SR Debate: Avatar vs. Sherlock Holmes

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.


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)

Open day release of Avatar on Blu-Ray breaks record

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???).

Continue reading for Vic's love affair with Sherlock Holmes :-)

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