Monday, 21 December 2009

Hollywood Babble On & On #418: A Post Where I List Reasons Why

Welcome to the show folks...


That's right, News Corp and its benevolent tyrant Rupert Murdoch has pulled out of the auction for the future of MGM, citing the "restrictive" conditions of the non-disclosure agreement for their withdrawal.

Now MGM has the non-disclosure agreement because they don't want all their inside information scattered to the four winds by a potential suitor. They don't want that information all over the place because the creditors and investors behind MGM want to use this auction to test whether they can get a better return on their money by selling off the pieces, or by keeping the company for themselves and trying to make a go of it.

Now there are two possible reasons for News Corp's withdrawal.

1. The folks behind News Corp, who already own 20th Century Fox, may not believe that MGM library (it's biggest, best asset) is worth the hassle and expense, and have dropped out of the auction, using the non-disclosure agreement as their excuse.

2. Someone inside the MGM investor/creditor coalition that crafted the conditions of the non-disclosure agreement, is trying to make the process as unpleasant as possible, in the hope that it will drive off suitors, collapse the price, and enable their faction, or its backers, to sweep in and get MGM for itself without the competition.

What do you think?


James Cameron's CGI-Mo-Cap orgy Avatar is currently raking in the mega-bucks all over the world, and might squeeze in a justification for its current spot as the most expensive film ever made by eventually turning a profit.

But I can say pretty well that none of that money will be mine.

I just can't bring myself to see it.


Let me count the ways.


I pretty much had the entire plot and characters figured out be looking at some stills a few months ago.

Sure the technology is magical, and miraculous, and the visuals will make your brain burst from all the wonderfulness, but that don't move me at all. When I see a movie I expect a story. I don't care if you can individually render each blade of grass, and created 17 new shades of blue just for the Na'vi's digital backsides, if you don't have any potential to surprise me, you will only bore me.

Why have the military guy and the businessmen be the ultimate villains? Sure the American military/industrial complex is the default villain for the baby-boom generation of filmmakers, but that cliche has been done to death. Why not try a twist, introduce a third party, maybe a rival alien race, a clan of rebellious Na'vi who want the mineral for themselves, or something, anything, that actually requires narrative, rather than visual imagination?

He could have broken away from the "Dances with Smurfs" cliches and made it a film about a planet and a people that realize that the galaxy is bigger than they are, and that they must adapt, without losing their cultural heart, or die. The humans could be desperate, not only for the mineral, but to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, which I suspect they would be 145 years into the future, hence the Avatar Program. Meanwhile some hostile force wants them all to fail, in the hope that it will lead to their mutual destruction. It could have been a richer, and more morally nuanced story, but since story comes second to visual technology, that opportunity was lost, and Cameron just slapped together some cliches to give him an excuse to use all the contents of his CGI tickle trunk.


This is part of #1, but I think needs its own spot on the post. To
o many elements of the plot seem like major league contrivances to create the excuse for the movie's hero to "go native" and fight against those evil Earth people. I'm talking about things like:
  • Right now, I am talking about the present day, the United States Military is keeping soldiers who have lost limbs in combat on active duty. Does Cameron, honestly think that they would let a Marine remain crippled when the technology existed to repair him and send him back on duty? Even if you looked at it from a cold "numbers only" perspective, the cost of the surgery would have to cost as almost much as a James Cameron CGI budget to make it cost effective to recruit and train a new soldier over simply repairing an experienced veteran.
  • The film's mineral McGuffin "Unobtainium" not only has a really lame name , I would have just called it McGuffinite, but Cameron's deliberate refusal to explain what it does actually hurts the story. You see, you don't need to explain the McGuffin in a thriller involving criminals or spies, because you expect treachery from those kinds of people, and all you really need to know is that the contents of the briefcase are valuable, important, or dangerous. Avatar is based on the premise that seemingly ordinary people of the 22nd Century will be willing to commit genocide simply because a rock is considered valuable by someone. This is not a crook stealing a briefcase from another crook, it's a pretty big leap and needs a pretty big explanation.
  • Basically the premise of the film is also based on the concept that Earth will somehow achieve the ability of interstellar travel, but still be unable to negotiate a mutually beneficial trade pact. Come on, no matter how spiritually in tune someone is with their environment, there is always something they need to make their lives a little more better that comes from someone else. That's the reason why we start families, that create clans, that expand into tribes, that then build nations that go on to form civilizations.


If there is one thing that bugs me is when a wealthy man who lives a life of luxury spends millions, of other people's money, to tell ordinary people that their lifestyles are worthless in comparison to some mythical "noble savage" archetype that never really existed on this planet, and probably not any other planet either.

I can say pretty clearly that if Cameron had to really live like his blue creations he'd probably toss himself off the nearest floating mountain once he's realized that he can't access fanboys singing his praises on the internet. Of course that's only if he's not chewed up and shat out by one of his elegantly rendered CGI beasties, or even if he survives that, dying in agony from some minor injury that's beyond the ken of their primitive medicine.

Then there's the whole racial condescension factor.

There's practically an entire sub-genre of stories about white men going off to live among some variety of cultural or ethnic "other." Followed by learning their ways, falling in love, and declaring that their society is worthy of being led by a white man to save them from the other less noble white men.

That's a bit of a left-handed insult to just about all folks of the non-Caucasian persuasion, including blue aliens. Why can't a Na'vi lead the Na'vi against the evil humans?

Why can't the humans just tunnel under the sacred magic tree?

Or does that count as another plot hole?

I guess my biggest problem with this film is that it's the not only the result of 12 years of technological development, but also 12 years of no one being brave enough to say "no" to the man who made the $1.5 billion Titanic, which led him to believe that his every brain-fart was solid gold as long as he spent enough money on special effects for it.

Anyway, Avatar may break even on it's $300-$500 million budget, and might even make a profit, but not even that could make me want to sit through it.

I just can't do it.


  1. Blast Hardcheese22/12/09 9:49 am

    Thank you for putting in words what's been bugging me about a lot of sci-fi movies. "It's just like XYZ, only IN SPACE!" Except, that by setting it IN SPACE you've suddenly cut out the entire reason for the original XYZ plot.

    One example: 'Outland' is just 'High Noon' IN SPACE! Except that 'High Noon' was set in a normal town, with normal people who were sick of violence and who didn't want to get shot. Outland is set on a mining operation in orbit around Jupiter. This is an extreme environment, and anyone who doesn't have their head straight or who doesn't know what they're doing will get killed horribly by that environment.

    This is not a population of shrinking violets. And now you're telling me that Sean F'n Connery can't get a couple of tough, contrary b*stards to help him out? Please.

    The real Io mine would have been more like Luna in RAH's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress". Full of competent and very polite people who, if you screw with them, will hand you your backside. With ketchup.

  2. High Noon always sort of bugged me, because I thought its desire for metaphor about McCarthyism kind of ruined what would have been the reality.

    I mean no one in town said to Will Kane: "I'll be up on the roof with my Winchester, and if those three guys just happened to drop dead, then I reckon it would be just a coincidence."

  3. D, you are too good for this world.

    A lot of your article reminded me about my rant on "recycling" plot elements I wrote about here.

    I mean, what is the deal with the wheelchair guy? (the more I learned the less sense it makes) His brother was the original Avatar runner? Why? Why not just start with the wheelchair protagonist running an avatar? (drop the twin)

    And on this WHOLE freaking world this rare ore is only in ONE spot? They can't just go to the other side and get it? (not to mention, if it's under a sacred tree, how do they know? advance scanning? Why then can't they find more elsewhere?) They can't find it on other worlds? It has to be on other worlds because otherwise it wouldn't be valuable.

    You're right. Cameron could have done something really original. Even better, he could have used our expectations of "Dances with Smurfs" to actually surprise us (the Na'vi really suck, or there is a 3rd alien species, or...) but no... he didn't. Thinking about how this one movie cost more than the 3 LotR films just makes me sad. Heck, me & you with $500 mil could have made something really cool and unique.

    Debbie Schlussel said the whole thing was just like Battle for Terra which... makes things even more sad.

  4. Blast Hardcheese22/12/09 3:37 pm

    Good point on just using the wheelchair guy, Nate. Actually, there was an old Poul Anderson story (Call Me Joe) where the avatar was being run by a guy in a wheelchair (this caused some issues later on in the story, but that's getting close to spoilers and I'll shut up).

    I am also really, really sick of the cliche of "this is the only place in the universe we can find the rare and valuable spice/ore/floorwax/dessert topping". Yeah, Frank Herbert did it well, but he's dead and it's old. Get. A. New. Plot. Idea.

  5. It is the anti-technology hippie crap that make we want to see the boomers all die off so my generation can take over and I can stop seeing this shit on the screen.

    There is a reason why we have all these technological advances, because life in the 19th century and earlier SUCKED THE SWEAT OFF OF A DEAD MANS DICK!

    They forget that these back to nature primitive types had shorther lifespans due to the fact that they were usually one days away from starving to death, and died from diseases that our modern medicine laughs at.

    It reminds of of the Dolphin episode of Penn and teller's BULLSHIT! There was a hippy couple that was so distrustful of modern hospitals that they would rather give birth in the middle of the ocean with dolphins.

    last time a checked women bleed during labor and blood in the ocean
    tends to attract SHARKS.

  6. Good point on just using the wheelchair guy, Nate. Actually, there was an old Poul Anderson story (Call Me Joe) where the avatar was being run by a guy in a wheelchair (this caused some issues later on in the story, but that's getting close to spoilers and I'll shut up).

    I remember hearing about that from Topless Robot. What's even worse is it sounded like the original story was BETTER than Avatar.

    I am also really, really sick of the cliche of "this is the only place in the universe we can find the rare and valuable spice/ore/floorwax/dessert topping". Yeah, Frank Herbert did it well, but he's dead and it's old. Get. A. New. Plot. Idea.

    Oh wow, I just realized that's a major plot hole of Dune. Spice is needed for space travel. Spice is only found on one world in the known universe.

    Um... how did people get from earth to this world to get the spice they'd need for space travel in the first place?

    Ugh, think people!

  7. Jake Was Here22/12/09 7:29 pm

    Nate: The Butlerian Jihad (which resulted in the destruction and prohibition of AIs in the Dune universe) didn't happen until after Arrakis was discovered. The spice was originally the Spacing Guild's fallback solution, but eventually they realized it was the only one that was guaranteed to work.

    I can't believe I know this shit.

  8. It isn't just the fact Avatar is another anti-corporate POS film. But a hypocritical one. For a film that is about back to nature, noble savage hippyshit, it sure has no problem having a McDonalds Big Mac Meal.

    You Know Mc'd the COMPANY OF EVIL. They make our kids fat serving genetically modified beef sandwiches raised on land form lowed down rainforests.

    That alone is why I will not see this film. I am pro commercialism and for making a buck. If you are all If you are anticapitalist, your film should not be plastered on Big mac containers.

    In a way Jame Cameron is actually sticking his middle finger at all this hippy white guilt bullshit.

    That is almost in line with sacred Subgenius teachings set forth by JR "BOB" DOBBS.

  9. Blast Hardcheese22/12/09 9:38 pm

    Okay, enough bitterness from me. Wanna see something cool?

    Hubble Telescope seeing the formation of new planetary systems around stars in the Orion Nebula.


  10. Looking Glass7/1/10 2:48 am

    Poul Anderson's "Call Me Joe". Great story when I first read it many years ago. Still a great story now.

    Alien Resurrection also had a wheelchair bound guy in an action movie.

    Avatar is just recycling Rudyard Kipling's "White Man's Burden."

    Furious, you need to go see Avatar, and hand out copies of the poem while standing in line for it.

    More excellent discussion of this phenomenon in "What These People Need Is a Honky"