Having been sufficiently entertained by “Avatar” and “TRON: Legacy,” I’m growing out of the need to take issue with movies that put technical spectacle above screenwriting craft. Would I like to see James Cameron do a low-budget film with brilliant dialogue? If I had to choose that over the “Avatar” sequels, no. Seriously. Plenty of people are making well-written films, but very few make movies as impressive, effects-wise, as Cameron. So I’d prefer he do what he does best. And it’s not like he’s a terrible director that can’t hold it together with otherwise great visuals (such as Lucas and many, many others). Honestly, if you disregard much of the narrative and dialogue problems of “Avatar” and “Titanic,” which is pretty easy to do, these blockbusters are pretty tight. And I don’t know too many people who could rightly deny they weren’t amazed and captivated by either film’s moving images (and visual storytelling, along with them), which is really what cinema is all about in my opinion.
So I’m not too concerned with Cameron, Douglas Trumbull and Peter Jackson’s little gang of cinematic showmen and how they’re aiming to work on technical achievements like this new 48 frames-per-second idea (as opposed to the standard 24fps shooting speed) rather than presumably concentrating on making sure the scripts for “Avatar 2” and “The Hobbit” are. Would it be great if these films could be the best spectacles of all time and also be well-scripted? Obviously. But for what they are, I’m fine with the former aspect receiving priority in their situations.
But I also have no problem with movies being like “roller coaster rides” or other amusement park fare anymore than I mind some other films being analogically more like theater or others being more like books or paintings or comics or whatever. As long as they’re predominantly cinematic. There’s room for it all. Maybe one day we’ll have some perfect filmmaker who has it all, scientific genius as well as scriptwriting skills. Have we really ever had that yet?
I don’t think a lot of people agree with me, as evidenced in what I’m seeing around the film blog water cooler today in response to Jackson’s Facebook message defending the 48 fps thing. Check out other writers’ preferences after the jump.
So a clearer, more defined picture and less headache inducing 3D? Fine, we’re all for it. But the most interesting part about all this tech talk? Not one mention of the story. Peter Jackson, James Cameron and Douglass Trumbull, who all have breathlessly and excitedly expounded on the topic have all failed to mention just how this fancy pants approach will improve their ability to tell a story. That’s why we’re here right?
You know what’ll be cool? When a director announces he’s using 48 fps on a modestly-scaled, dialogue-driven film that doesn’t need it. Because extra-clean visual clarity is beautiful and enjoyable in and of itself — you don’t 3D fairies and hobgoblins and hammerhead dinosaurs. I remember saying 28 years ago that a truly hip and beautiful use for Trumbull’s Showcan process (60 fps) would have been the film version of David Jones and Harold Pinter’s Betrayal. I’ve also expressed support for Baz Luhrman’s proposed 3D version of The Great Gatsby, precisely because it’s unnecessary.
Perhaps now Cameron can huddle down and really focus on developing the Avatar 2 & 3 screenplays – the quality of which are of more concern than anything else to moviegoers, given that the first Avatar was arguably quite technically brilliant but narratively conventional.
I haven’t been on the new Star Tours or King Kong rides, either, though Jackson’s mentions of them gives me pause. Jackson means to reassure film purists by citing examples they might have already seen and enjoyed of the technology in action. But the comparison only makes me think that the 48 fps revolution is just another way to move cinema one step closer to amusement park rides. And I love amusement park rides. But that’s what I go to amusement parks for. When I go to a movie, I want to see a movie.
In his letter Jackson explains that making the film at 48fps is ‘future proofing’ it; he believes this is the way cinema is going, and that The Hobbit will look less dated if he shoots it at that frame rate. But that’s nonsense, and I suspect he has to know it. There’s no technological way to ‘future proof’ a movie; it isn’t just technology that dates but the most basic aspects of style, from lighting to dialogue. The only way to make sure your movie is future proof is to make sure that your movie is great, and the frame rate has nothing to do with how good a film is.