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How to tell a story

What passes for screenwriting these days is worrisome by any measure. "Avatar," the most successful film of all time (and a glorious spectacle), has some of the worst dialogue in recent memory. Now more than ever it's critical to recognize those that are striving to keep the art of the screenplay alive. The best-picture Oscar can and will remain a populist award. That shouldn't be the case for recognition of genuine craft. (Andrew Grant, “Screenwriting, the most meaningless Oscar,” 2 February 2010)

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Extending on the comments above about what it takes to plot a movie, let's say that AVATAR *had* been nominated. Why might that have happened?

Well, have you seen lengthy dissections of the Avatar plot on political blogs as well as on science and tech blogs? Have you seen the debates about whether the Chinese should be allowed to see the film? People aren't having these discussions about the future of 3-D. People are taking time out of their day, day after day, to discuss the MEANING of this story. How many films accomplish that even for one day?

Aside from the effects, Cameron (for all his lack of social skills, for all his pedestrian dialogue) has tapped into something that resonates with millions of people around the world. If, in the alternate universe in which Andrew Grant lives, AVATAR had received a screenwriting nomination, it would have been for creating a story that gets liberals arguing with conservatives, that gets media interviews for linguistics professors, that indisputably enters the zeitgeist. (Brian Nelson, response to post, “Screenwriting, the mot meaningless Osar”)

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Brian --

Everything you mention about Avatar -- its politics, its technological impact, etc -- is all perfectly valid, but the fact remains that the dialog is simply dreadful, and I doubt any critic praised it for its screenplay. It's a prime example of lazy screenwriting, and an indicator of just how low the bar is set. Its reliance on expository dialog is simply embarrassing. (Though it didn't get an Oscar nomination, it did get one from the WGA. That's concerning.) (Andrew Grant, response to post)

How to tell a story

Re: “Everything you mention about Avatar -- its politics, its technological impact, etc -- is all perfectly valid, but the fact remains that the dialog is simply dreadful, and I doubt any critic praised it for its screenplay.”

Well, I'm pretty sure the critic, Brian Nelson, is making a case for understanding the dialog as being one of the vehicles behind such widespread discussion of the movie's message. You essentialized the film as "spectacle," yet it's difficult to see how sensation alone provokes political discussion. If it was also the story, how did he manage such power, with the wording such an all-too-obvious embarrassing muddle? Explain, please.

Re: “Its reliance on expository dialog is simply embarrassing.”

Hemingway had the same complaint: that is, You may need more than this to convince, here -- this sounds too much like an airing of a school of thought (on how to properly tell a story), to simply convince.

Link: Screenwriting, the most meaningless Oscar (Salon)


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