Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dissecting Avatar

Okay, chances are you've seen the movie Avatar by now. If you haven't, chances are you will if yo like Sci Fi movies, or just see all the summer blockbusters.  There's a lot going on here, including some awesome special affects, so the movie is worth seeing.  My question is: could it have been better?

First off there are a lot of premises we must dismiss, if you , like me, like to analyze things too much.  As a writer and creator, I haven't had the opportunity to work on anything this large, with so many people involved.  We all know that when Studio heads and money people get involved, they all like to give their opinions on how 'their' movies should be made.  Having no creative or artistic sense does not stop them from calling the shots.  With that in mind, I will not blame James Cameron for any of the movies shortcomings.

Any SciFi Geek is going to have similar initial concerns with this film.  First off, we travel a few solar systems away (not too many because the journey only takes 6 years!) and what do we find? Humanoids that are next generation aliens from the original Star Trek series!  Yes, 2 eyes, a nose, the whole bilateral symmetry thing.  Just blue skin and a tail.... so Star Trek, huh?  Now here is where a problem comes in.  I only saw the film once, but it sure looked like every other creature on Pandora has 4 arms, two legs, and 4 eyes!!  Why are the Pandorans so different, and so much like us?  Well, Jean Luc Picard may suggest that once upon a time an alien race spread genetic seeds across the galaxy, or maybe some other outside force stepped in to change the evolution of the Pandorans.

Fine.  You don't need to worry about genetics and evolution to enjoy this film, but these things give me pause.  Next!  On this planet we find an impossible element that we absolutely must have because it is very expensive!  Okay, that's baby talk for what they should have pointed out instead, which is that this is a rock that obviously defies gravity!  Now, it probably can never exist, but lets move beyond that as well.  A rock like that would revolutionize the entire transport industry, including space travel.  So yeah, it's special. Unfortunately, the largest deposit of it just happens to be beneath the home of our friendly indiginous species.

Okay, so if you've watched a handful of movies in the last 50 years, you've already seen this plot half a dozen times.   Nice Aliens live on land rich in resources, so bad military types come and push them off said land using excessive force.  Now, the first 50 times we saw this plot we cheered the Writers for being so brave to show parallels with the conquest of the United States, and how, even after we pushed the natives onto reservations, we pushed them again when those reservations were found to have oil or anything else we wanted.  As important as it is to remember History to avoid repeating it, well.... we've seen it before.  And how do military types feel being portrayed as the bad guys in a film like this?

Okay, so let's move beyond the premise, plot, and background and go to the love story.  Again, I honestly think they babied things too much, or left to much for us to assume.  Like the floating rock, I think there should have been more emphasis on the fact that Jake has been in a wheel chair for a long time, and now, in his Avatar, can run, skip, and jump again. Yes, we do see this for 2 minutes in the film, but here we go again... young man meets young alien girl and falls in love.... not just with her but with her culture, people, and planet.  These things happen, but would he really give up cheeseburgers and video games to live in the woods and talk to trees?  Honestly?  I think there should have been more emphasis on the time he spent with the tribe, getting to know them.  There is a hint that he's met several other girls in the village, and it is said that he spent several months with these people, but we don't see this, and therefor don't understand just how much he's seen and heard and experienced.  Sure, it must be cool as heck to ride flying reptiles and stuff, but there has to be more to it than that.

At the end, we get the hint that some humans will remain on Pandora, and so maybe Jake will still have a place to go when culture shock sets in and he really needs some earthing up, which will happen eventually.  Heck, my third trip to India gave me moments of basket casing, where I needed 'normal' settings to just sit in and catch my breath... and I love India.  Culture shock happens.

All right, so let's cut this short.  As a Fairy Tale this works pretty well....a morality play thinly disguised as an alien world.  There's enough familiar here that the audience gets what's going on without being overwhelmed by the alienness of it all.  The special affects are incredibly awesome, and the night scenes of the forest alone are worth the price of admission.  Truly this is state of the art, and I wish I had seen it on the big screen, instead of dvd.  The dvd, by the way, has no extras.  Long story...

This is a movie worth seeing just for the fun of a blockbuster film.   As a writer, yes, I would have done things differently.  I would have aimed for a smarter film, but that's just me.  Overall it was well acted, and beautifully done.  Except for the bad guy.  Couldn't we have had some back story, so we could understand why he's such a jackass?  I mean, c'mon.  Really?  Why can't bad guys have more depth?

Cheers,    JOHN :0)

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Press Release: Once Upon A Times... the Early Comic Strips of John Steventon

Press Release: Once Upon A Times... the Early Comic Strips of John Steventon
For Immediate Release: April 10, 2010

John Steventon and HappyGlyphs Comics are very proud to announce a brand new comic strip collection, Once Upon A Times... the Early Comic Strips of John Steventon.  As the title implies, this is a collection of John Steventon's early work.  John is best known for his two comic strips Knight and Day and The Inquiring Minds, and this book explores the origins and evolution of these two comic strips and the characters that reside within.  "This book explores my growth as a Cartoonist," John says, "and follows my various attempts at newspaper Syndication.  There is a lot of fun stuff for the casual reader, and a good deal of valuable information for anyone wanting to learn about the craft of Cartooning."

Basically, the book is made up of chapters defined by John's various attempts at newspaper syndication.  Each chapter contains a new comic strip, and starts out with material submitted to Syndicate Editors.  This includes plot synopsis, character sketches, and cover letters, as well as the strips themselves.  Also included is John's thoughts on the strips, comments received from Editors, and other hard earned information as to why a strip wasn't picked up, and what could have been done better.

The strips are not the stinkers you may expect from a Cartoonist just starting out. "Actually," John says, "I left out my really early stuff, and my attempts at magazine cartooning.  What is here, though, are the origins of my more popular characters, and their evolution through various looks and even name changes.  Some of the early chapters may be a little rough, but I think the humour is very good, and surprisingly there's some nice art here."  By rough, the Cartoonist explained that his early material doesn't follow the standards of the newspaper comics page. "I didn't use the character's names in every strip, and my first strip was an adventure that needed a bigger platform to tell its story than a comic strip.  The reader may wonder what the heck is going on at times, but I do give a synopsis to get things started, and hopefully I can be forgiven for stumbling through my first attempts at Cartooning".

Over all, there is a nice progression to the book.  As the Cartoonist learns from his mistakes, the strips get better and easier to follow, and will hopefully leave the reader wanting more.  For that, the reader can turn to John's first book, Take Me Away From All This!!, a Knight and Day comic strip collection.  Knight and Day was created immediately after the completion of the strips in Once Upon A Times..., and this new book serves as a delightful prequel to Knight and Day as well as The (new and improved) Inquiring Minds that soon followed.

Once Upon A Times... is a must for any fan of HappyGlyphs Comics, and anyone interested in developing a comic strip of their own.  Once Upon A Times... will be available through HappyGlyphs Comics, and Click the store name to visit that site.

Iris Knight, April 10, 2010