What should we ask of commercial cinema? The keys to Avatar: The meaning of water and its relationship with the public

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When talking about cinema, particularly blockbusters, lately there are two comments that usually make me raise my eyebrows. The first is that of This movie is one of those you have to see in the cinema.; A whole topic of audiovisual consumption, which always looks good when recommending a feature film. I understand what you are talking about, today it can be more comfortable to watch a movie at home. But I like going to the movies —with emphasis on going—. There is something of a ritual in it, true, but it is not only about that, I think that this kind of magic circle that links the spectator and the show, condemning any interruption and inviting us to immerse ourselves in the narrative, can be decisive when viewing any kind of movie. The second comment may not be as tired, but it already smells: “It’s a superhero movie, you can’t ask for more”. Does it ring a bell? It is the classic argument that is used with the blockbuster of the day to justify its shortcomings. But what does it really mean? Does it mean that we can’t expect much more from the blockbuster or, rather, that it doesn’t need to go any further? They are two responses so distant, so opposite that, certainly, they can touch each other, forming a kind of causal uroboros, in which one thing ends up leading to the other. However, the first refers to the lack of expectationsto an assimilated frustration regarding the current cinematographic panorama, while the second seems to defend that commercial cinema, by definition, must settle for mediocrity.

The market has spoken.

Be that as it may, these are two comments that many of us have made (myself included) and that, surely, have been present in a multitude of conversations over the last month, qualifying the emotions aroused by Avatar: The Sense of Water, the current maximum exponent of the blockbuster. I have seen it twice, and I have talked about it more than I expected, and that is why the subject has been on my mind for a few weeks. So now that we’re starting to get into the hangover of Pandora, I think it’s a good time to try organize a couple of ideas about commercial cinema today, to the sequel to Avatar and how we have received it. If you feel like it, and you have a few minutes, I invite you to join me.

First of all, to Caesar what is Caesar’s: James Cameron he has done it again. The type He is an authority when it comes to summoning the masses. There are those who thought that it was, and that the same thing was not so much anymore, he himself even made the occasional statement in which he allowed himself to question the resounding success that his film has ended up being. The fact is that Cameron demonstrates, once again (and after thirteen years), that he knows the cinema deck perfectly and knows which card to play at all times. He knows that at this point in the 21st century, high-profile cinema (the one with high costs and the one with the highest expectations of collection) is not enough with the content of the film, he needs something more. The last two installments of the Avengers, or the irregular Star Wars trilogy, would not have made their spectacular grosses if they had not been sold as an event and had not had the sense of urgency that accompanied them, since the event, by definition, It is ephemeral and expired. If you wanted to be part of the party, you had to see them at the right time, otherwise you were out of the celebration or, what is even worse, out of the conversation.

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Cameron knows this and therefore uses his weapons wisely to generate what he needs. He does not have a narrative that rests on twenty films, nor the inertia of a saga that has marked several generations over more than four decades. For this reason, the speech of his events is usually accompanied by cinematographic revolutions called to change the cinema. With Avatar it was 3D, and with its sequel it touches the HFR (by Hight Frame Rating). The invention, despite not being as popular as the aforementioned 3D, has not taken long to be classified as the future of cinema, as the new great step towards a total immersion that transports us to the beautiful Pandora. If he succeeds or not, it’s another story. In my case, the desire of the director to combine the 48 frames per second with the traditional 24, did not go beyond being a formal aberration that took me out of the film in not a few moments. But there is no doubt that, on a commercial level, it has become the icing on the cake of a pharaonic project that has the label of one of those films that must see in the cinema.

The show, which was guaranteed, comes accompanied by a narration with a classic structure, with three well-differentiated acts: a powerful beginning, a leisurely development and a tense and thunderous end – don’t take this as an attack, the formulas exist because they work , and no structure reaches the category of formula without having demonstrated its effectiveness hundreds of times. Along the way, Cameron cares, and deals, with the issues that interest him, building an environmental discourse that continues what was sown in this saga, and that is part of its raison d’être. A maneuver that few creatives can afford (at least while managing budgets of this magnitude) and that makes clear the power that this figure possesses in Hollywood. His authorship is evident in a film with a budget of nearly 400 million, demonstrating that there is high-flying commercial cinema beyond the roadmaps of Marvel, Disney and company, which have accustomed us to commissioned works whose greatest contribution (in many cases) is to help the wheel keep turning. What I am going for is that I celebrate that Cameron does what he does (regardless of whether I like it more or less), just as I celebrate the madness of Tom Cruise (blessed Top gun: Maverick) or Villeneuve’s faith in science fiction, mainly because they are figures that have enough weight to place bets that, today, seem riskier.

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The story that Cameron tells us presents a series of characters that weave together the plot and put the theme on the table: the relationship of the human being with nature, especially with marine fauna. That is the what, what Cameron wants to deal withand it is to my understanding one of the main values ​​of the film. The how, for its part, is the way it approaches the subject, and leads us directly to what we can expect from a blockbuster. On this occasion, the discourse is introduced through a family that conveys the pain caused by greed and consumerism, and is so responsible for Avatar: The Sense of Water I liked it, as it has not enthused me.

The tape has 190 minutes to present five characters, and it seems that he lacks time. Sully and Neytiri work based on the inertia provided by the traditional family concept. We all know what to expect from them shortly after the film begins —”a father protects” as Jake Sullivan says—, and all those expectations are reflected in family dynamics that, at times, feel forced. In fact, their descendants are the ones that carry the narrative weight, and there is a bit of everything there. Neteyam (the eldest) is a role model that serves to expose the errors of a Lo’ak (the middle one) who does not listen to reason. Kiri (the adopted one) stays halfway, while Spider, together with Colonel Miles, stars in a plot that has foundations, but in which the son is in charge of throwing away the subtleties of the father.

If we broaden the focus of the supporting cast, we find Ronal and Tonowari, who together with their family introduce us to the marine biome of Pandora, and Mick Scoresby (captain of the fishing vessel) who takes over from Parker Selfridge (head honchos of the expedition). land); both are the embodiment of greed, and both are so Manichaean that they don’t work. The development of all these characters turns the central part of the film into its most irregular section, delivering a montage that jumps from one plot to another in a somewhat abrupt way, and presenting conflicts that, in the case of the youngest, seem taken from a high school series. It became abundantly clear to me that, here, the director’s intention was to once again show the wonders of Pandora by taking the camera through exotic and paradisiacal settings, as he did in the first installment. However, this time the central part wants to cover so much that it becomes excessively dilated further forcing issues such as Kiri’s isolation, or the friendship between Lo’ak and Payakan (the tulkun he killed).

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Of course, with the third act Cameron is in charge of putting the dots on the i’s, and takes the shame out of the post-Endgame Marvel. The final firework makes it clear, by comparison, that one of the big problems of the current blockbuster is the climax, full of bombastic endings that clearly expose the meaning of much ado about nothing. The end of the sense of watera successfully manages the tension, dilating it with artifice tricks (true) that consist of going back to the starting point over and over again (the colonel has the kids), but which, ultimately, work. That is to say, his last act delivers part of what is expected (or what I expect) from a blockbuster: rhythm, good action and tension in the resolution of the conflict. Something that does not happen with its central part, nor with the development of its characters, where I think the film has its deepest wound. And here many will say what it is about a blockbuster, and you don’t have to ask for much more because, by definition, it must have a simple speech. But I think that this position runs the risk of confuse a simple approach with irregular execution. Top Gun: Maverick is, in fact, a film with a much simpler plot —it’s not the plane, it’s the pilot—, but in its execution, in the way it presents the conflicts of each character, defining their motivations and justifying their actions to reach emotion through action, it is almost unappealable.

What I want to say with all this is that I think that the current blockbuster can be asked for more, it can be asked, precisely, to be a good blockbuster. The opposite is, in my view, a renunciation of the virtues that have defined the most commercial celluloid cinema. Avatar: The Sense of Water It doesn’t seem like a bad movie to me, moreover, in general terms I would say that I liked it, but I don’t think that anything is to be gained by justifying its irregularities based on the belief that not much can be expected from this type of film, beyond of the technical spectacle they offer. There are the Russo brothers and their work for Marvel, the Mission Impossible contemporary, the aforementioned Top Gun: Maverick or Matt Reeves with his The Batman, to cite a few examples. Simple movies in terms of speech, but not at all easy to make. Being demanding with them seems to me, in fact, incurring in the recognition of the difficult balances that this type of cinema faces. Or put another way, it seems to me a way of legitimizing commercial cinema, which goes beyond the event or the false cinematographic revolutions.