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Posts Tagged ‘Dances With Wolves’

“Martha Graham used to say, ‘if you’re going to steal, steal from the best,’ and I have always embraced the people that I have idolized and tried to incorporate what I’ve enjoyed in their films and in their styles in mine.”
Woody Allen
Interview by Tony Jenkins

“I decided that I would create a modern version of (the Ben-Hur chariot race) which was instead of horses and chariots they would be speeders hooked behind giant engines.
George Lucas on the pod race in Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace


Yesterday’s post covered how the movie Dances with Wolves helped inspire James Cameron as he created Avatar. But before Avatar became the all-time box office winner, Cameron’s Titanic held that spot for 12 years. Was there a filmed that helped Cameron create Titanic?

I couldn’t find a quote from Cameron, but here’s a thought-provoking comparison of Titanic and Ben-Hur, that was created by Kal Bashir.* (One slight correction, Titanic was nominated for 14 Academy Awards but won 11 Oscars, which tied Ben Hur’s total wins. A record they now also now share with Lord of the Rings:Return of the King.)

Ben-Hur was also an inspiration to Ridley Scott on the making of Gladiator—a film that itself was nominated for 11 Academy Award, winning five including Best Picture, and the famous Ben-Hur chariot race was the basis for George Lucas in creating the pod race scene in The Phantom Menace.

Lew Wallace‘s book Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ was first published in 1880 and for over 50 years was the second best-selling book next to the Bible. ( Wallace was born, raised, and died in Indiana. He spent seven years reseaching and writing Ben-Hur “under a tree in Crawfordsville, Indiana.” ) There was a New York stage version of the book done in 1899, and the play would eventually go on the road in the states and overseas and be seen by an estimated 20 million people.  Ben-Hur was made into movies in 1907, 1925, 1958 and an animated version in 2003.

*Kal has several other movie examples on his website where he touches on what he calls The 510+ stage Hero’s  Journey. (Ben-Hur/Titanic synopsis used by permission.)

Scott W. Smith

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“You do things sometimes as a writer subconsciously, things you’re not even aware of. I’m always comfortable doing things instinctively because I see it as tapping into this vein of archetype that works for a broader audience base.”
James Cameron
Writer/director of Titanic and Avatar

“I think it’s fine for young (filmmakers) to out and out rip off people who come before them because you always make it your own.”
Francis Ford Coppola
World News interview


Yesterday we looked at several films that share some of the same DNA. I mentioned several words and phrases used to explain why some movies resemble other movies. Blake Snyder in Save the Cat added one more phrase—”Hollywood’s Dirty Little Secret.”

“Look at Point Break starring Patrick Swazye, then look at Fast and Furious. Yes, it’s the same movie almost beat for beat. But one is about surfing, the other is about hot cars. Is that stealing? Is that cheating? Now look at The Matrix and compare and contrast it with the Disney/Pixar hit Monsters, Inc. Yup. Same movie. And there’s a million more examples. Who Saved Roger Rabbit? is Chinatown…In some instances, the stealing is conscious. In other, it’s just coincidence.”
Blake Synder
Save the Cat

So let’s have some screenwriters weigh in on the topic.

“I wrote the screenplay (for The Magnificent Seven), Johnny Struges, the director, asked me to make a screenplay out of Kuroisawa’s (Seven Samari), setting it in the West.”
Walter Brown Newman

“(The movie Red River) was Mutiny on the Bounty. I had always thought what a great Western.”
Red River screenwriter Borden Chase as told to William Bowers

Okay, but do screenwriters have to be at retirement age to admit to taking from other films? Well, writer/director James Cameron prefers to use the words “reference point” when talking about films that he watched before he made Avatar.  Here’s an Q&A interview that he did with the Los Angeles Times that addresses if Avatar is Dances with Wolves in space.

Geoff Boucher: There’s also maybe some heritage linking (“Avatar”) to “Dances with Wolves,” considering your story here of a battered military man who finds something pure in an endangered tribal culture.

James Cameron: Yes, exactly, it is very much like that. You see the same theme in “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” and also “The Emerald Forest,” which maybe thematically isn’t that connected but it did have that clash of civilizations or of cultures. That was another reference point for me. There was some beautiful stuff in that film. I just gathered all this stuff in and then you look at it through the lens of science fiction and it comes out looking very different but is still recognizable in a universal story way. It’s almost comfortable for the audience – “I know what kind of tale this is.”

Dances with Wolves was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and Avatar was nominated for 9. Combined they both they won ten Oscars. And while only Dances with Wolves won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Screenplay based on Material from Another Medium (Michael Blake), Avatar became the all-time box office champ making $2.7 billion worldwide.

As a sidenote Avatar’s production designer saw shades of The Wizard of Oz in the script. (The Wizard of Oz just happens to be one of Cameron’s favorite films.)

Scott W. Smith

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