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A Whole New World: World-Building in Avatar and Scrubs

A Whole New World: World-Building in Avatar and Scrubs

December 20th, 2009

It’s very rare around these parts that I actively engage in any sort of cinematic analysis, but apparently it’s a yearly tradition as twelve months ago I was waxing poetic on the virtues of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire and its connection to reality television narrative. And after seeing James Cameron’s Avatar last night, I feel I need to spend at least some amount of time discussing what was a truly fantastic cinematic experience (even if I also end up discussing its connection with television).

I could spend a long time talking about the film’s visual prowess, but as noted on both Twitter and Facebook (which means that, if you’re a Myles McNutt aficionado, you think me mighty repetitive) this was the first movie I saw wearing my new corrective lenses, which meant that it was so stunningly sharp that I think I would have found any movie mind-blowing from a visual perspective.

However, I want to focus on what those visuals are meant to achieve, in particular the film’s efforts to create a “world.” Cameron’s Pandora is full of life in a way that sustains this film, filling in the gaps of the somewhat reductive and straightforward plot by making us anxious less for what will happen next and more for what unseen part of this planet we’re going to see for the first time in the near future.

And it has me thinking about those television series which rely on the same sense of world-building, specifically ABC’s Scrubs, and in particular how Cameron’s film draws attention to the advantages and disadvantages of the audience (or, in the case of the film, its characters) dropping in and out of that world on a regular basis.

[Spoilers for Avatar will be minimal, more particular moments than any sort of plot or character things, but if you want to go in blind turn back now.]

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