January 11th, 2010



Because I didn't want to be left out in social situations, I went and saw Avatar.

Firstly, I'll say that it is a visually impressive film. I'm not actually convinced that the fact that it was in 3D added anything to it, but I'm sure other people would disagree. However, I figure it would be a visually impressive film in 2D or 3D, and I'd argue enjoyable for both.

Unfortunately, however, the film is as stupid as a retarded child writing a 60 thousand word thesis on racial representation. You could say the heart is in the right place, since the film's message can be boiled down to, 'Its bad to take things from other cultures, respect people and the planet,' but that neither makes for an interesting two and a half hours, nor an intelligent one. In fact, there is one point in the film, towards the end, when the general in charge of the military on Pandora (the planet the humans are trying to take over for their minerals) says something like, "We're going to leave a scar in their racial memory," and the camera pans over a collection of soldiers who may or may not be Kiwis, African American, and other such people that have cultural memories of this. It's a small moment, and maybe for a lot of people it didn't mean much, but to me it actually laid down what was wrong with the film: in that for as much as it wanted to hold a conversation within its background about what we're doing to our planet now, it neither had the awareness nor the intelligence to do so.

Still, it was pretty.

In case you don't know much about the film, Avatar follows Jake Sully, a paraplegic ex-soldier who, after learning that his twin brother has died, is offered a job to take his place on Pandora, where he will operate an 'avatar' that was designed with the DNA of his dead brother. You may think that such a concept is ripe with interesting plot development, such as merging your mind with the small parts of your brother left behind, with the idea that a cripple could have his body back, and more, but for the most part, Cameron touches lightly on the crippled part when Jake first enters the avatar, and then proceeds to do nothing much. He has had the unfortunate choice of naming his protagonist Sully, because he will sully the world of the natives, and he does it a second time with Sigourney Weaver's Grace, who is the one human who fully understands the beauty of the native world. Well, it was good to see Weaver in the film, at any rate, since her chain smoking, cynical doctor--who in the human world has anything but 'grace'--is given more life by her performance that it probably deserves.

At any rate, on Pandora there exists a culture of native, blue skinned Indians. I mean, aliens. Outside the presence of Michelle Rodriquez as the pilot Trudy, Cameron's human protagonists are mostly white--though he colours the background--so its somewhat interesting that the majority of the blue skinned aliens are voiced by African Americans and native Americans. I'm not quite sure if I find this to be a good thing, or if I find it to be kind of a bit dubious, since you can make a reading for both. Still, the culture, which is one of the basic warrior tribe show you're an adult by subduing and animal and putting your penis in it... wait, I'm not sure where I'm going with that line. It's a basic culture, I guess is what I'm saying, and it's pretty much the cliche for bad science fiction and fantasy. In the end, Sully who has sullied their world, will realise how beautiful and natural they are, and turn against the greedy humans. To show that they're serious, they'll paint a spaceship with tribal war paint and put their penis in a giant bird. After doing such a thing, all the other blue skinned tribes will marvel at the amazing sex with the bird...

I really have to let that go.

Yet, you know, for all the criticisms I have for the plot, the characters, and the themes of the film, I did actually enjoy watching it. It's a very pretty film, and there's a lot in it for you to watch, and to admire from a design perspective. Cameron's refusal to let anything of intelligence enter the film keeps the two and a half hours of it moving, and it really is possible to just sit back, stare at the prettiness of it, and switch off.