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Storytelling

Friday 19th February 2010

A while back I commented on a post on Callan’s blog about Avatar. At the time I hadn’t seen the film, so I refrained from commenting on the film itself, but rather on 3D. I’ve seen the movie now and I stand by what I said there about 3D – I really don’t think its “the future” or anything like that. In fact I think that Avatar was a pretty bad vehicle with which to demonstrate 3D as a technology. I thought that the bits of the film where the 3D effect was most effective were the “live” bits, with real actors in real sets. It added to the “grittiness” of those scenes and I think the 3D effect looked brilliant then. I found myself noticing things like reflections in glass or creases and wrinkles on people’s clothes, and overall it made those scenes look pretty good. Not more immersive though, but I shall come back to this. In contrast, I thought that the CGI scenes looked more fake than they would if they were just in 2D. Everything was too smooth, too polished, too obviously rendered.

But enough talk about the technology, because it’s not really what I want to talk about. Avatar (like many contemporary Hollywood films) is a really awful film. The characters, plot, everything is just ridiculously cliched, shallow and pathetic. It’s way too long, and I found myself getting pissed off at everyone involved. I wanted the humans to piss off and die because they were obviously bastards. But I also wanted the na’vi to fuck right off just on general principals. Both sides were equally irritating so the big battle scenes at the end really didn’t move me. I think we were meant to feel some sort of empathy for Zoe and Jake, but honestly I just didn’t care.

And the less said about “Unobtainium”, the better. For fuck’s sake…

In contrast, last night I watched Das Boot for the first time. This is actually 40 minutes longer than Avatar, but you really don’t notice that. In contrast to Avatar, the story doesn’t feel like it drags at any point, and you definitely feel empathy for the characters. Whereas I didn’t give a toss about the characters in Avatar, it’s completely different with this. The way the tension is built and sustained is really amazing, and just goes to show that clever writing is a lot more successful  than any amount of flashy CGI bollocks. We are treated to the odd shot of depth charges exploding around the U-boat but it’s all very dark and murky, probably because it was made pre-CGI. I actually think it’s more successful like this. No doubt if the film were made now it’d be possible to have loads of cool CGI stuff, but I think it’s much better if the focus remains in the sub with the characters; if our only clues as to what’s happening are the same clues that the people on the boat have – the eerie, threatening sounds coming from the water outside.

The point I’m trying to make is that it was a wonderfully immersive film, with probably a more interesting and subtle message than Avatar. You don’t need 3D or any other clever technology to involve an audience, all you need is a bit of intelligence. All too often, gimmicks like CGI and 3D are used as a replacement for good film making (as further evidence, I give you Star Wars… speaking of which, if you have time watch this, well worth it), and it’s a real shame.

I suppose the polar opposite is something like The Road, and I’ve commented on this film before over on Jenny’s blog. In that case, there’s just… nothing. Again, I didn’t care for the characters and as far as I could tell, there’s no real story to speak of. Now I’m all for a story being subtle, but if it’s so subtle that it’s invisible then it all starts to become somewhat pointless!

Anyway, it’s getting late, so I’m gonna go watch an episode of Mad Men (and read for a bit… I got up very late today) before sleeping. In fact, if you want to see an example of really good storytelling (not to mention beautiful characterisation – I mean really, stunning), watch it. It’s worth doing so just for one particularly brilliant scene at the end of season 1, but I shall say no more so as not to spoil it for anyone.

Posted at 2:30 am | Posted In: RantSleepTechnologyTV Tagged:

3 Comments:

Andy

Monday 22nd February 2010, 12:02 am

I’ll agree, the plot of Avatar is a bad rip off of Pocahontas. As a story in-and-of-itself, it’s really nothing to write home about.

What was really impressive to me was the craft, artistry and imagination which was deployed in the creation of that world; it was breaktaking and beautiful, at least to me!

“Unobtainium” did yank my suspension of disbelief for a moment. It was like someone had used it as a place-holder in the script and forgotten to replace it. That said, calling it that does make a little sense from a story perspective: I could well imagine people discovering a mineral with such incredible properties they decide to call it “unobtainium”. It does seem to be a naturally-occurring room-temperature superconductor. That’s pretty special.

Anyways, these days I’m mostly getting my top-notch storytelling from books and graphic novels. You can’t beat them for story-telling craft.

Dickie

Monday 22nd February 2010, 12:20 am

Nah, I do love film as well. When it’s done properly it’s just as magical as any book, it’s just that the vast majority of it isn’t. I really mean to read a graphic novel at some point.

And yeh, the world did look really good. Doesn’t make the film good though, and that was my main gripe :-p

I’m reading “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” by Heinlein at the moment. Read it?

Jenny

Monday 22nd February 2010, 12:28 pm

We laughed out loud at the first mention of unobtainium. You’re right, the plot is pretty poor but to me the CGI and the 3D did work really well. I would never watch Avatar outside of the cinema – it was for the spectacle and the effects that I *did* watch it, but it didn’t drag for me. The world was beautiful enough to make hte plot carriable by the world-building they’d done and I thought that was good enough. You’re right though, Hollywood does produce some utter shit. British film making tends to be better, madder, more interesting.

I’ve read a few graphic novels and even the ‘best’ graphic novels have absolutely *nothing* on the greatest novels out there. They’re just not as innovative or new, not to mention nothing like as well written as say Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse or JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye or Harper’s To Kill A Mockingbird. I think a lot of film, being a totally different medium, comes close, though.

Right. LUNCH.

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