Avatar is bad news for movie lovers

While the world struggles to find new adjectives to describe the wonderfulosity of James Cameron’s 3D epic, Avatar, the more sober amongst us reckon that film lovers should be afraid – very afraid – of what its runaway success means.


Are millions queuing round the block to see it several times because it’s a great film or because it uses a desperately-clunky technology to produce a 3D illusion? Would it have knocked Titanic off the top spot of all time if there had been no 3D effects?

No it wouldn’t. Take away the 3D hype and it’s nothing but a tired remake of Pocahontas with a load of lumpen environmental mumbo jumbo bolted on top.

Would Citizen Kane be a better film in 3D, or color? No it bloody wouldn’t. Kane is a great film as it is. Colorizing it or adding a Dolby Surround soundtrack would add nothing, 3D likewise.

Technology is no substitute for a great story and script, proper characterizations, skilled direction and cinematography.

It’s hard enough for new talent to get their movies made as it is.

Now the Hollywood suits will be demanding that every movie comes in 3D, meaning what money is available will be spread across a handful of mega movies rather than hundreds of boring old 2D ones.

If James Cameron – who has made some great films – were starting out today and trying to sell the concept of his low-budget 1981 turkey Piranha II: The Spawning (whose reviews incude “abject”, “the piranhas look as though they had been remaindered from a joke shop and resemble haddock with dentures” and “a strong contender for anyone’s list of all-time horror turkeys”) around the major studios, he’d be shown the door, along with the potential Orson Welleses, Steven Spielbergs, George Lucases and Clint Eastwoods of tomorrow. No movie exec would be willing to take the risk.

What we’ll end up with in ten years’ time is about six new movies a year, each a reworking of another as studios fail to take risks with unproven product. Return of the Son of Avatar Five is unlikely to be a patch on the original and the very thought of Police Academy 19 in 3D frankly fills me with dread.

New technology in any field of entertainment is to be welcomed, but it is not an end in itself. A crap film in 3D is still a crap film. Starship Troopers 2 wouldn’t be improved by 3D, it would just cost a hell of a lot more to make.

And while Avatar might be coining it at the box office, what will DVD sales be like for the 2D version? It could of course be a cunning plan to release all movies in 3D as a way of frustrating video piracy, but that would be ascribing some vestige of intelligence to the entertainment industry, which is obviously daft.

Until someone comes up with a decent holographic projection system that can be used in the home, 3D should remain what it clearly is, a gimmick which threatens to distract the film industry from what should be its mission – encouraging new talent to innovate rather than operating a production line for formulaic blockbusters pandering to the masses.

Remember that a truly great movie doesn’t even need pictures or sound and that there is already a technology that produces a compelling and completely immersive experience.

It’s called a book.