As the two big movies of this month, I thought it might be fun to compare the two and see what we can learn from them. So here goes.
Avatar: The most exciting thing in this movie was definitely the graphics. They did a good job with the spectacle aspect. Also, I thought the general premise was interesting, but I didn't quite feel like the film as a whole lived up to its premise. The story itself was pretty cool, but the actual writing wasn't anything special. Neither was the acting. It wasn't particularly awful, but it wasn't great either. Like I said, the graphics were definitely the most exciting thing, and I really didn't think it lived up to all the hype.
So what can writers learn from Avatar? An exciting premise is a wonderful starting point. Have the adventure and excitement and spectacle. But don't let those things get in the way of subtle plots and sub-plots and deep characters. You want characters that your readers can really relate to and that they will remember for years to come.
Sherlock Holmes: Really, really great character acting by both Robert Downey Junior and Jude Law. It is so awesome to see good looking guys willing to get crazy and dirty. The story itself was just as good as Avatar's, and I would say better, and the actual writing of it, the dialogue and everything, was much, much better. It was fantastic, in fact. I think both the story and the characters had the subtlety I was missing in Avatar. It was great visually as well, with wonderful cinematography. It ended with a very obvious cliffhanger, which makes me excited for the sure-to-come sequel.
What I learned from Sherlock Holmes is this: you've got to have characters that readers can really root for. RDJ played a wonderfully quirky Holmes that we can enjoy, and RDJ as a person is someone movie goers have come to admire and support. We love struggling yet somehow victorious characters, and both Holmes and RDJ give us that. Also, though spectacle is fun and exciting, more memorable and successful stories are created with subtlety and ambiguity. Subtle stories are also ones that you want to read over again, and when you do, you catch something new.
And the winner is: Sherlock Holmes, definitely. It has more intriguing subtlety and plain old good writing and acting then Avatar, and would be more exciting to see a second time. The story and characters are much more memorable, and not just because Holmes has been part of our culture for a long time. To me these movies show just how important character is; more important then setting or plot in terms of creating literature that will become part of the culture for years to come.
So create memorable, subtle characters. Happy writing!