Welcome to our first ever Screen Rant debate forum!
Movies are a topic that fall into a category alongside politics, religion and pizza toppings as THE most disagreed upon subjects in the universe. And while politics, religion and pizza toppings are powder keg issues, only movies seem to split people on such individualistic levels; no matter how great of friends you are with someone, your cinematic opinions are going to fork down different roads at some point.
[WARNING THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!!]
Case in point: Yours truly and Screen Rant head honcho, Vic Holtreman. Over the holiday season Vic and I both saw Avatar and Sherlock Holmes (as did most of you reading this). While neither of us hated either film, there has been a serious debate raging behind the scenes as to which was the BETTER film. I say Avatar, Vic is dead set on Sherlock Holmes.
Out of respect for the name of our site, we thought we’d each take a moment to rant about our respective choices, why we made that choice, and why you, the readers, should agree.
It’s old-school town hall debating by two movie experts. Let’s get to it:
AVATAR (Kofi’s Pick)
At this point it’s almost funny that I even have to argue this: James Cameron’s Avatar is an epic success, not only recouping its massive production and marketing costs (upwards of $500 million), but making hand-over-fist profits that are tallied at $1 billion worldwide and counting. Most recently, Golden Gobe wins for Best Picture (Drama) and a Best Director award for James Cameron. You didn’t think Avatar would live up to the hype? Tell me now how that humble pie is tasting…
Oh, but wait, that’s right – “Box office totals mean nothing in terms of a movie’s quality.” Suuurrrrreeee guy – not even when the box office profits are so huge that it’s clear people are returning to the theater – sometimes two or three times – to watch the movie again? Ok, whatever, box office numbers mean nothing… How about the Golden Globe Awards, where Avatar took Best Picture and Best Director for the win?
So let’s talk about what does matter. I keep hearing this same ridiculous claim being made: “Avatar looked phenomenal, but man did the script/story suck! Totally predictable, not at all original!”
First rule of creative writing: all the great stories have already been told. “New” and “original” stories? They get built on the backs of the great stories that came before them. You can call that a cop out if you want, but for every “original” movie you claim to have seen, I’ll show you where they borrowed their idea(s) from. As I said, the great stories have already been told – the trick is dressing old stories up in fashionable new outfits (read: interpretations) every so often.
And Cameron certainly did that with Avatar. You might want to call it Pocahontas in space, but brother, Pocahontas never looked this spectacular and was never this big of a cultural phenomenon. As for the actual script? Guys, it’s an archetypal story! If you don’t know what that means, then for the love of god take a look at a list of the primary archetypal stories HERE. See if you can pick out the one that Avatar was drawn from.
In an archetypal story, characters aren’t meant to be fully developed individuals – they’re meant to be symbols of larger concepts or ideas. The point of an archetypal story is to relate those concepts and ideas in a way that is both familiar and not too heady, so that everybody – from the very young, to the very old, to the very stupid – can understand and extract the message. Cameron said upfront he was going for wide appeal with Avatar – not some smarter-than-thou niche film that only appealed to movie snobs aficionados. Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but wide appeal often requires a more simplistic approach to storytelling. Blame public schools and your own false expectations for that fact – not the guy who told you upfront what you would be getting.
In my opinion, Cameron did a good job of reaching and affecting the worldwide audience – so much so that there is actually a faction of people who are now suffering Avatar-related depression because this “gray Earth” we live on is nowhere near as beautiful as the luminescent jungles of Pandora. People are learning to speak Na’vi (skowng!), painting themselves blue, starting up ‘make Earth like Pandora’ environmental movements – Avatar is more than a film: it’s a cultural phenomenon. Is anybody, anywhere, even close to being THAT enamored with Sherlock Holmes???
As for Holmes, I’ll quickly tell you why I didn’t enjoy it as much as Avatar:
- Redundant plot – Holmes solves the case in the first 1/3 of the movie! Ritchie then uses cheap cinematic tricks to conjure a “supernatural mystery.”
- Redundant characterization – WE GET IT! Sherlock Holmes is good at observing and interpreting small details! How many “analytical flashbacks” do we need to see?
- Redundant dialogue – There are two conversations in this film: 1) “You have to pay attention to details.” 2) “Watson, you and I are like brothers.” Discuss for two hours.
- Redundant action – It’s great stuff to see…the first time. No so great when you have to watch the same fights over and over (Holmes visualizing combat techniques or battling that giant guy).
- Redundant themes – What kind of arc was there in this film? Holmes starts off as an eccentric genius who is lonely – he ends an eccentric genius who is lonely. Time wasted.
Winner: The whole world is saying it by now: AVATAR (has anyone even mentioned Sherlock Holmes since Christmas???).
Sherlock Holmes (Vic’s Pick)
First off, I’d like to clarify by stating I never said that Sherlock Holmes was a better movie, I said I thought it was a more entertaining movie. Technically, yes, Avatar is incredible – I stated in my review that it was the most visually impressive film I’ve ever seen. Then we have the box office argument… it made a lot of money so it MUST be great, right? Well I’m sorry to say that there’s another couple of films that share impressive visuals and monster box office that are not exactly cinematic masterpieces: The Transformers movies. I guess fantastic Sci-Fi films that came out in 2009 but didn’t make much money like District 9 and Moon must be real stinkers, eh?
I didn’t really have any expectations when I went in to see Sherlock Holmes beyond the fact that I like Robert Downey Jr. as an actor. Not a huge Guy Ritchie nor Jude Law fan. What won me over in the film was the beat and tempo of it (enhanced by the excellent Hans Zimmer score), the insights into Holmes’ mind and character and the relationship between Holmes and Watson. Watson is usually portrayed as a bit of a bumbler on screen – and I’ve always thought “why would a brilliant man like Sherlock Holmes ally himself with someone like that?” In this version Watson is more of a counterbalance to Holmes’ extreme personality – Watson helps keep Holmes on an even keel and enjoys sharing in the adventures.
There was a mystery to solve, and frankly it keep me interested – I was hoping that the villain would not have supernatural powers but that there would be a logical explanation for everything. Downey’s performance was spot on as a man who is so brilliant and pays so much attention to detail that it almost becomes a handicap in day to day life and interactions with others. Sure the female character started out strong and turned into a cliche by the end of the film, but that was a minor nit.
But the topper in the film was Robert Downey Jr’s performance. I’ll go on the record and say that I think in this film we have probably the most unique and interesting film character since Brad Pitt played Tyler Durden in Fight Club. RDJ’s performance carries a LOT of weight in this film and gets the lion’s share of the props. Downey was recognized for his performance at the Golden Globes, however it was for best performance in a musical or comedy (huh?).
As to Avatar: You can argue archetypes all day long, but when I can tell how a movie is going to play out 10 minutes in pretty much beat for beat, I’m sorry, but that’s weak. When you can (rightfully) compare a movie to Ferngully, The Battle for Terra, and Pocahontas almost plot point for plot point – well, please don’t get come to me with talk of a great story. Sure a known story arc CAN make for a great movie (look at another movie Avatar imitates: Dances with Wolves – very similar yet that was a powerful, moving film), but sometime re-using a story is just re-using a story. Now I’m not saying Avatar was awful, far from it, but it wasn’t the be-all, end-all people are making it out to be. Avatar is bowling people over because it’s and EVENT, the movie equivalent of a Disney ride. A basic story wrapped up with the pretty bow of phenomenal CGI and impressive 3D.
And as to the Golden Globes wins – Best Drama for Avatar? Really? With it going up against The Hurt Locker, Precious and Up in the Air? So much for any meaning in that awards show. Spectacle wins out over drama in the drama category, it seems.
I’m a HUGE Sci-Fi fan and James Cameron’s The Abyss, Terminator 2 and Aliens are among my all time favorite films. Now some of you may argue that you could tell what was going to happen 10 minutes into any of those – but I certainly didn’t. Each of those kept me on the edge of my seat throughout, wanting and waiting to see what would come next. In Avatar, the only anticipation of what would come next is what the CGI animation would look like in the next scene.
Everything was so incredibly telegraphed in the film that it just a case of waiting to see what every scene that you knew was coming would look like. What will the plants do in this scene? What other kind of funky six-legged animal with we see next? And of course you had the cloying enviro message and (ex)soldiers portrayed as bloodthirsty evil bad guys, complete with the toppling of the Great Tree reminiscent of the Twin Towers on 9/11, except this time with Americans as the ones pulling the trigger. Nice.
When I walked out of Avatar I sat down and asked myself “Did I like that or love it?” And after some thought, the best I could do was “liked it.” Heck, I even gave it a second viewing, this time in IMAX. No change. However when I walked out of Sherlock Holmes, I had a huge grin on my face that lasted pretty much for the entire drive home.
THAT is what a movie like Avatar or Sherlock Holmes is supposed to do to you when it’s over.
So we’ve had our say – what do YOU think about these two movies as compared to one another?