Dear Mr. James Cameron,
First, I would like to congratulate you on getting the project off the ground. I know this was a deeply personal project and I wanted to respond to it in a deeply personal way. Also, the film had a very large impact on me before you had completed one frame.
You see, in the late nineties and early….aughts (we have to come up with a better name) there was a very popular website called “Corona’s Coming Attractions.” It still exists, somewhere, but is a shadow of its former self. What they specialized in was updating and presenting the various rumors associated with projects in development. One of the longest was for an intriguing film you had written called “Avatar.” Do keep in mind, many of these rumors presented were from before the days in which your Titanic was released. This website taught me all about the development process of film and forced me to learn about the various directors, screenwriters, and even cinematographers and special effects companies that existed. And I always remembered the page on Avatar. Could actors be replaced in the way you desired, I would ponder endlessly. Whenever the film was made, it would change history.
Well, Mr. Cameron, now it is here. And you have succeeded in your primary goal; that is, you have created a completely artificial world that looks more realistic than ever before. You have proven yourself to be an expert craftsman and one who can still explore new territory. I saw the movie in 3D. I have avoided it in the past because I thought it would be little more than a gimmick. You have proven just what the technology can do. I cannot recommend seeing the film in 3D enough to my friends. The special effects are nothing short of incredible.
I must ask a question of you, Mr Cameron. Suppose a benevolent alien race came to visit the planet Earth and wished to know all about our culture. We had to choose a piece of literature to show the aliens all about our culture. What would you choose? The Illiad, perhaps? Maybe the works of Shakespeare? The Mahabrata? Don Quixote? Well, Mr. Cameron, to show us your new alien world, you have selected a work of literature on par with Go Dog Go.
Alright, this is a little unfair. Your script is not a complete failure. But it is so full of cliches that have been tired since writing began, themes that have been explored before in much better detail, and such bizarre leaps of logic that I wonder why you thought it was original.
One item I must directly ask you about is the avatars themselves. Why do they exist? I asked this question of the people I went to see the movie with and nary a one of them could give me a straight answer. We are told that the Avatars are used to help humans interact with a race called the Na’vi, and that the human mind is essentially transferred into a genetically modified body of the alien race. The Na’vi civilization is rested on a large deposit of a valuable mineral (which you have “creatively” named unobtainium) and the humans are sent in to find a diplomatic solution. Your main character spies on the Na’vi while learning all about their culture and eventually becoming entranced by it.
OK. But your script also shows that the humans in the Avatars are useless at communication. Your main character knows none of the local customs and is ignorant of the language. In short, useless as a diplomat. He is immediately guessed as a human. Even the others who have received training do not seem to fit in. So why use alien bodies that do not appear to maintain any sort of illusion? I have an answer that I will explain later.
That was the most notable aspect of the script. Of course I must also take issue with how over the top you have taken the film thematically. This is obviously a parallel to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Nothing wrong with this. In fact, many science fiction masterpieces (Frank Herbert’s Dune) have used the conflicts in the Middle East as a starting point for an epic story. But that science fiction was subtle and made people think. Yours is bombastic and barely gives people any reason too. You commit a cardinal sin-you TELL people what to think rather than giving them something to think about.
I think the problem, Mr Cameron, is that you do not like working with people. That is why you used Avatars in the film-it offered you a good replacement for working with people. Your most compelling characters have always been artificial. It’s bizarre to say that your most human character was a killer robot. Your multi award winning Titanic won nothing for its acting or its script at the Oscars. You were more focused on the detail of the effects than on the humanity of the characters. The film contains no memorable acting or memorable characters. We may remember how they look, but we will never remember how they act.
In closing, Mr Cameron, I have not come to completely condemn you. You are a technician first and foremost, and in that regards you have no peers in the industry. You have plenty of peers when it comes to your scripts. Next time, may I recommend using them? Your film will be better for it.
The Corner Critic