WHEN: March 29, 2014, 9:52 am. (Week 13, Mar 23-29.)
WHERE: In my apartment in Portland, ME.
FORMAT: DVD on a 19” AOC LED computer monitor; digital download on an iPhone 3.
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: In a very good mood. Too good of a mood, in fact, to be watching Avatar.
EVERYONE IS REPLACEABLE:
I was sitting down for my weekly Avatar viewing when a funny thought occurred to me. Due to the film’s heavy reliance on motion capture, it would be incredibly easy for James Cameron to replace most of the actors in the film, without the vast majority of audience members batting an eyelid. Furthermore, for the most part, Avatar‘s stars don’t have the type of name recognition that truly draws fans into the theater. In Avatar, it’s Pandora that piques the audience’s interest, not the performances of its actors. So, were it his capricious whim to do so, could James Cameron make Avatar 2 without a single member of the original cast? Let’s take a character-by-character look.
SAM WORTHINGTON’S JAKE SULLY:
We do see quite a bit of Sam Worthington’s real-life non-computer-animated face. He’s probably the live-action character we see the most of. Yet, despite being the protagonist, the film’s final plot point renders Worthington’s return to the franchise largely unnecessary. Using the power of Eywa, Jake’s consciousness is transferred into his avatar body, meaning that the returning Jake Sully we see in Avatar 2 and beyond will likely be entirely mo-cap. It’s not as though Worthington’s star power is going to save him. His second highest-grossing film, Clash of the Titans, only made a fifth of Avatar‘s mighty box office take. Don’t piss James Cameron off, Sam, or you’ll be replaced by Andy Serkis and a sound-alike voice actor.
I’d pay good money to see Jake bite into a fish, Gollum-style.
ZOE SALDANA’S NEYTIRI:
Between Avatar, Star Trek, and the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy, Zoe Saldana is hot shit in the sci-fi world at present. But does that translate into her being essential to the Avatar franchise? I somehow doubt that your average moviegoer makes the connection that Neytiri is played by the same actress as Uhura.
Wait, what now?
Saldana does a perfectly fine job, but what’s to stop the production crew from popping her face onto another actor’s mo-cap face-dots? Nothing, really? That’s what I thought.
SIGOURNEY WEAVER’S DR. GRACE AUGUSTINE:
Well, since her character’s dead, I really can’t see any reason why they’d bring her back. Oh, what’s that? They’re bringing her back in all three sequels? Whatever. She’s dead, if they wanted to write her out, they could write her out.
I would support bringing her back as a stumbling zombie corpse.
STEPHEN LANG’S COLONEL QUARITCH:
Also dead. Also coming back in the sequels? The hell? Anyhow, if they wanted to, they could let him lie there to rot.
Pictured: The reason no one will think it’s strange if he doesn’t return.
MICHELLE RODRIGUEZ’S TRUDY CHACON:
Also dead! And I don’t think there are any plans to bring her back. Wow, after thirteen weeks of watching Avatar in a row, I didn’t remember her character’s name? I honestly just think of her as Helicopter Lady. So, quite obviously, she’s not needed as the franchise continues.
If you need warpaint to remind the audience
which side you’re on, you’re probably boring.
GIOVANNI RIBISI’S PARKER SELFRIDGE:
Alive but last seen boarding a space shuttle back to Earth, corporate douche Parker Selfridge might be the most interesting character to bring back in the sequels. How will the the mining corporation deal with this alien uprising? Will they send back the man who failed the first time? But, these issues could easily be tackled without one particular executive pen pusher. Parker’s return is by no means a sure thing. Giovanni Ribisi’s next highest-grossing role was playing a guy I don’t remember in a movie about a talking teddy bear. I’m not sure how much star power that equates to. But I’m pretty sure it’s nominal.
Of course, he might still be needed to dispense painful exposition.
JOEL DAVID MOORE’S NORM SPELLMAN:
Oh, hey, Norm might be our best bet for unavoidable inclusion in the sequels! He’s not dead at the end of the film. His avatar appears to have been destroyed, so there’s no replacing him with CGI. He gets enough screen time that if he disappeared, audiences might notice. Hey guys, I think we have a winner!
Hey, he was also a winner in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.
CCH POUNDER’S MOAT:
Without looking, can anyone tell me who Moat is? No, she isn’t the ring of water surrounding a castle. She’s the spiritual leader of the particular tribe of Na’vi Jake shows up in. Also Neytiri’s mom. Also, entirely motion capture. Would anyone notice if she were replaced with another mo-cap actor? Anyone? Fans of The Shield? No? Okay, moving on.
Don’t cry, Moat! Or do. No one cares.
WES STUDI’S EYTUKAN:
Dead and completely mo-cap. No reason whatsoever to bring Wes Studi back. Which is sad, because I loved him in Mystery Men. Also, because his character’s name sounds like “A Toucan.”
“Follow your nose!”
LAZ ALONSO’S TSU-TEY:
Dead. Mo-cap. Moving on.
Sorry, Tsu-tey, you don’t even get a jokey caption.
DILEEP RAO’S DR. MAX PATEL:
Oh, hey. It’s that guy from the background. Remember him? He’s the guy in the lab coat who does all the lab coat stuff. Remember?
Well, guess what! He’s a live-action character who manages to survive the entire movie, and remains on the planet. Congratulations, Dr. Max Patel, you’re fucking irreplaceable to the franchise! Except, wait. No one gives a shit, because you’re just the lab guy. No one is going to walk out of Avatar 2 saying “that was pretty sweet, but where was Max Patel?” It’s not Dileep Rao’s fault. I think Dr. Max motherfucking Patel is pretty damn awesome. He might just be my favorite character. But guess what? I watch this godless monstrosity of a film every damn week, so my perspective is a little skewed at this point.
Where was I? OH, YES. Sorry, Max. You’re unnecessary to the future of the franchise.
SO WHAT’S THE POINT?:
Alright. I’ve gone so far down the cast list that the only people left are glorified extras, and the point I’m trying to make is that not a single actor in this film is important, in and of themselves, to the franchise. That’s got to be super shitty if you worked on this film. Don’t like the deal you’re getting? Don’t like how James Cameron is treating you? Tough cookies. Unless you play Norm or Dr. Max “standing in the background” Patel, you don’t have a single chip to bargain with. You are a cog.
(Unless you’re Norm or Max, you two are special fucking rainbow sparkling flowers.)
This may be the ultimate example of the death of the movie star. Avatar is the highest-grossing film of all time, and not a single one of its cast members is irreplaceable. For better or for worse, this appears to be where we’ve landed.