Watch Out for Ewoks!

So Avatar came out in theaters.  Haven’t seen it yet.  I’ve been put off by the length and the pretentious ads for it.  “Filmmaking will never be the same!”  Yeah, right.  I don’t really understand how Avatar is groundbreaking.  Both animated films and cutting edge video games have demonstrated the power of computer animation to create elaborate, beautiful fantastic worlds.  Maybe 10 years ago, Avatar would’ve been spectacular, but now it’s just par for the course.

As for the story, jeepers, gang, can we stop trying to make it deeper than it is?  Of course, most of us realize that this is just a movie and not a particularly original story.  Bad guys come in and attack a technologically inferior culture to take their stuff.  This isn’t a stretch.  It’s happened repeatedly in the history of our planet.  I find it hard to believe that there is a culture around who is exempt from this sort of “Might Makes Right” behavior at some point in its history.  I’m sure the Native Americans did their fair share of killing each other over land.  Because that’s what animals do.  They compete over resources.  Violently.  And even if you believe that humans are special and not just “animals” (and that’s your choice) it doesn’t change the fact that we’ve often behaved like animals for most of our history.

And, no, I’m not saying what happened to the Native Americans is right.  If they’d managed through some terrific plot contrivance to repel the European invasion of their continent, they’d have been right to do it.  But they didn’t.  History is written in blood (usually).  End of story.

Avatar’s allegory is not particularly subtle or specific to American history.  That’s why I’m struck by the number of extreme conservatives who are decrying it as “leftist propaganda”.

I call bullshit on this.

Avatar is far simpler than that, far less insidious.  Having not seen it, I can’t say for certain that Cameron didn’t have a message in mind.  In fact, I’m positive he did.  But the message seems to be “Nature is good, Don’t destroy the environment, and Respecting other cultures isn’t a bad thing”.  Also, even if you’ve got killer robots and machine guns watch out for ewoks because they’ll kick your ass every time.

There is nothing particularly leftist to me about saying any of these things.  Unless the extreme right wants to define its message as “Nature is bad, strip mine the planet for everything you can without thought of the consequences, and culture, schmulture, they’re different and that’s all the reason I need to shoot ‘em.”  Granted, this does seem to be the attitude of some conservative souls, but they seem to be the exception, not the rule.  I’d like to hope so.  I know some conservatives, and most of them seem to like living on a planet that hasn’t been completely gutted.  But maybe they’re faking it.  Maybe they’re really looking forward to the day the planet is an empty heap incapable of supporting life.  You never know.

If you strip the imaginary leftist pro-environment propoganda controversy from the film, you get a traditional underdog story that’s about as subtle as a trainwreck.  Alien invaders versus underpowered defenders.  The story really is just a reworking of Independence Day, but with the humans switching places with the hive-like aliens.  And I suppose you could look at this as an indictment of the human race, but you could also look at it as just an excuse to have a human character “Go Native”.  Or you could ignore all that and just go with the film’s real reason for existing: to show tribal aliens with spears and pterodactyls fighting spaceships and exo-suits.

The whole thing strikes me as bizarre.  When did the notion that nature is good become controversial?  It’s almost like the extreme conservatives have become exactly what they’ve always been mocked for:  humorless souls who believe the poor exist to do chores and that the environment is there to give them what they want and shut the hell up.  Come to think of it, it’s probably the same with the extreme liberals who tend to believe that if we could all hold hands and sing a song together then rainbows would cover the earth and everyone would live happily ever after.

Avatar is fiction, and while I suppose you could extract a message from it, taking that message too seriously seems absurd to me.  It’d be like using the Matrix to justify destroying cell phones.  Or saying Batman is a suggestion that our cities would be just a little bit safer if billionaires started dressing up in funny costumes and fighting crime.  Or suggesting that G.I. Joe shows that our military would be a lot better if we all wore supersuits and got cool code names.

Actually, I’m all for those things now that I think about it, but that’s neither here nor there.

Nonetheless, in the interest of balance, I’ve decided my next manuscript will be about a race of ruthless invading aliens will come down, eat everything on Earth, and sing the beauty of a free market, unregulated economy.  I’ll call it “James Cameron is a Wussy”, and maybe I’ll add some commie smashing while I’m at it.  Because I’m a healer.  I’m building bridges, balancing the universe, making a difference.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

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2 Comments

  1. Posted December 22, 2009 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I watched it yesterday at the IMAX 3D, and the visuals really are groundbreaking. I highly recommend the 3D version. I know you think it’s just a gimmick, but in this case, they implemented the 3D so seamlessly you never really feel they put in something just for the 3D.

    As for why it’s groundbreaking? I know some new tech was invented for this movie, but I imagine most of it is impossible for the average consumer to recognize. The world is incredibly realistic, so much so it’s easy to forget you’re watching nothing but CGI and props most of the time. It’s unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable.

    I don’t know if Cameron intended a message in the film, but I’m not sure why “don’t strip mine places that don’t belong to you” and “respect other cultures” has to be controversial either. Like you said, the story was an excuse to make awesome mechs tearing through the forest and flying pterodactyles and cool blue natives and glow-in-the-dark trees.

  2. GeekWhit
    Posted January 3, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    I, too, am all for billionaires dressing up in costumes and fighting crime. And I will totally buy James Cameron Is a Wussy. I would even like to offer a song that the invading aliens can sing:

    In our beautiful free market nation,
    Pareto efficiency be damned.
    Our offerings of deregulation
    Appease our gods of Supply and Demand.
    To our corporate wisemen we bring
    Monopolies beyond compare,
    And the Invisible Handmaidens sing,
    “Laissez-faire, laissez-faire, laissez-faire.”

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