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Avatar: The Way of Plot

Avatar: The Way of Water is obviously a visual feast. Hats off to all those amazing film makers involved.

The plot of Avatar: The Way of Water, however, is useful for new and aspiring screenwriters because it’s in need of so much development. If the production was not a multi-billion buck juggernaut franchise, it couldn’t rely on existing momentum and visual effects to put bums on seats.

The story>plot of Avatar: The Way of Water is improveable. The primary concept of Avatar is the high-tech, post-industrial exploitation of indigenous territory for corporate profit. The secondary concept is tribe/family-first; yet Jake (in avatar form permanently now) abandons Spider to seek protection among an oceanic race/tribe of Pandorans, upon whom he knows he will be visiting calamity when Quarich comes after him. Why? Is it because Spider is human – not Na’vi? This is so obviously contrary to the family/tribe theme (and by any measure, divisive) that we must wonder what the justification for this is – other than to create a story. Why, also, would Jake knowingly visit destruction upon the oceanic Pandorans, and why would they allow him to do so? These plot weaknesses are dwarfed, however, by the more extreme plot flaw in evidence here: Jake and his family must be violently forced to run away but Quarich and his thugs, but he isn’t: he runs. Surely running is contrary to everything Jake is about. It also betrays the emotional drive at the core of the first Avatar film: protect the Na’vi tribe.

Why is Quarich afforded such colossal resources to pursue his personal vendetta against Jake? It seems all-to-convenient, too, that Quarich turned himself and his thugs into avatars. Why? It’s obvious: within the context of the story - to achieve life after death. External to the story: to create a predator and prey thus final conflict storyline for Avatar: The Way of Water. Better, surely, to bring in a new character to spearhead the nasty technocrats to despise the ‘indigenous’ people’s way of life, and ignore their rights.

The exploitational violation of Pandora was motivated by the desire to acquire the remarkably lazily named Unobtainium in the first Avatar; and in Avatar: The Way of Water, a new Unobtainium is presented as a kind of motivation for Quarich pursuit of Jake. Why? Has the evil corporation lost interest in the Unobtainium it sought so violently in the first Avatar? Why? Plot stall in Way of Water is extreme. We might call it middle-act sag. Our new Unobtainium creates extreme middle act sag in Way of Water when Jake’s son bonds with ocean giants via an unexplained form of communication. Quarich (the antagonist) vanishes for over half an hour while this happens. That’s too long to be without antagonist-protagonist tension. It also seems like an excuse to seduce the audience with more amazing visuals. As a visual animal, I was willingly seduced; but in my screenwriter mind I kept thinking: this doesn’t work. Only the producers of a multi-billion buck juggernaut franchise like Avatar could or would do this, knowing full well that they can make extreme cinematic storytelling mistakes and still make billions. It’s cynical, of course – as cynical and absurd as Bond leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for Silva and his thugs that will lead them to a drafty castle in Scotland (because that was where Bond grew up) that Bond will fail to protect M in because it was time for Judy Dench to stop playing the role; yet Skyfall, of course, made a profit because it’s Bond. Ditto the visual glory of Avatar: The Way of Water.

The point of remarking on storytelling issues like these is to make it clear that if you are starting out as a screenwriter and/or film maker, you can’t afford to make mistakes like these. Your script needs to work as a concept (fits the market place and is not ‘the story you want to tell’); as a story; and as the watertight (see what I did there?) plot and structure thereof which that story evolves naturally. Your dialogue must flow organically from these essentials. It must seem natural. It may be tacit, elliptical, and minimal, depending on the film genre you are writing. It must never feel forced or burdened by exposition.

I can help you with all these screenwriting essentials. Get in touch to find out how.

Happy screenwriting.


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