Playing up the humanity of ‘Avatar’

Posted by · 9:28 am · October 28th, 2009

Sam Worthington in AvatarAll eyes on on the big four, films that have yet to screen but expect to play a heavy hand in the Oscar race: “Invictus” (which debuted a poster and a trailer recently), “The Lovely Bones” (which has screened internally at Paramount and is almost finished), “Nine” (which has been beginning to get a look from publicists involved, who have nothing but ecstatic things to say, of course) and “Avatar” (which no one has seen).

It is interesting to note the latter’s intriguing grip on the anticipation.  I just had a conversation yesterday with a studio head who expects it to go pretty far in the race.  The overall feeling seems to be, unless it’s a stone-cold turkey, it will be a formidable contender, genre be damned.  “I wouldn’t bet against that guy,” the studio head said of director James Cameron (who was recently profiled at great length in the pages of The New Yorker).

It is also interesting to note that, as a new trailer for the film that highlights some of the more dramatic moments of the film plays in theaters, this LA Times piece (sneaked on writer Geoff Boucher’s Hero Complex blog) has quotes from both Cameron and star Sam Worthington announcing a desire for story over substance.

Here’s Cameron:

I’ll go to a ‘Transformers’ film for the fun of seeing the spectacle,” Cameron said, “but, personally, my soul craves a little more story, a little more meat on the bone and characters and that sort of thing.

And Worthington:

If you’re going to do blockbusters, you have to find the human in them or else you’re just making a video game…I’ve always said if I’m going to make these things, I’m going to do the thing I can do in a $4-million Australian film — a dramatic piece — and bring that into the action film. If you do that, the audience feels it and then they’ve got a way in. They see themselves up there on the screen.

The only way into the race, I feel, is if the conversation continues to be framed like this.  “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” is always pointed to as a sign that the Academy is willing to reward genre when necessary, but it’s clear that 2003 sweep was owed to a major event in the history of cinema.

Will “Avatar” be a similar event?  Time will tell, though it is certainly in danger of buckling under the pressures of hype.  Maybe a strategy of highlighting the humanity behind the project will kill two birds with one stone by playing down the spectacle (i.e., most easily hyped) elements and playing up the elements that, when you look at memorable cinema, tend to stand out.

→ 14 Comments Tags: , , | Filed in: Daily

14 responses so far

  • 1 10-28-2009 at 10:28 am

    Christian said...

    If the film delivers like I hope it does, I’d definitely say it could be a potential Oscar contender.

  • 2 10-28-2009 at 10:32 am

    rafa said...

    does anyone knows why haven’t they uploaded the theatrical trailer yet?

  • 3 10-28-2009 at 10:39 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Thus far the spectacle of the film hasn’t been highlighted at all. Except for the 3D revolution which is a more technical story. Even the 20 minute preview had a lot of character moments. I understand the comic-con crowd saw a lot more of the battle(s)?
    So it’s being downplayed a lot with the ads for regular joe. At least that’s how I feel it is being done.

  • 4 10-28-2009 at 10:40 am

    Marshall said...

    I’m sorry, but “Avatar” just doesn’t excite me. I can’t help but get the feeling that it doesn’t have the hype to be as massive of a success as pundits and Cameron expect it to be.


  • 5 10-28-2009 at 10:52 am

    SHAAAARK said...

    Bleh. Cameron is an awful writer, though visually extremely talented. The hackneyed, obvious story and the overreliance on CGI will doom this. If any sci-fi film deserves a Best Picture nod, it’s District 9, an imaginative, original film signifying the emergence of a brilliant talent (or two, if Sharlto Copley makes good on his promise).
    Neither of the trailers work for me, and the hype seems manufactured.

  • 6 10-28-2009 at 11:11 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    The new trailer is worse than first. Aside from the effects still not looking like anything but a video game, we now get a sense of the plot and it couldn’t seem more boring or unoriginal.

  • 7 10-28-2009 at 11:11 am

    Brian said...

    I agree with Shaaaark about Cameron’s writing ability. I think he’s great at structure, hero’s journey, etc, but his dialogue is like ear-rape (including the Avatar preview).

  • 8 10-28-2009 at 11:22 am

    Loyal said...

    I wrote a similar article today about the remaining (mostly unseen) Fab Five. I guess its on everyone’s mind:

    I think the studio head you spoke to is correct and until we know otherwise, Avatar is in the race.

    The switch to 10 nominees, the need to make the Oscars big and important again, the need for a broadcast audience, that points to Avatar. Not Nine, not Up in the Air, not Precious.

  • 9 10-28-2009 at 12:15 pm

    Jason said...

    Hey Kris,
    I don’t know why you haven’t run a piece on this yet, but Screen Rant and Comic Book have a story about how Avatar may have been plagiarized. A book name “Call Me Joe” which was written in 1957 by Poul Anderson is has a strikingly similar plot line.

    Here is the Screen Rant link:

    Here is the link:

  • 10 10-28-2009 at 12:19 pm

    david said...

    I’m approaching this one with a completely open mind, and don’t want to judge it until i’ve experienced it first hand on the big screen.

    I was really disappointed by District 9 (in particular the final third of the film), though I was very impressed with the performance by Sharlto Copley.

  • 11 10-28-2009 at 12:24 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    i have faith in cameron, maybe the third in the series can win best picture

  • 12 10-28-2009 at 4:04 pm

    Alex said...

    Does anyone else think District 9 can get a place in the top ten if Avatar underwhelms?

  • 13 10-28-2009 at 4:11 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    no alex i dont, flying pigs tend to kill best picture chances

  • 14 10-28-2009 at 7:17 pm

    Alex said...

    Certainly killed Children of Men’s chances.