From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Avatar vs. Sherlock Holmes

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!
Sarah Allen


  1. Wow. I completely disagree. Taking a story from scratch and creating a completely believable world out of nothing is incredible hard, almost impossible for a writer to do. Then on top of it, creating characters that are not only believable but that moviegoers want to cheer-on and empathize with--even harder. I think James Cameron did that for not only his male and female leads but many of his supporting characters as well--Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Rabisi, Michelle Rodriguez, etc. Then there is the story, a blend of a retelling of a classic American story ripped from our history and mixed with elements of rich, Sci-Fi created to be easily absorbed by people who do not like Sci-fi. Impossible? No. Not if you're James Cameron.

    Don't get me wrong. I LOVE Guy Ritchie. But I LOVE Guy Ritchie when he's BEING Guy Ritchie. I thought RDJ fell flat in this role but Rachel McAdams was the best part. Jude Law was just pretty doing the best he could with what he had. The cinematography was indeed--gorgeous--even more so than the male eye candy. The explosions were very explosive. But, what else would you expect from a big budget Christmas Day release?

    Was it original? No. Was it unexpected? No. Costumes were great.

    I'm glad I had a chance to see Avatar first. I should have waited to see SH on DVD.

  2. I have not yet had a chance to see either and love your guidance — thank you for that!

  3. Haha, you are perfectly entitled to your own opinion :-) I personally didn't find the characters in Avatar engaging, but it is clear that many do. That is the joy of creating art--everyone will think differently of it! Thank you both for your comments.

  4. I've not seen either and considering the fact that I'm into everything SF I'm a little puzzled by my lack of interest in Avatar; maybe I'm just not into the whole 'noble savage' type of story. Having watched Jeremy Brett play Holmes for many years - and surely his Holmes is the definitive performance as is David Suchet's Poirot - I think I might find this new version a bit caricatured. That said, if I forget it's Holmes then it looks rollicking good fun.

    One thing I didn't see you mention, the soundtracks. I think James Horner has written some outstanding film music (except that horrible Celine Dion song from Titanic) but I found his soundtrack to Avatar eminently forgettable; Zimmer's Sherlock Holmes score is magnificent, far better than Gladiator in my opinion, catchier at least. I have quite a decent collection of soundtracks - I think they can really take a film up a notch. Just consider Horner's music to Aliens if you don't believe me.

  5. Great, great comments! I really appreciate it. I agree that Avatar is surprisingly un-intriguing for a lot of SciFi lovers, me included. As for Holmes, I actually thought Downey Jr. did a fantastic job in the actual character, particularly with the quirky, almost crazy side. Granted, every actor will put their on spin on a role, but at least for me I didn't find it caricatured.

    And yes, the soundtracks are immanently important, I agree. There are some movies (i.e. Tarzan) that I watch specifically for the music.


  6. Avatar has generated some interesting reactions - and hilarious tweets. One of my favorites was @wilw's snark about the success of the Smurf/Thundercats breeding program. Another RT popped up about the total cost of the script being photocopies of "Dances with Wolves," a concept challenged by "Pocohontar"(

  7. Haha! Great stuff. Thanks so much, I thoroughly enjoyed your comments :-)



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