Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"AVATAR" - Coming to Broadway soon.....!!

Let me just preface this by saying I'm not a film reviewer. But every once in awhile I have to weigh in an a film because it is so good I want the world to know about it. Or it enters the cultural zeitgeist in such a way that it has the potential to impact the filmmaking community in obvious and unforseen ways. The latter is obviously true of "Avatar".

"Avatar" is now the highest-grossing film of all time, bringing in nearly two billion dollars worldwide. So what's that got to with a low to no-budget indie filmmaker like myself? Well, I'll tell you...in just a bit.

First, about the movie itself. I posted the fact that I'd seen it on my Facebook page without commenting on it at all to see what other kind of responses were out there. They were very entertaining to say the least. Some were blown away by it and others hated it for a variety of reasons. A few landed somewhere in the middle. I'm one of the few.


I feel like a hypocrite because I saw the film with people who loved it and I shared in their enthusiasm. And it was genuine. For me, it was a terrific theatrical experience. As when I saw "Star Wars" in 1977, I enjoyed it immensely without needing it to be at the level of "art". And I recognized it as something capable of changing the face of the game. However, I happen to think "Star Wars" is a great film in its own way. I do not think "Avatar" is a great film in its own way, but rather, a great theatrical experience in its own way. The distinction is important. Therefore, unlike "Star Wars", I had a bit of a hangover from it all. The experience was like eating a really delicious, amazing and uniquely crafted gourmet donut. But in the end, it is still junk food. And the next morning, my stomach knew what I'd eaten.

It was a predictable and cliched story. The characters were generally one-dimensional. It was a familiar mingling of other film ideas/myths. The message was heavy-handed. And the whole thing eventual devolved into typically loud and preposterous action film climaxed by the mind-numbingly cliched villian vs. hero, mano a mano face-off. There is absolutely nothing in the film that you don't see coming from a hundred miles away. And although it commented on current social/environmental/spiritual issues, it doesn't speak to individual psychological impulses nor explore deeper, more complicated cultural myths and idealogies. It is a comic book, not a novel. So, given these issues, it is a tribute to the filmmaking skill involved that the movie was still entertaining, engrossing and even moving in parts. At least it was for me that first time I saw it - in Imax 3-D.

And that's part of the larger point. Watching the film in 3D at an Imax theater created a visually stunning, breathtakingly immersive experience that the calculated accessibility of the film perfectly complimented. I don't know that I could watch some of my favorite films in this way without experiencing an untenable level of discomfort. All of these cliched and predictable elements were woven with such consummate skill and confidence and packaged with such stunning visual grandiosity that the movie became more than a movie. It achieved the pinnacle of Hollywood glory. It became an event. And the box office return is the appropriate validation of that accomplishment.

So, again, what has this got anything to do with us "little" filmmakers who are lucky if we manage to sell 200 DVDs online? Well, I'll tell you my concern and my hope. My concern is that, like Broadway plays, films at all levels will start to become less and less about exploring the art of the medium and more about creating an event. As it is, I've heard one-too-many indie film distribution seminars about audience-building for a film that depends on creating a world beyond the bounds of the film itself - often incorporating the concpet of something called "transmedia". A term, which I confess, terrifies me for no definable reason. It is indeed amazingly difficult to get people out of their comfortable media-viewing habits and out to see small, untried films - or even in to see them. And the internet can be an amazingly effective - if used intelligently and innovatively - in bringing small films to the attention of its potential audience. But do we really need to create online communities, interactive games, marketing tie-ins, music festivals, fireworks displays and all kinds of other stuff just to interest people in our films? Will our no-budget films have to be shot in 3-D? Those capabilities already exist according to my friend Eric Kurland (3D@workprint.com), an indie 3-D pioneer. Will it need to have obvious merchandising opportunities? Will it have to be franchisable? Must it be able to easily translate to the Broadway stage?

What if the "event" was simply the brilliance of the idea/execution?

I don't mean to sound naive. I know it takes more than a brilliant film to generate meaningful audience response. And personally, I would love to see great, low-budget 3-D films. That Eric is exploring ways to make that more accessible is fantastic. But truly, here's my hope: That the success of "Avatar" drives the bigger studios farther under the big top - that tent pole movies become the way of all their filmmaking. That they stop mucking around with "indie film" and leave it those who truly care about it. And that in response to that, and to service the emerging counter-audience, new companies will emerge to address the hunger for more sensitive, psychologically honest, more creatively challenging and more thematically daring filmmaking. And indie filmmakers, knowing that they cannot begin to compete with these tent pole movies, focus on what they know they can do - which is bring an original creative vision to their films. And as the tent pole movies develop new technologies and those technologies are handed down in less expensive form to indie filmmakers, we can aspire to create "Avatar"'s ambitious visual universe on a smaller scale and apply it to stories and ideas that are as fresh and distinctive as each of us are as human beings.

Please don't wake me up.

All that said. You should see "Avatar", if you are one of the 3 people that haven't seen it, yet. In a theater. In Imax 3-D, if possible. It is a great theatrical experience. Or, if you want, a real 3-D experience, wait to see it on Broadway. Because it's a-comin' there,...I'm sure of it.....