Saturday, December 19, 2009
Avatar is An Ode to White Guilt or Avatar is Like a Beautiful Woman Who You Lose Interest in the Minute After You Sleep with Her
Avatar is a beautiful movie that is best suited as a premier display piece for home theater systems on the floor of Best Buy. It is an amazing technical accomplishment. Avatar's 3d effects are the stuff of imagination--truly redefining for the genre of action and sci-fi film. But as often is the failing of beautiful things, Avatar has nothing new to offer. In its synthetic story we have seen elements recycled--elements done far better elsewhere. Likewise, in reading the overly enthusiastic praise offered by professional critics, and observing how some in the audience cheered and looked wide eyed at Cameron's display of technical brilliance as though it were a thing never seen before, I smiled.
It was not a smile of condescension, what I like to call "geek contrariness" where folks just want to be "haters" as to appear smart and witty. No, I was thinking of Lloyd Bentsen, the 1992 Vice Presidential Democratic Candidate and his ownage of Dan Quayle in their debate. There Quayle alluded to JFK. Bentsen looked at the baby faced, dim witted candidate (a male Sara Palin before her reign of terror over the know-nothings and willfully ignorant Right-wing Populists) and smiled. He replied: Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.
In that spirit, I must proclaim the following: Avatar, I know Star Wars. I love Star Wars. Avatar, you are no Star Wars.
I will dispense with a more detailed review of the movie except to offer the following--read any review of the film Dances with Wolves and substitute Avatar for the latter. While Costner's epic is far more enjoyable (Wolves is an "A" film, Avatar is "C+" at best), the general review will read the same. As to avoid redundancy, I offer the following questions and observations:
1. How much white guilt and colonial fantasy is present in Avatar? White human guy can go and become an alien, return to his human body, expose the wickedness of his human brethren toward the noble savages, and then lead a revolt against the evil human corporate henchmen. Second thought: did anyone else catch the phrase "race traitor" flippantly thrown about in the film? Third thought: while I am ashamed to admit it, I love Colonel Quaritch's proclamation that, "We will blast a crater in their racial memory so deep they won't come within a thousand clicks of here ever again!" If I ever get into fisticuffs with an ign't again in my life, I am going to scream that phrase as I beat them into submission.
How many articles, critical essays, and reviews are going to be written just on that one element of the film--the colonial imagination--ten, twenty, thirty? How many are going to be worth reading? I am getting my outline ready as we speak.
2. Are the Na'Vi supposed to be Masai warriors? Tell me the resemblance is not uncanny. Easter egg: "Na'Vi" is "Native" minus "E.T." Cool move.
3. On the white guilt point, so the Na'Vi take into their community a representative of their enemies, who learns their culture in three months, mates with an heiress to the tribe's leadership, rises to lead all the Na'Vi peoples against the human invaders, and gives poor said aliens agency enough to fight back. Come on! Talk about the white man's burden redux.
4. I will concede that the Na'Vi got some soul with their fiber optic lovemaking and magic swaying to and fro under the mystical tree. In fact, the Na'Vi's music sounded like something off of a world music soundtrack one could buy at Starbucks. But for my dollar, I prefer the Ewok celebration at the end of Jedi:
5. Final music point: when will John Horner stop recycling music from Glory and Willow?
6. For a spot on deconstruction of white guilt in Avatar (she beat me to it) see Annalee Newitz's piece on the great site Io9.
7. How fitting is the following? The Marines have the following saying of which they are quite proud: "Join the Marines, Travel to Exotic Distant Lands, Meet Exotic People and Kill Them." Mate some Greenpeace ethos with the spirit of the above slogan and you have Avatar summed up quite nicely.
8. How many movies and classic sci-fi novels does Avatar unsuccessfully borrow from? I count the following: Forever War; Old Man War; Dune; District 9; Aliens; Dances with Wolves; A Man Called Horse; Final Fantasy; Last Samurai; Pocahontas; New World; Zulu; Tarzan; Ferngully; the Star Wars Trilogy. What did I miss, Captain Planet?
9. I am not hating on synthetic films--I love Tarantino for example. What is so troubling to me is how Cameron has such an eye for detail in this film and has created such a wondrous planet (the world of the Na'vi is so beautiful and well thought out, the lack of innovation in terms of narrative is made painfully obvious by comparison). Furthermore, the glowing errors of reasoning and exposition in other aspects of Avatar is a glaring oversight as well. This leads us to...
10. I am a gearhead, ghetto geek. In layman's terms this means I pay attention to military hardware, strategy, and tactics in my films. To point: did the mercs in Avatar graduate from a correspondence course? Why wouldn't they simply destroy the Na'Vi from orbit? Why would they bring in their capital ships within close range of their enemies? Thus, sacrificing all their advantages of firepower and technology? Some other thoughts. Why can't the military simply turn off what is basically an elaborate wi-fi connection between the operators and the avatars? Who would invest money in such a technology without including a kill switch?
Yes, it is a film. But, Cameron could give us a wink in the narrative to explain this error in reasoning. Was there something about the planet that demanded they come in close to fight it out with some dirty boxing?
11. Second gearhead point: so the humans can travel between stars, cover light years of distance, and master transferring human consciousness into a host body, but we can't make a type of transparent steel that can stop arrows and spears? Just thinking aloud...
12. I am not a hater. Colonel Quaritch is a badass. As proof of my allegiance to the Clan Quaritch, I will most certainly dress as our leader next Halloween.
13. Does Avatar take place in the same universe as Cameron's Aliens films?
14. On Quaritch again, the knife his mech pulled out was 10 kinds of awesome! Did anyone else notice the engraving on the blade? Was it a prize taken from a fallen Na'Vi warrior?
15. How great will Robotech be if shot using Cameron's 3d technology?
16. What did you love about the movie? What did you hate? Were you as disappointed as I was? Or have I lost the eyes and heart of my 12 year old self as demonstrated by my inability to appreciate the wondrous genius that is Avatar?