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    Thursday
    Jan282010

    Memo To The Executives: Avatar 2

    I don’t want James Cameron to make Avatar 2.  See you next week.

     

    Oh ok, I’ll give it a go.  It may surprise you to hear that someone who loved the film doesn’t want the sequel made, let alone a trilogy.  My reasoning is very simple.  There are far more years behind Cameron than in front.  At the rate it takes the man to make a film (having only directed seven if you don’t count ‘Piranha 2’), we’re only going to get a few more and I’d rather be taken to a completely different world than go back to Pandora.  It seemed very clear to me that Avatar was a self contained story with a very definitive ending.  The main character had come full circle, the humans had been kicked off the planet and every square inch of Pandora’s geography seemed to have been covered.  We may get the chance to see a few new species of Pandoran wildlife but that is hardly the soundest groundwork to build a film around. 

    From an audience perspective, the special effects of the film may have stunned them the world but that initial magic will not cross over into the second.  A sequel which is just more of the same with 20% new forests and waterfalls weighed up against the colossal expectation and hype which will come about from a film of Avatar’s success may just be enough to kill this supposed trilogy off before it gets to deliver on part three.  And lets not forget we have future 3D/motion capture/80/90% CG created event films in 'Tron: Legacy' and 'John Carter of Mars' hoping to capture the same magic, awe and box office of ‘Avatar’ not to mention the projects we don't know about yet that studios have probably greenlit this past month in a vain attempt to cash in.

    So, as opposed to most of my articles, I don’t need to rant about certain specific issues of production which need improving.  In this case, it is allabout the story.  A truly great story, better and deeper in every way than its predecessor is what will set Avatar 2 apart from its inevitable imitators.  Rather than having an admittedly simplistic cowboys vs. Indians/white hats vs. black hats/purely good vs. purely evil story, tell one where such concepts are more a matter of perspective than anything else.  A story where the audience is not forced to side with one particular group of characters but struggles to figure out who is right and who is wrong.

    We need to start by recapping where the end of the first film left us.  Though we never got to see it, we are at least told that Earth has been devastated by lord knows what; pollution, global warming, deforestation, nuclear winter?  Whatever the case, it sure ain’t pretty over there and now the majority of the humans who came over to Pandora to suck it dry have been forced back to “their dying world”.   Only a few humans have been chosen to stay behind on Pandora.  Will they revert to the more primal lifestyle of the Na’vi or will they be unable to separate themselves from technology that has dominated their lives to date?  Will Jake Sully, having forsaken his human body and transferred mind and soul into his avatar permanently, be feeling any psychological repercussions of such a completely unique experience in human evolution?  With their clad leader Eytukan and his successor Tsu’Tey both dead, will a simple grunt like Sully be able to handle the responsibility of leading the Na’vi tribe?  Most pressingly of all, will the humans come back to Pandora for seconds?

    If Cameron wants to continue the not too subtly disguised parallels with the Iraq war then this story has the Na’vi as a substitute for the USA.  They feel threatened by an enemy whose intentions they don’t understand and feel the need to take pre-emptive action, and create a climate of fear to justify it.  Sully knows that, with there being no Na’vi advocates among those returning to Earth, it is likely the story of the Pandoran occupation will be spun by the company into a horrific tale of how a group of noble humans tried to find a way to save their race and encountered a race of malicious creatures determined to exterminate them.  Based on that, who knows what the military forces on Earth will decide to do.  And on Pandora, the Na’vi clan leaders are pondering the exact same thing as the human race; in order to protect their people, is it necessary to strike at the enemy before they have a chance to plan another attack.  What is going to make this potent is that these issues will be debated on the Na’vi side exclusively.  This accomplishes two things.  First, we finally get to see more depth to the Na’vi characters.  Rather than being portrayed as a group of pure souls, completely content with their lives, we get to see that they are capable of the same aggression and fear that drives human beings into conflict and war.  The Na'vi have only learned such concepts because of what the humans did to them in the first film.  Secondly, it allows the audience to feel that same fear, and ignorance, if we don’t keep cutting back to the humans on Earth and therefore don’t know what their plans are.

    Of course, the Na’vi are not scientific and military minded in their fear.  They are a deeply spiritual people and so the comparables to be drawn are to the wars of our own history spawned from religion and faith and marching blindly into conflict because "God wills it".  We are told in the first film, after Sully prays to Eywa, the Na’vi deity, that she does not take sides in conflict but merely protects the balance of nature.  However, on the edge of defeat in the final battle against the military forces, Eywa answered Sully’s call and rallied all of Pandora’s wildlife to turn the tide.  Clearly, she does take sides.  In fact Eywa’s intervention at that critical moment is the excuse which will be used by all those on Pandora pushing for war as the perfect excuse for it.

    And chief among them is Moat, Neytiri’s mother and spiritual leader of the Na'vi.

    It’s always interesting in sequels if you are able to take characters, whom you already have knowledge of, even an attachment to, in a completely unexpected direction.  I still remember the disappointment I felt with the Matrix sequels when they dropped the ball on that.  In the second film, it looked as though they were taking Lawrence Fishburne’s character down a dark path, making him out to be a dangerous and unpredictable fanatic rather than the brilliant and inspiring leader we initially thought him to be.  Instead of taking that character arc to its natural conclusion, the filmmakers wimped out and neutered him in the third movie. The character of Morpheus was perfect to turn into a villain (well flawed loony, callhim what you will) because of the clout he had with the population of Zion who practically saw him as the city’s voice and the voice of their faith.  If he told them to head out on a suicide march to the machine city, they would have done it.

    Moat is in that same position in Avatar’s universe.  As the film says, she interprets the will of Eywa.  What if the events of the first film have actually scarred her emotionally to the point where she actually is incapable of understanding that will?  After all, she had to deal with the death of her husband and the destruction of  Hometree at the same time.  She is still the high mother of the people and is stillexpected to fulfill that role so she feels the need to put on the pretense of still speaking for the Na’vi God.  So when Moat says to her people that they need to take the fight to the humans before they have a chance to invade Pandora again, its all based on her own fears not only of what could happen in the future but out of duty and responsibility, and of failure.  In times of uncertainty, the Na’vi are alllooking to her for the right decision.  She doesn’t suddenly turn into a villain.  She just ends up on the wrong path, a path of no return and her actions drive a wedge right inbetween not only the humans left on Pandora and the Na’vi, but also Sully and Neytiri.

    The humans, such as Norm and Max, have the opportunity to be far more fully realized characters in the sequel (instead of just filler) because of the position they are in.  We never get to find out exactly how they feel about abandoning Earth to its fate to stay on Pandora.  What is interesting to note is that the humans who were forced off-planet have clearly left in their wake, at least a partial amount of the technology and the facilities that they built on Pandora; labs, guns and even space craft.  Unable to detach themselves from technology, and cursed with that affliction which curses all movie scientists, their knowledge and wisdom exceeds their grasp.  Norm and Max believe that if they are able to integrate their way of life with the Na'vi, given time, they can be the first to establish a human colony on Pandora and create a world that both races can share; maybe even save the population of Earth.  As it turns out, all they are doing is giving the Na'vi the tools they need to exterminate the entire human race.

    Meanwhile, Neytiri’s need to be loyal to her mother (being that she will be the next in line to the position of spiritual mother) puts her in direct conflict with Sully who, though having become one of the Na’vi, has not entirely lost his humanity.  This lone hero is once again facing impossible odds to do the right thing.  He is determined to find a peaceful resolution to this conflict.  What becomes interesting about it is that Sully has almost become a deity to the Na'vi in his own way.  He is a human re-incarnated in a Na'vi body and he did the unfathomable in conquering the Leonopteryx (that is big ass winged thing to you and me) in, admittedly, one of the dumbest plot devices in the first film.  It never looks up eh?

    So with Moat speaking for Eywa advocating war with humanity and Sully opposing it, we have a conflict of God against God, and all of the Na'vi tribes must choose which side they are on.  It is a choice which will tear them apart forever.  That is, if they come back to Pandora at all.  With the knowledge now in hand to pilot the ships left behind on Pandora, the Na'vi clans, both for and opposing war, prepare to fly to Earth and begin the conflict that will, visually, take the audience into completely new territory.  Some of the most impressive sequences in Avatar where those small glimpses where human actors and practical environments where seamlessly integrated with computer generated Na'vi.  Just imagine a whole film of that, on whatever future Earth James Cameron has in his head, with twenty times the action of the first movie.  Start booking those IMAX tickets now folks.

    But, as I said at the beginning of this piece, I’d rather James Cameron made ‘Battle Angel’ instead.  The only compromise would seem to be if Cameron wrote and produced Avatar 2 and handed the directing duties to someone else.  Somehow, however, I can’t see ‘Avatar 2: a Kathryn Bigelow/Steven Soderbergh film’ on the poster.  Cameron created this sandbox and he’s not about to let anyone else play in it.  We’ll see how it turns out.

    …actually he should skip doing ‘Battle Angel’ and pick up the rights to ‘Robotech’.  James Cameron is the only director on the planet whom a studio would trust with the amount of money it will take to make that into a film.  And if he made Robotech he could cast a pop singer as Linn Minmei (the fictional pop singer in the story).  Then him and James Horner would have an excuse to put terrible songs in their films.

    Hmmmm, sounds like I’ve got another article to write.  See you next time.

    Reader Comments (1)

    I like your idea. I mentioned in an Avatar discussion that Cameron should consider Navi antagonists and human protagonists in the next movie. That said, I'm not sure he has it in him. All of Cameron's plots are fairly black and white, his characters none to deep. I'm guessing we'll get more of that next time.

    01-29-2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Fry

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