This week's Entertainment Weekly has a really interesting interview with James Cameron regarding Avatar. At one point, he talks about the anxiety that major studios are facing in trying to sell these large movies. He says that the attitude is that it's getting harder to make money on these expensive films because of falling DVD revenues and costs aren't going down. Now, I find that a somewhat ironic statement considering this year's box office is on track to be the most successful year in history. Then he makes a statement I find compelling considering what it could mean for the future of storytelling.
"The audience is more demanding. If you showed anything that's been done in the last couple years - in terms of the quality of the visual effects - to an audience 20 years ago, they'd be s--ting themselves with their mouths wide open. Now they're like [shrugs] 'Meh.'"
While it's understandable that this terrifies studios because they can't count on nifty visual effects to be a draw in and of themselves, as a storyteller, I found it inspiring for precisely the same reasons. My theory is that we are quickly approaching a saturation point, where the fact that CG can create anything will mean that the mere achievment of a visual effect will cease to be impressive.
For too often, films like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen have used story as a means to produce interesting visual effects, as opposed to employing visual effects as a means of telling a compelling story. The cart has come before the horse for so long that the studios have been selling the cart with little more than a nag attached.
And now James Cameron says that from his point of view, audiences are increasingly less impressed with those visuals. This leads to the question - if you can't use visual effects to put assess in the seats, what will get them there?
Story. Compelling characters. Plots we haven't seen before.
At least that's my theory. Is substance coming back into style? What do you think?