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August1991

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James Cameron said about Titanic that it was his $200 million chick flick. Well, his chick flick grossed $1 billion.

----

I think Avatar will be a dud. 3-D just doesn't work. CGI is in its infancy. Cameron must admit that the secret to commercial success is a technically stunning chick flick - with emphasis on chick flick. It has to seem real. With this recent Cameron effort, I see another Michael Cimino disaster in the making.

Kimmy asked elsewhere about this. Well, European movies are based on character. American movies (westerns) are based on plot/story.

When a movie is based on technical CGI wizardry (eg. Aliens) then it attracts the 14 year old male Asian customer base. Once upon a time, this base decided the success of Hollywood movies (eg. James Bond). But even with 14 year old boys in Asia, character matters. And anyway, I suspect the Asian kids only like a movie because they think that it's cool.

Modern audiences (my older aunts and sisters) now know that good movies are not always good box office. They understand that 14 year old boys in Hongkong may buy cinema tickets but that doesn't mean the movie is good.

With all that said, one of my older aunts loved Twilight.

Edited by August1991
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James Cameron said about Titanic that it was his $200 million chick flick. Well, his chick flick grossed $1 billion.

----

I think Avatar will be a dud. 3-D just doesn't work. CGI is in its infancy. Cameron must admit that the secret to commercial success is a technically stunning chick flick - with emphasis on chick flick. It has to seem real. With this recent Cameron effort, I see another Michael Cimino disaster in the making.

Kimmy asked elsewhere about this. Well, European movies are based on character. American movies (westerns) are based on plot/story.

When a movie is based on technical CGI wizardry (eg. Aliens) then it attracts the 14 year old male Asian customer base. Once upon a time, this base decided the success of Hollywood movies (eg. James Bond). But even with 14 year old boys in Asia, character matters. And anyway, I suspect the Asian kids only like a movie because they think that it's cool.

Modern audiences (my older aunts and sisters) now know that good movies are not always good box office. They understand that 14 year old boys in Hongkong may buy cinema tickets but that doesn't mean the movie is good.

With all that said, one of my older aunts loved Twilight.

3D is amazing, Titanic had a great story, Aliens didn't use CGI that I can remember, and old people don't go to movies.

Whether or not Avatar makes it depends on what the 14 year old Asians say.

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Both Alien and Aliens used little CGI. The only CGI in eaither movie was the images on screen when making planetfall. Other than that, models, painted background lanscapes.

CGI today is absolutely amazing. Currently watching the CGI of the Clone Wars, and it's very well done. I'll wait for dvd, the movie will do well, but not break any records.

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Watch Star Trek (2009) and tell me that CGI sucks after you're done. Note that they didn't use a single ship model in filming. It was all CGI. The only scene that looked remotely fake was the opening scene. CGI is all about how it's done...and 3D is awesome. You should take a look at IMAX 3D some time if you haven't. It's amazing, far beyond normal theatre 3D.

Edited by Smallc
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I think I know what August is getting at, but Aliens is a very poor example. First off, as pointed out, not CGI. Secondly, while there are lots of movies where there's nothing going on except for astounding visual effects, Aliens wasn't one of them. Aliens (and especially Alien) are excellent movies. And finally, I believe Aliens had an R rating, so its box-office success wasn't a result of 14 year olds anyway.

Another quibble: why are we talking about 14 year old Asians? or 14 year olds in Hong Kong? You can't make money at the movies by making movies that appeal to 14 year olds in Hong Kong. (Counterfeiters might profit, however.) I don't think 14 year old North Americans have any more artistic sophistication than their Asian counterparts. 14 year old boys want to see explosions and gun fights and kung fu and cars turning into robots. 14 year old girls want to see ... uh, totally hot vampires, apparently.

Current movies relying on CGI to create spectacular images are really just an evolution of the "special-effects blockbuster" which has been around for far longer than CGI has existed.

August presents Aliens as an example of a movie relying on special effects wizardry, but it doesn't. Alien and Aliens made a lasting mark, not because of special effects (which by today's standards are entirely forgettable) but because they tell a story extremely well. The story itself is about as simple as it gets (Alien: people try to escape from a scary monster! Aliens: people try to kill the scary monsters!) it is the telling of it which is exceptional. Giving the audience an actual scary monster that actually looked scary was part of that, but only part of it. Alien and Aliens were at their best not when the scary monster was actually on the screen, but when it wasn't.

CGI (and other special effects) are just a tool. Like any other tool, directors can use it with deftness and artistic discretion, or they can use it to ridiculous excess.

I think there is some preconception (assumption? conceit?) that movies that use special effects do so as a substitute for "real" artistry. Snobs may have the idea that movies use special effects as a gimmick to attract an audience, or to distract viewers from having a weak story or bad acting, or similar notions. I completely disagree. It's no more legitimate than arguing that movies use famous actors, or beautiful actors, or gimmicky premises, to compensate for their shortcomings. It happens, but it's not always the case.

Some stories need amazing visuals to be told. You can't do Apollo 13 justice without going into space. That doesn't mean the story itself has less merit than something that could filmed in a crappy apartment in Paris. A good director can use CGI (or any other tool) to enhance the story he is telling. A bad director can get so wrapped up the special effects that he completely loses sight of what the story is actually about.

It was in the "Up" thread where we talked about character before. I watched some of the special features on my Up blu-ray this week. They had some interviews with the creative people that I found very interesting. A couple of things I found especially interesting (as somebody who writes a bit myself) were the choices they made regarding Muntz (the sort-of villain). One thing they said is that they had originally planned a much more elaborate ending for Muntz. They eventually decided to do a much simpler scene. The reasoning: it's Carl's movie... doing more elaborate scenes for Muntz took the focus off of Carl and put it where it didn't belong. "I sort of wanted to just get Muntz out of the way and get back to Carl." Another thing they mentioned was they'd originally constructed a much more elaborate motivation for Muntz... his quest for the giant goofy bird was based on a mythical quest to create a potion of eternal youth for which the bird's egg was a key ingredient. They scrapped that because the mystical element of it seemed out of place for the movie, and more importantly because it just didn't matter. For purposes of the story, it just doesn't matter why Muntz is so determined to get that goofy bird... it just mattered that he was obsessed with it and that his obsession put him into conflict with Carl.

The people behind Up recognized that the movie was ultimately about Carl... and as a result they chose to pare away unnecessary distractions and remove some elements that took the focus off of Carl. August mentioned Shrek... I think Shrek could have benefited from more of the same kind of thinking. The movie is at its best when it's squarely focused on Shrek, and at its weakest when it veers off course into too much Donkey and gives us Myers and Murphy doing schtick.

I'm not sure I really get the idea of "character driven" vs "plot driven". Is it only "character driven" if nothing actually happens? If our unattractive Parisian couple leaves their crappy apartment and something actually happens, does it stop being a character driven story and become a "plot driven" story? Good stories can still bring vivid characters to life and their character is illuminated through conflict and through the dilemnas they face and the choices they make.

Also in regard to character: August mentions Twilight as well. I watched Twilight (oh, the shame) and the thing that struck me most is how completely devoid of character the central character Bella actually is. One review I saw described it as Kristen Stewart "underplaying" the character (which might be a charitable description of Stewart's acting skills, but that's beside the point.) The reviewer went on to suggest that this is actually a central element of the film's appeal to it's target audience: by making Bella essentially a blank canvass, it becomes easy for a teenage girl to project herself onto Bella. By making Bella almost a non-entity, they make it possible for a girl to imagine herself as Bella.

With regard to Avatar, and the inevitable comparison with Cameron's other giant-budget epic... I do not think Avatar will compare to the box office success of Titanic. However, I don't think it will be a dud. Transformers 2 did $400 million of domestic box office this year; The Dark Knight grossed over $500 million domestic the year before, neither are "chick flicks". Indeed, a lot of the most commercially successful movies of all time are not "chick flicks". The following adjusted-for-inflation list puts it in perspective:

1 Gone with the Wind MGM $1,450,680,400 $198,676,459 1939^

2 Star Wars Fox $1,278,898,700 $460,998,007 1977^

3 The Sound of Music Fox $1,022,542,400 $158,671,368 1965

4 E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial Uni. $1,018,514,100 $435,110,554 1982^

5 The Ten Commandments Par. $940,580,000 $65,500,000 1956

6 Titanic Par. $921,523,500 $600,788,188 1997

7 Jaws Uni. $919,605,900 $260,000,000 1975

8 Doctor Zhivago MGM $891,292,600 $111,721,910 1965

9 The Exorcist WB $793,883,100 $232,671,011 1973^

10 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Dis. $782,620,000 $184,925,486 1937^

11 101 Dalmatians Dis. $717,405,900 $144,880,014 1961^

12 The Empire Strikes Back Fox $704,937,000 $290,475,067 1980^

13 Ben-Hur MGM $703,640,000 $74,000,000 1959

14 Return of the Jedi Fox $675,346,600 $309,306,177 1983^

15 The Sting Uni. $640,045,700 $156,000,000 1973

16 Raiders of the Lost Ark Par. $632,858,500 $242,374,454 1981^

17 Jurassic Park Uni. $618,957,900 $357,067,947 1993

18 The Graduate AVCO $614,402,600 $104,901,839 1967^

19 Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace Fox $609,049,300 $431,088,301 1999

20 Fantasia Dis. $596,252,200 $76,408,097 1941^

http://boxofficemojo.com/alltime/adjusted.htm

Quite a variety of genres, from romance to family films to science fiction and fantasy, to horror.

My guess: Avatar will have enough domestic gross to almost cover its huge production budget, and will earn a profit when worldwide gross is factored in.

-k

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CGI won't matter in the success of the film too much. I think story and characters will determine if its a dud or not (at least critically, not box-office wise). Visually the movie is stunning from what i've seen, and Cameron is quite good at avoiding dud films compared to other top directors. The man makes good flicks, so im optimistic.

edit: just looked up Avatar on rottentomatoes.com. The critics love it, it gets a 90% rating so far with 41 critic reviews. Wow. Now i want to see this flick!! http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/avatar/

Edited by Moonlight Graham
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Visually the movie is stunning from what i've seen...
I agree. I think my OP was wrong, but it's still no Titanic.

The 14 year old boys in Hongkong are going to love this movie, despite the lack of characters or story. It may be a movie about blue smurfs but for $15, the 3D is fun and worth another ticket.

----

Here's an interview with Cameron about the movie:

"So certainly it is about imperialism in the sense that the way human history has always worked is that people with more military or technological might tend to supplant or destroy people who are weaker, usually for their resources," says Cameron. "We're in a century right now in which we're going to start fighting more and more over less and less. The population ain't slowin' down, oil will be depleted - we don't have a great Plan B for energy in this country right now, notwithstanding Obama's attempts to get people to focus on alternative energy. We've had eight years of the oil lobbyists running the country.

"So there's a conscience within the film, but it's not boldly stated. It's kind of there if you want it to be there; it's not there if you don't want it to be there. It can be as classic a story of fighting back against cruel might as 'Star Wars.' You can take it back to the origins of America in a fight of rebels against an imperial dominating force. You can interpret it many, many different ways. The bad guys could be America in this movie, or the good guys could be America in this movie," he says, laughing. "Depending on your perspective."

SF Gate

Another English Canadian who goes to the US to be rich and famous and consume alot and then complains that the world has too many rich people who consume too much. Sean Penn, I can understand. James Cameron should be ashamed.

James Cameron? An imperialist?

Edited by August1991
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I agree. I think my OP was wrong, but it's still no Titanic.

The 14 year old boys in Hongkong are going to love this movie, despite the lack of characters or story. It may be a movie about blue smurfs but for $15, the 3D is fun and worth another ticket.

It may have a story worth telling, or it might just be a movie that people go to see because it amazes their senses. I don't know which it'll be yet, and I reserve judgment until I've seen the movie. (And I will be seeing the movie, if only out of curiousity. I'm not 14, and I'm not Asian, but I can afford $12 to see what Cameron has come up with. I have $12 to spend and I'm curious. That's enough to get me into the theatre.)

But even if it's just a movie that's worth seeing because it amazes the senses... such movies have existed for a very long time. Long before CGI, people flocked to Star Wars to see incredible special effects. Before that, people flocked to The Ten Commandments to see amazing special effects. It might be that people flocked to see The Wizard of Oz because the idea of a movie in COLOR was amazing. (and maybe people flocked to some earlier movie because the idea of hearing the actors TALK was amazing, and at some point people probably flocked to see this absurd concept that pictures could MOVE at all.)

Star Wars, and The Ten Commandments, and The Wizard of Oz are not remembered because of special effects or other stuff that may have seemed gimmicky at the time. Each of these films had contemporaries that had comparable gimmicks yet have been long forgotten. Each of these films exceeded its contemporaries not because of gimmicks, but because of some other aspect.

I've written about lots of films in the past year... Coraline, Up, Basterds, Monsters Vs Aliens... all of them were quite good, and all were commercial successes... but probably none of them will be remembered in 30 years in the way that Star Wars is, or in 70 years as The Wizard of Oz is. Does Avatar have that mystical quality that will gain it that sort of longevity? Probably not. Does it have qualities that will make it a commercial success? I am thinking probably yes, it will eventually earn a profit for the people that invested in it.

-k

{and if I could define that mystical quality that separates movies like Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz from movies like Coraline and Monsters Vs Aliens, I'd be a millionaire before I turn 30.}

Edited by kimmy
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{and if I could define that mystical quality that separates movies like Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz from movies like Coraline and Monsters Vs Aliens, I'd be a millionaire before I turn 30.}

Perhaps because they did something new AND had compelling stories to tell. Just my opinion. Coraline, although the animation models were phenomenal, was not a new filming technique, just a mastering of an old one. Good story though. Monsters vs Aliens, I can't really comment on the story because I haven't seen it, but it's CGI that we've all seen before.

Avatar is hyped, but is the new technology really going to be that much of a leap from where we are? Black and white to colour is a huge leap. The effects in Star Wars was a major leap. Roger Rabbit is still remembered because of the combination of animation and live action which was a leap in itself. 3D has been around for quite sometime, so I'm not sure how much of a leap Avatar will be. Furthermore, 3D alienates a certain portion of the population that have visual impairments which prevent them from being able to experience this concept. This is why I don't think the movie will be as huge as people say, but maybe I'm wrong. We'll find out not this weekend (it will be a huge opening success, I'm sure), but over the coming weeks. If the technology is not as monumental as marketed and the storyline is lacking, it will fall flat.

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I just want to add that although I have no idea what the movie is actually about, other than the action shots in the previews, I have a sneaking suspicion that this will be an environmental parable. The aliens will be fighting against the evil capitalist environmental exploiters. After all the controversy with Copenhagen, it's tough to say how the public will feel about that.

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I just want to add that although I have no idea what the movie is actually about, other than the action shots in the previews, I have a sneaking suspicion that this will be an environmental parable. The aliens will be fighting against the evil capitalist environmental exploiters. After all the controversy with Copenhagen, it's tough to say how the public will feel about that.

Sounds plausible for sure, given the surroundings in the movie. I as well have only seen the various clips. I just hope the movies turns out to have more to it then just eye candy. Which is nice and all in its own right but I'm expecting more from the amount of hype it's generating.

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We're thinking of going to see this movie this week end. The storyline appears to be interesting and different. Special effects are nice when done properly but more important to me is a decent storyline.

The hype makes me nervous. I've tossed my $10 before only to find out that the movie wasn't worth more than the four or five bucks I could spend to rent it, or just wait for it come on one of the movie channels. They've basically been saying this movie is as revolutionary as Star Wars was, and that's a whole lotta hype.

Mind you, I did read Roger Ebert's review, and he gave it four out of four stars, and in general, the critics seem to like it, and are backing the notion that it's a quantum leap in film making.

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The hype makes me nervous. I've tossed my $10 before only to find out that the movie wasn't worth more than the four or five bucks I could spend to rent it, or just wait for it come on one of the movie channels. They've basically been saying this movie is as revolutionary as Star Wars was, and that's a whole lotta hype.

Unless you have a large display and powerful sound system, part of the film's technical impact would be lost in such a strategy.

Mind you, I did read Roger Ebert's review, and he gave it four out of four stars, and in general, the critics seem to like it, and are backing the notion that it's a quantum leap in film making.

So was King Kong in 1933.

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Unless you have a large display and powerful sound system, part of the film's technical impact would be lost in such a strategy.

From what I'm hearing, try to get into Imax to see it.

So was King Kong in 1933.

Agreed. As was Birth of a Nation (though flawed by its racism), Citizen Kane, The Rules of the Game, 2001 and Star Wars, all of which introduced new techniques, or at least, developed them to new levels. Heck, even Hard Days Night pretty much delivered us the notion of a movie being filmed like it was a documentary (too bad Richard Lester went on to botch Superman 2 so badly).

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From what I'm hearing, try to get into Imax to see it.

Good idea....our Imax theatre is about 3 miles away.

Agreed. As was Birth of a Nation (though flawed by its racism), Citizen Kane, The Rules of the Game, 2001 and Star Wars, all of which introduced new techniques, or at least, developed them to new levels. Heck, even Hard Days Night pretty much delivered us the notion of a movie being filmed like it was a documentary (too bad Richard Lester went on to botch Superman 2 so badly).

A fine list....Birth of a Nation included, no more racist than other films of its time and many after. I am old enough to have witnessed many first runs of film production methods now taken for granted, including Jason and the Argonauts (stop motion), Silent Running (modeling & "droids"). But even these films owe their success to the total continuum of production technologies....Avatar will just be another chapter.

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The hype makes me nervous. I've tossed my $10 before only to find out that the movie wasn't worth more than the four or five bucks I could spend to rent it, or just wait for it come on one of the movie channels. They've basically been saying this movie is as revolutionary as Star Wars was, and that's a whole lotta hype.

Is $10 really that much to venture on a movie? People plunk down $10 for a crappy fast-food meal without hesitation, and the results are usually less satisfactory and memorable than even a flawed movie.

Mind you, I did read Roger Ebert's review, and he gave it four out of four stars, and in general, the critics seem to like it, and are backing the notion that it's a quantum leap in film making.

Avatar has also received Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. I don't put much stock in awards, but it's uncommon for this sort of movie to be nominated for awards other than the special effects and technical ones.

-k

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Is $10 really that much to venture on a movie? People plunk down $10 for a crappy fast-food meal without hesitation, and the results are usually less satisfactory and memorable than even a flawed movie.

It takes ten minutes of my life to ingest a Quarter Pounder, fries and a root beer. The average bad movie consumes between 90 and 120 minutes.

Avatar has also received Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. I don't put much stock in awards, but it's uncommon for this sort of movie to be nominated for awards other than the special effects and technical ones.

-k

It's sounding very good. If anybody can consume a few hundred millions and produce a good movie, it's James Cameron.

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The hype makes me nervous. I've tossed my $10 before only to find out that the movie wasn't worth more than the four or five bucks I could spend to rent it, or just wait for it come on one of the movie channels. They've basically been saying this movie is as revolutionary as Star Wars was, and that's a whole lotta hype.

Mind you, I did read Roger Ebert's review, and he gave it four out of four stars, and in general, the critics seem to like it, and are backing the notion that it's a quantum leap in film making.

I agree. If it has an awesome opening weekend then falls off we'll have our answer. Many movies have done this. Big opening then flop.

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Are Hollywood movies more and more becoming leftist?

Did you just notice?

From link above:

This being the middle of the 22nd century, Earth's corporate emissaries don't want to come in and take what they want by force (not unless they have to).

Instead they try to win the natives' trust by setting up schools, teaching them English and infiltrating their number with organic avatars...

Ah yes, those evul corporations...

Twentieth-Century Fox (and several other corporations) put up the $400 million to make this movie and presumably, the owners expect a return on their investment. (BTW, that $400 million production cost has been sneaking up in some reports to $500 million. Before the hype is finished, I'm sure the movie will have cost almost a billion.)

So, it is ironic that a corporation makes a movie about evil corporations (the shareholders will laugh ironically to the bank), and a wealthy filmmaker who travels the world by private jet makes a movie about the evils of extravagant personal consumption.

Anyway.

The obsession with CGI in the past decade or so strikes me as similar to the obsession with widescreen in the 1950s. Avatar has the makings of another Cleopatra. Widescreen, huge budget but rather empty. Even the 3D recalls the 1950s.

CGI, and a widescreen, both have a place in cinema but such gimmickry cannot be the basis of a good film. I recently watched again Mike Todd's Around the World in Eighty Days (upscaled DVD version) on the home HD screen and it is dated. If it is interesting now, it is because of Jules Verne's plot and the characters of David Niven and Cantinflas.

I am anxiously awaiting Lawrence of Arabia on Bluray but here again, the widescreen technique matters less than character, story and the skill of the filmmaker. James Cameron does not strike me as a David Lean. If anything, Cameron is an amateur Stanley Kubrick - that is, Cameron is obsessed with technology and cannot imagine how to put it to the service of art. Kubrick at least made teh attempt. Unlike either Cameron or Kubrick, Lean mastered the technology and then thought about people.

Edited by August1991
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I am anxiously awaiting Lawrence of Arabia on Bluray but here again, the widescreen technique matters less than character, story and the skill of the filmmaker. James Cameron does not strike me as a David Lean. If anything, Cameron is an amateur Stanley Kubrick - that is, Cameron is obsessed with technology and cannot imagine how to put it to the service of art. Kubrick at least made teh attempt. Unlike either Cameron or Kubrick, Lean mastered the technology and then thought about people.

Um, I think you should probably wait to see the movie before making that declaration. Heaven knows, I found Titanic the most gawdawful schloppy melodrama, but you know what, the thing was the most successful movie in history (nearly two billion dollars at last count).

I would imagine it will be more like an eco-conscious Star Wars. I think everyone pretty much gave up trying to make another 2001 right after Kubrick released 2001. That's an entirely different kind of movie by an entirely different kind of filmmaker. To my mind, mentioning Kubrick and Cameron in the same breath is kind of like mentioning Chardonnay and root beer together. But you know what, Terminator 2 still kicks serious ass as an action and special effects film, and apparently Avatar, even with what is supposed to be kind of clunky dialog (I mean, this is the guy that put down on paper "Come with me if you want to live"), is a spectacle if for no other reason than the creation of a whole new world. In that respect, perhaps it is better compared to Lord of the Rings.

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Are Hollywood movies more and more becoming leftist?

Hollywood movies have always been leftist, at least according to Conservatives.

At any rate, let me ask you this hypothetical question. Let's just say we discovered another world that had some sort of immensely valuable unobtanium and the local inhabitants said "F--- you, you can't have it." I think history indicates what would happen if the inhabitants seemed incapable of a substantial long-term resistance. I think it's probably unfair to blame corporations, since going in, bashing the natives and taking what they sit on top of has been a behavior of humans since Time Immemorial, corporations are simply a creation of humans which removes the necessity for moral rationalization. I don't have a lot of confidence that, in a couple of hundred years, if we were traveling to the stars, that we wouldn't, with whatever rational and moral justifications at our disposal, take what we believed was of key value to us.

Edited by ToadBrother
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To my mind, mentioning Kubrick and Cameron in the same breath is kind of like mentioning Chardonnay and root beer together.
In my mind, Kubrick and Cameron are similar. Both are/were technical geeks incapable of understanding people. Kubrick was arguably the more proficient geek and more (foolishly) willing to attempt human direction. Cameron knows his limitations - he sticks with scripts of his own making, usually in the technical realm.

Cameron's CGI cross-over wideshots of the Titanic (made in 1996) were every much an innovation as Kubrick's "invention" of the steadicam (in 1979, for The Shining).

At any rate, let me ask you this hypothetical question. Let's just say we discovered another world that had some sort of immensely valuable unobtanium and the local inhabitants said "F--- you, you can't have it." I think history indicates what would happen if the inhabitants seemed incapable of a substantial long-term resistance.
I think history in the past few centuries shows that successful countries would trade to obtain the "unobtainium". Why steal something when you can trade to get it? Trade means that both sides benefit and in the long run, that's a much better result.

Of course, trade requires some sophisticated institutions - and lacks the conflict essential to drama. Or rather, the drama of trade is beyond the abilities of Hollywood screenwriters, including those who write romantic comedies.

Um, I think you should probably wait to see the movie before making that declaration.
Wise advice, but this is an Internet forum and I can be

foolish and free.

I plan to see The Young Victoria next. Bambino would no doubt approve.

Edited by August1991
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