‘Storytelling has become the art of world building’: Avatar and the rise of the paracosm

HareBrain

Smeerp of Wonder
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Oct 13, 2008
Messages
12,741
Location
West Sussex, UK

Rodders

|-O-| (-O-) |-O-|
Supporter
Joined
Nov 6, 2008
Messages
6,433
Avatar was a huge box office success, so the world building must have carried the movie to a certain degree. (I have read that some who went to see it suffered some form of depression as the world of Pandora was so beautiful that the real world just couldn't compete.)

Personally, I loved Avatar and really wished that i'd seen it in 3d at the cinema. It was a film to be experienced

I'd argue that a huge part of Villeneuve's movie appeal is his world building (perhaps more cinematography) as well as the story.

Would games also suffer from this effect? I've played games ad nauseum because i haven't been quite ready to leave that world, yet.
 
Last edited:

Lumens

Hopeless Neuromantic
Joined
Apr 1, 2017
Messages
549
Location
UK
Hm... This could be a forerunner to AI built worlds that you can explore on your phone or go deep with immersive VR adventures. I'd write a novel based on it but I'm so slow that by the time I've done the world building, the actual world may have caught up with me.
 
Last edited:

HareBrain

Smeerp of Wonder
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Oct 13, 2008
Messages
12,741
Location
West Sussex, UK
Avatar was a huge box office success, so the world building must have carried the movie to a certain degree.
I enjoyed the forest parts (on IMAX in 3-D) as a visual spectacle. The rest of it was bearable the first time because i was vaguely invested in what would happen, but as it turned out, that stuff wasn't good enough for me to watch it again. It might watch it again if it had basically been a fantasy nature film.

As for this:
(I have read that some who went to see it suffered some form of depression as the world of Pandora was so beautiful that the real world just couldn't compete.)
This is itself depressing -- because they are so wrong, but clearly they haven't looked for that beauty in reality. And if people are ignorant of what we actually have, they are less likely to be interested in saving it. (Or was it just that they couldn't fly on giant lizards?)
 

Venusian Broon

Defending the SF genre with terminal intensity
Supporter
Joined
Dec 7, 2011
Messages
5,273
Location
Edinburgh
This is itself depressing -- because they are so wrong, but clearly they haven't looked for that beauty in reality. And if people are ignorant of what we actually have, they are less likely to be interested in saving it. (Or was it just that they couldn't fly on giant lizards?)

The number of people desperate to be giant blue cat people with large eyes was, I found, a little disturbing. The human race will just evolve into furries, it seems.

There is, surely, a large demand and interest for actual natural history documentaries, a la BBC Bristol and David Attenburgh, which has continued to produce ever better quality output no?

However, that you can be temporary dazzled by an artificial 'paracosm' via technology (Great new word, I like) I could see. (I'd include computer game worlds along with Avatar as they are related in the sort of feeling they can engage.)

I do think we humans have ways of constructing blinkers to cut down on reality and focus on immediate problems that dull other senses and viewpoints. If you are working an 11 hour day., week-in week-out where in winter you barely notice the sun because you are in front of a computer screen, or serving coffee etc. because your main concern is the mortgage, bills, kids stuff and all that, is a part of modern society.
 

Swank

and debonair
Joined
Feb 25, 2022
Messages
1,048
Do plot and character inevitably suffer when the main focus is on the world? Are we unrealistic if we want all three to be brilliant?
I don't see why they should, other than the fact that Hollywood pumps out movies with bad stories all the time, regardless of the amount of worldbuilding. It is just more damning when you see a billion dollars spent on a visual spectacle and $10K couldn't be found for a decent screenwriter. (And only one screenwriter.)

Christopher Nolan and Guerimo del Toro can manage to put a good story in a very fictional world, so there is nothing mutually exclusive going on. The biggest problem is that the public sees Cameron and others as geniuses that can do no wrong, when there have always been thin writing in their output. What amazes me is the other DC stuff that involves horrid world building and bad scripts.



Edit: I just looked up how many films Cameron has actually directed that anyone cares about. The list is pretty short: Terminator, T2, Aliens, Abyss, True Lies, Titanic, Avatar.
 
Last edited:

HareBrain

Smeerp of Wonder
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Oct 13, 2008
Messages
12,741
Location
West Sussex, UK
There is, surely, a large demand and interest for actual natural history documentaries, a la BBC Bristol and David Attenburgh, which has continued to produce ever better quality output no?
Better quality visually. I don't tend to watch them, because the experience is increasingly distant from watching nature in reality, thanks to e.g. intrusive background music, use of slow-mo and time-lapse, and too much narration. It's become very artificial (even down to shooting footage of animals in captivity and not saying so during the programme).
 

Mon0Zer0

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
May 24, 2021
Messages
921
For the record, I fell asleep when I first watched it and wasn't even tired.
 

Ursa major

Bearly Believable
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Aug 7, 2007
Messages
23,222
Location
England
Personally, I didn't watch Avatar to the end -- no walking out was involved, as it was on the TV -- but I was impressed with what I was seeing (even though it was on the TV and not a big screen), in terms of the world itself and the way it had been produced, so I might give the sequel a watch (on the TV) just in case the story is more engaging.
 

Rodders

|-O-| (-O-) |-O-|
Supporter
Joined
Nov 6, 2008
Messages
6,433
I think that the Star Wars Sequels (and to a lesser degree, perhaps the Prequels) were pretty guilty of excessive world building without strong story to back it up. The example that comes to immediately to mind is the salt skimming battle and the Casino scenes in The Last Jedi. More an attempt to outdo elements from the Original Trilogy than for any genuine need for them.

Judge Dredd (Stallones version) i thought that Mega-City one looked amazing and was defintely the most stylish thing about the movie (and i have a soft spot for that movie.)
 

Ursa major

Bearly Believable
Staff member
Supporter
Joined
Aug 7, 2007
Messages
23,222
Location
England
were pretty guilty of excessive world building without strong story to back it up
I can agree about the first two sequels (of the three that were recently shown on TV), to the extent that I haven't started watching my recording of the third because the second was rather boring, in my opinion, and I had other recordings to watch.

It didn't have to be this way: Rogue One was far from boring.
 

Le Panda du Mal

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 1, 2022
Messages
184
Location
Pennsylvania
Worldbuilding can be cool or it can be ponderous. Lord Dunsany’s worldbuilding could be as simple as “there’s a wall between here and fairyland”, or he could create a whole mythic corpus like some alien scripture. If some feature of the world turns out to be deeply important to the characters then it should be built up enough to justify that. Joss Whedon’s shows tend to have pretty crappy worldbuilding and then build entire story arcs on half-baked concepts. A great significance is attached to something called a “soul” and whether a vampire has it or not, but no one bothers to ask what a soul actually is. By the normal definition something without a soul is an inanimate object. Or there is supposed to be some clear moral divide between killing humans and demons but this divide gets scrambled so many times and yet the audience is still asked to treat it as a black and white distinction at pivotal moments, eg when Faith accidentally kills a man and it precipitates a crisis leading to her turning bad.
 

sule

"What I do is me: for that I came."
Joined
Feb 14, 2020
Messages
379
Addressing the "sacrificing story for worldbuilding" argument: some audiences like a world that feels lived-in and will forgive a weak story if it means they get to journey through a complex world with unique aspects and meet characters who feel like they could only exist in that world. Some audiences prefer deep story-telling and don't care about things that they'll only see on screen for a few moments. As much as Hollywood would like there to be, there is no one-size-fits-all, and what's fresh and appealing today won't be ten years from now. Tastes will change but, in my opinion, there are no shortcuts you can take while guaranteeing a movie's appeal.

Addressing the "Avatar has deep worldbuilding" argument: Unobtainium.
 

KGeo777

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 24, 2017
Messages
1,518
Location
Canada
This is why worldbuilding never appealed to me.
Star Trek does it but it was just speculation on the future and alien worlds but the main characters were Earth-centered (Terran bigots that we are).
Star Wars did it but I had the impression it was all bubble gum wrapper trivia and not the real focus anyway. Primarily you see a Star Wars movie for adventure and action.
Or did.
Cameron is funny--he is no doubt the single-most important filmmaker of spfx around today. It not for him, there would not have been the cgi dinosaurs in Jurassic Park (for better or worse).
And he did achieve something with Avatar which was impressive-that is, he came up with some technological developments for world-building in film which was new and probably would have been amazing to see in a theater. I also saw it on a (small)tv and yet I was impressed by that scene where they are falling in the sky. There is some amazing spfx achievements in it but the story and characters are rather vapid even though he does care about drama. It's just not the most exciting story to make for this technology.

The problem is, realistically, the story and characters don't really matter in these things.
Avatar is not about the story or character--the prime reason he wanted to do it was to explore technological means of creating fully realistic CGI environments. The studio tells him -- "if you want this, you have to do a story that has certain elements we want to preach to the public about." So Cameron does that.

Lucas did too actually.
I have no interest in rewatching Avatar. I remember it--the scenes, etc, but it didn't interest me enough to revisit.

Yet I will be rewatching Frogs or the Flesh Eaters again and I bet a week of catering on Avatar films is more expensive than those films cost to make and market.
 

Top