Friday, March 25, 2011

Avatar: The power of Editing

I loved the Avatar Theater release . I thought it was a perfect screenplay, in structure. It was the classic "Stanger comes to town" - or planet- story. Jake Sully, the main character, had a perfect character arc, emotionally and literally transformed from a wheel chair bound ex marine with "Born Loser" tattooed on his arm in the beginning to becoming the leader and savior of an entire race of people fighting an oppressive foe.

I have a thing for "going Native" stories- like THE LAST SAMARI starring Tom Cruise and DANCES WITH WOLVES, starring Kevin Costner, but Avatar, even apart from the high and new technology, was a well balanced structured story.

Then I got the deluxe DVD which had all that extra stuff - all the how it was made, deleted scenes and Director's cut and I think the story of AVATAR entirely changed, maybe the studios can give us "behind the scene" junkies too much information.

More often than not, Director cut's just illustrate why certain scenes do not have to be in the final movie. Overall time, not moving the story forward and repetitive information might be the main reasons why scenes end up on the cutting room floor, but reality is that film is, unlike novels, "an economy of words and images"- less is definitely more- more for the imagination and in film that is a good thing.

But I have never watched a Director's Cut that more drastically changed the whole flavor of a movie, in my opinion even the character's motivations, as James Cameron's Director's Cut of AVATAR.

The Director's cut, starts way back on planet Earth, an Earth not recognizable. A filthy city, "with no green" and mixes of East and West cultures, where people cannot breath and have to wear masks. There is too much information and I think it pushed AVATAR into pure Sci Fi, where a person could watch it guilt free, never thinking about what we are doing to our planet, cause we are no way near the Earth they depicted.

Jake being a "born loser" is played out on the screen, with nothing left up to the imagination. he is drunk in a bar, full of self loathing, but tries to save a girl and is thrown into an alley, wheelchair and all, where the agents find him and take him to see his dead brother.

I think just knowing Jake dreamed of flying while in the VA Hospital paralyzed , that his brother was killed for the money in his wallet and Jake could take his place on Pandora and had to watch his brother cremated in a cardboard box really is all the back story we need and keeps that "Stanger comes to Town," mystic. Truth is if we don't know so much about a character's background, we can more see ourselves in them and are that much more pulled in.

Much of the First Act that did get cut for the Theater release and then put back in for the Director's Cut, was explanation of back story - Neytiri's older sister being killed at Dr. Augustine's school and relationships- there was quite a hot and heavy thing between Norm and Trudy in the modular while they were waiting around with nothing to do. Might be interesting, but these extra tidbits can bog the story down. To quote the writers from another well packed DVD Extra Behind the Scenes multi-disc set- One must always "follow the Ring"

The biggest difference in the two version, I think is that Jake from the Director's cut, with all that back story, felt different than the Jake I had emotionally attached myself to in the movie theater- oh my- could that be taken wrong! I mean it felt like his motivations weren't quite right, where when I didn't have the knowledge of his back story- it didn't matter, I filled things in myself. It was kind of like reading a novel and creating the character in your head and then being sorely disappointed in the movie version of that said character, they never stand up do they?

For example there apparently was a rather involved scene of Jake's Vision Quest, before he was welcomed by the People, helped along the way by a biting scorpion-ish creature- where his connection to the Toruk is reveled for him- I like that I didn't know that when he dive bombed from his perch onto the great creature.

The only scene, I thought would of fit into the original version and was curious about was how Avatars make love, wondered if Cameron had to leave it out to keep the PG rating- would love to of heard that conversation behind the closed doors of the Ratings Board- about the nuisances of intertwined....well check out the new DVD set.

In ACT Three an even more disturbing revel in the Directors Cut is Cameron's exploration of mercy killing- apparently the fall from the bomber did not kill Tsu'tey and part of the passing from one leader to the other was for Jake to mercy kill "his brother."

I would of just thought that was an unnecessary and somewhat disturbing addition into an otherwise good story if not for the fact that earlier this year I humored my husband and went to see SANTUM, produced by Cameron.
The movie is set against a tropical wilderness that looks like the beginning reference footage for the animators of Avatar and is about stupid divers exploring an unmapped cave system, putting themselves in peril and with I think no less than three mercy killings- That would be four mercy killings for Cameron in a given year- hummmm? One can only help wondering- does he have an agenda- or being the hard realist that I think he is- was he tired of unrealistic, romantic ends in the wilderness and had something to say about that. Do I doubt what has been done on the side of Mt.Everest or deep in the Amazon when there is NO Search and Rescue nearby to end a companions suffering- No. Do I think we need to explore it in film like that- No.

Back to DVD set, the mock ups, rough animations included like the Vision Quest were interesting, including one at the end, that hinted at a baby Sully on the way. I love all that stuff, along with the more nuts and bolts of exactly how it was made. The costume and prop section was fascinating the detail they made the jewelry and weapons to be able to scan them and create them on a computer so realistically.

But I got to say if the theater version had been like the Director's cut- AVATAR would of been a different movie. Pushed farther to the Left, it would have alienated more people- wisely Cameron decided to keep the movie focused on One agenda- Global Warming- and leave out Mercy Killings and well how blue babies are exactly made.

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