Monday, December 21, 2009

The Week Of Trying To Say Anything In The Least Bit Interesting About Avatar, Day Two: Avatar, or On Typography

I could honestly not make sense of the decision to use the font Papyrus in the posters for Avatar. I thought we had got to a point where nobody who expected to be taken seriously in the real world used Papyrus for anything. I was sure that as a culture we had made the unspoken agreement that the rubes had hopped onto the Ban Comic Sans bandwagon, and that that battle was as won as it was going to get, and that the new enemy was Papyrus; and that we would not get a massage from someone who used Papyrus on their business card, and we would not eat Eastern-fusion food from anywhere that used Papyrus on its menu, and if we were at the video store we would not get the movie whose title was in Papyrus, we would get the one which had had a cinema release instead. And then along comes The Biggest Fucking Movie Ever and uses Papyrus on its poster! What the shit?

And do you know what? That font is used for every single subtitle in Avatar as well! The movie honestly expects you to get into the swing of things, while rendering every non-English word in fucking sands-of-ancient-Egypt-yellow Papyrus! Not only are the subtitles not in a sensible, unobtrusive font so you can read them and get back to the movie, they are in The Teenage Witch's Choice of fonts, Papyrus! It is such a relief when the movie's end credits come up, and they are in Helvetica, it is honestly a physical weight that is lifted from your (my) shoulders.

I suspect that one of two things happened on the road to putting Papyrus into Avatar. Either:

- Cameron liked this font, because it communicated everything he wanted to say about the beauty of primitive nature-loving reverence for the spirit world in all its yadda yadda yadda, and someone said to him, "Sire, that font, it's the second most reviled font in all the world, if you use that font you will never be --"
But the whelp was cut short with a primal bellow from Cameron's bearded maw, the great man's weathered paws locking in a raptor's grasp at his underling's shirt collars, a grip like surgical tools hewn of iron, mighty and exacting and merciless yet warm like a father's touch; and Cameron looked into his assistant's soul with his eyes that had seen apocalypses and alien realms and men born of lightning and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio's blue-aureolaed fury, and explained to him that if this was the perfect choice for this movie - and it was, for The Cameron had made it - then pre-existing cultural signifiers meant nought: for from this day, "Papyrus" would mean only "Avatar". Just as "a timeless sigil of mens' foolhardy reliance on technology" had come to mean "the most technologically successful movie of the 90s", and "Robert Patrick's glowing elf ears" had come to signify "evil's own halo", and "James Horner's least favourite temp-tracked rush-job ever" had become known as "James Horner's signature opus", and "cat-faced gumby-men" were about to become "the new actors". And It Was So. Or:

- It is things like this that make me suspect that James Cameron doesn't know what he is doing to the degree that I have always assumed he does.


Robyn said...

1. Papyrus is marginally better than the fucking Teletext font.

2. There is much debate in the subtitling/captioning community as to what sort of font is best. Papyrus is not on the top 10 list.

Homage said...

If it weren't for all the things it meant, Comic Sans would be pretty okay. I blame Night Watch for so, so much.

Rose said...

And it's also ALL CAPS! A typographical abomination.

Tom said...

I take it that you checked very carefully to make sure that the end credits were actually in Helvetica. Because it would be a bit embarrassing if they were actually in Arial.

Homage said...

I'm sure when you're making the most expensive movie ever, you have to cut costs and use system fonts eventually.