‘ Review ’ Category

Avatar- How the Frick Did He Do It?

A Short Discussion on the Power of Popular Narrative Arcs to Make Billions and Billion of Dollars.

I know that I promised to be writing my own stories on the blog, but when a bee gets in my bonnet, especially a big, billion-dollar blue bee, discussions must be had… Here is Charlie’s take on the how Avatar took over the world.

Not since James Cameron dropped DiCaprio into the sea have film goers been so drawn to the cinema or have been so keen to reach deep into their wallet again and again for tickets. Considering that Avatar is a film that on first appearances looks like sexed-up, blue version of the 1992 children’s animation FernGully, its success may astound the several people in the world who have not been to see it…yet.

The discerning film goer could sit and compare it with FernGully or Dances with Wolves till they are as blue in the face as the Na’vi.

For starters,
It begins with a dashing rogue gentleman who is working for the wrong side.
…Then this man tosses aside his prejudices and gradually learns to love some natives.
…The he is forced to fight for what he believes in and turns his back on his old ways and people,
…And then it is all tied off nicely as the hero earns their respect of almost everyone and earns the love of one lady in particular.

Indeed, the similarities are so striking that one may find themselves asking as they walk from the cinemas “where was Two-socks?” or “where were the small fairy people?” It’s easy to become confused when you’ve seen it all before: same plot, same characters. Even the beautiful Neytiri could be Pocahontas spray painted blue with a tail. However, it is important to note that although these similarities may make the viewer feel played, they are simply part of a well know narrative arc doing what it’s designed to do—pull at our heart and  purse strings

Some people have tried to argue that the popularity of Avatar has less to do with the plot and more to do with the 3-D effects. To that I must say, Piffle. Even though computer generated images have advanced in leaps and bounds, 3-D films have existed in basic forms since the 1890’s, and have even experienced heydays as early as the 1950s and 1980s in American. Sure, the technology is much better now and can produce scenes so real your stomach turns, but is that alone enough to make Avatar the top earning movie of all time? Surely not. If it was the 3-D that was drawing viewers in, they could probably just go outside and wander around in a rainforest with the same excitement. No, the money is truly in the mastery of the hero narrative.

Mr. Cameron has employed some of the most delicious elements of hero’s journey narrative to draw the audiences in. There’s the Call to Adventure, the Meeting of the Goddess and the Refusal of Return. The hero takes refuge in his new found world after battling for what is right and can live out his days with his new found Goddess. Sure it’s nothing new, but it’s been driving crowds wild since the Greeks were doing in amphitheaters with togas.

Secondly, Cameron then combined the powerful story arc with the best character archetypes history could proved, and by George it worked. It’s practically impossible not to sympathise with the hero at the beginning of the film—he  had lost his brother, his hopes for the future and even his legs. If Cameron was to throw him in a cupboard under the stairs he’d have the kind of protagonist viewers would start pledging their money too. Then, on top of the protagonist being a silently suffering, handsome guy, he is also someone the viewer can empathise with as he is thrown into fantastic circumstances. This point is rather important: Take away the aliens and the space ships and the hero is just an average guy with some very strange luck- he didn’t work for his whole life to use an avatar or be a scientist, it just happened. This is a very crafty device that makes the viewer’s mind tingling as they start to believe “oh my lord- .this could be me!” Once the viewer thinks this, you’ve got them trapped- they need him to succeed, not just because they like him but because in other circumstances they could be him.

Top this all off by contrasting the hero with some killer antagonists— serious environmental, corporate, war mongering baddies— and even the most shrewd movie-goer will struggle not to be manipulated. Especially if the viewer has enough insight to see himself in the baddies as well- I’m thinking of millions of examples but in particular the treatment of indigenous Australians or alternatively the treatment of native Americans. Yes, movie-goers can relate and we’re all feeling a tad guilty. Don’t worry though- the film’s denouement will fix that bad feeling all up.

All this being said, don’t feel bad about Cameron’s control over you. Thousands of years of narrative arc development have ensured your enjoyment.

Charlie.