The Morning Read: Behind the scenes on ‘Avatar,’ ‘2012,’ and ‘Where The Wild Things Are’

11.12.09 8 years ago 8 Comments

20th Century Fox

Welcome to The Morning Read.

We’ll get to the new “Avatar” featurette.  Trust me.  And “South Park”.  But let’s work up to it, okay?  After all, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover today, and about a thousand links for you, and the only way it’s all getting done is if I just dive right in.  I’m trying to clean out the “Favorites” column on my Twitter feed, where I earmark things to discuss with you, then promptly forget I earmarked them.  I had to delete about 150 saved Tweets before I even began today because they were so far out of date, and I want to post the rest of these instead of just letting them slip away as well.

Let’s start by picking up a conversation I was having the other night with several different guys who also write about movies.  It was ostensibly a conversation about spoilers, and that’s a thorny subject, one that I suspect has no correct answer.  When I’m writing about a film, particularly one that the audience hasn’t really had a chance to see yet, I always work to suggest things rather than spell them out.  I think there is a way to write about a film without giving away major plot points, and there’s a certain degree of courtesy involved in doing so.  However, as a critic, sometimes you need to dig into the film in an explicit way if you want to make certain points, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing so as long as you respect the reader in the way you handle it.  There are people who think that anything you say about a film is a spoiler, which raises the question of why they’re reading film criticism in the first place, but I don’t want to be dismissive of the conversation as a whole.

But in the case of “The Fourth Kind,” the good Dr. Cole Abaius over at Film School Rejects feels that even discussing the nature of the film is a spoiler, and here’s where I’m afraid I have to disagree, and that’s because of personal experience.  I sort of intensely dislike the whole “based on a true story” game that movies play in general, but when you extend that further and actually tell your audience that something they’re looking at is real, when it’s clearly not, you’re playing a dangerous game.  

At Butt-Numb-A-Thon a few years ago, I brought “The Poughkeepsie Tapes” to screen, and before I went on to introduce it, Tim League pulled me aside and encouraged me to really sell the mockumentary as real.  He wanted me to play it up, and so I did.  And although there were certainly people in the audience who simply disliked the movie and who would have disliked it no matter how I presented it, there were people who freaked out at me afterwards for the simple reason that I had lied to them.  “If you’d just told me it was a fake movie, I could have watched it and enjoyed it, but who in the hell could sit through that if it was real?” 

That question sums up my grand issue with this approach to film that is so popular right now.  When we know we are watching fiction, there is a level of safety that allows us to look at dark, terrible things, knowing that this is all simply a representation of these things and not the thing itself.  It was certainly fun to play the “is it real or isn’t it?” game with “The Blair Witch Project” in the build-up to its release, with all sorts of fun websites and invented history to help support the idea that this was a document of the last days on Earth of three kids trying to make a movie.  But I don’t know anyone who actually believed that it was real.  It was a game.  An elaborate let’s pretend.  And as such, it was fun.  But there’s a fine line between inventive marketing and outright fabrication, as Universal just learned because of some of their more aggressive methods on “The Fourth Kind,” and I think a simple rule for filmmakers is this:  don’t lie to your audience. You can play games.  You can have fun.  You can extend the experience so that it begins outside the theater.  But don’t get confused about it… you’re selling a movie.  And what you’re selling is a fiction.  And as a critic, the day I start lying to my readership about the true nature of the film just because of a marketing or storytelling gimmick is the day I expect my audience to turn its back on me.  A lie is a lie, and I don’t care what purpose it serves… it doesn’t belong in the dialogue I have with my readers.  Ever.

David Lloyd, sitcom giant, has passed away, and Ken Levine has written a wonderful piece memorializing him.  All I know is this is the man who wrote the classic “Chuckles Bites The Dust” episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which remains one of the finest half-hours of network comedy ever, and if anyone deserves a moment of laugh-track silence, it’s him.

Jon Stewart’s been on fire lately, and he’s been given plenty of fuel by Fox News in particular.  Did you guys see this one?

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Sean Hannity Uses Glenn Beck’s Protest Footage
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

The most amazing part is that Stewart actually got Sean Hannity to admit a mistake, although in the most half-hearted weaselly way possible. 

When it’s possible to put together a list of the ten most bone-headed projects that are in development in Hollywood right now, and your list doesn’t even include that staggeringly moronic “Monopoly” project that was detailed this week, you know Hollywood is in deep trouble.  Guess what, guys?  The reason the industry is having problems right now has nothing to do with people videotaping your movies off of theater screens.  In order for that to be the problem, you’d have to be making films that aren’t flaming bags of stupid. 

And mainstream media?  You guys aren’t doing much better.

I’m hoping Sony pulls out all the stops when they put out “2012” on BluRay, because I’d like some in-depth pieces about the digital work on the film, which is incredible.  In the meantime, here’s a piece about one of the film’s biggest gags:

And if you thought that was interesting, check out this piece about how the creatures in “Where The Wild Things” were brought to life.  I’m glad this sort of thing wasn’t out before the film, because it sort of pulls back some of the magic.  Still… fascinating. 

http://www.vbs.tv/vbs_player.js?width=584&height=328&ec=o2OGF5On8EA2wgrMoZpS38OT77FkjAlA&st=undefined&pl=http://www.motherboard.tv/2009/11/2/behind-the-wild-things–2

I still think “Where The Wild Things Are” is a serious contender for this year’s Oscar for best Visual Effects. Some of the things they pulled off on this film should have been impossible, and everyone involved should be rewarded for the way they made all of these magic tricks work. 

So when do I get my own film festival?  Isn’t that the trend these days?  As film critic jobs evaporate, guys like David Ansen and Scott Foundas are moving into the world of festival programming.  Seems like a natural side-step to me, since so much of our job as writers about film is trying to steer people to things they might otherwise miss.  Isn’t that what a festival programmer is doing?  I expect you’ll see more of this, and to my mind, it’s a promising development. 

The world’s changing, kids, and in the most unusual ways. 

Russell Brand is a very silly man… and his foot’s on fire! 

Eric D. Snider’s got a new regular column he’s working on called “What’s The Big Deal?”, and I like the premise.  It’s an interesting way to get into the conversation, and his first edition of the column takes a look at the classic Western “The Searchers.” 

Everyone’s getting into the remake game, huh? 

If you read my review yesterday of the new Tim Schafer game “Brutal Legend,” then you know I’m a fan.  A big part of why I loved the game is the design of the world itself, and today, there’s an amazing art gallery you should check out that gives you a feel for just how outrageous it all is. 

I’ve mentioned before how irritating I find it when people say that “Avatar” looks just like a video game.  It’s not true.  That’s not a matter of opinion… it’s a matter of technology.  Video games are amazing these days, yes, but compared to what sort of rendering power and subtle performance film tech is capable of, there’s no comparison, and if you were to ask people who actually work in the field, they’d agree.  Now, I think games are getting better every day, and there are some real pioneers just around the corner, like the new game “Heavy Rain,” which looks sort of remarkable:

Even there, though, you’ve got some beautiful work right up against work that is functional, and in games, you pick your battles, knowing that you are only able to push the tech to a certain degree.

James Cameron himself could explain the difference to you if he wanted to, using “Avatar: The Game” and “Avatar: The 3D IMAX Experience” as very clear examples.  Have you seen any gameplay footage from “Avatar” yet?  It looks like fun…

… but it also looks nothing like the movie.  We’ve got a behind-the-scenes featurette about “Avatar” today that features all sorts of new footage.  There was a fuzzy international version of this online last week, but we’ve got a high-quality imbed of it for you now, and it’s gorgeous:

Love it.  Love the density of the world that they’re creating, and I really can’t say enough about the huge leap forward in performance capture that this represents, even over what guys like Zemeckis are doing.  There’s so much about this film that excites me, even beyond the story, that I feel like, yes, I write too much about it, but I can’t help myself.

Regarding the story… and “South Park”… it looks like Matt and Trey have gotten in some pre-emptive licks on the whole “Dances With Smurfs” thing, and you can watch the whole episode online now.  I may not agree with the premise, but as always, “South Park” is better at making the obvious joke than anyone else. 

Finally, Jason Woliner is a genius.  Here’s the proof

The Morning Read appears here every day, Monday through Friday.  Except when it doesn’t.

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