Monday, May 2, 2011

Movie Review: Avatar

I went into Avatar with low expectations, watching it for the first time on my television the other night.  I have avoided it for months because I found the ridiculous hype to be annoying and the movie looked dumb.  The movie mostly fulfilled my expectations although the special effects were better than the trailer had let on.  Avatar is the story of George W. Bush leading an army of American marines to destroy innocent, Native Americans, Vietcom, and Al Qaeda terrorists so we can steal their oil.  It is possibly the most thinly veiled, clunky, obvious allegory I have ever seen.  None of its ideas are remotely new.  Most of its politics are false and offensively anti-American.  Every characterization is an overdone stereotype. The only thing the movie has going for it are special effects.  All in all, Avatar was not as terrible as I expected, but that's only because I set the bar so low. Avatar is an extremely thinly veiled allegory about Vietnam/ Iraq/ America/ Bush.

The first problem with this is purely narrative.  All the constant, explicit references to our world take us out of the world of the the movie and remind us we are watching the creation of a left-wing ideologue.  Every left-wing anti-war slogan since the Vietnam era is clunkily crammed into this movie.  Even if you agree completely with the radical politics of this movie, which hopefully would be quite hard for most people, you have to admit that all the explicit references to our world feel forced.  On top of this, the movie really has nothing at all profound to say.  It just trots out trite liberal maxims.  It's preaching to a choir that has falsely hailed it as visionary.  This movie is an allegory.  A good allegory should be simple and subtle, but at the same time relatively obvious because the connections should naturally flow.  The more Cameron is forced to make the connections explicit, the less obvious the connections were in the first place and the more dubious the connections are.  That is unless of course the audience are all idiots.  If the marines in the movie are the current U.S. military in Iraq, we should be able to put the pieces together ourselves, considering the war is happening right now, without the mention of "shock and awe."  The statements this movie makes, and I'm not reading these into it, they are blatantly there, are tired out, uninventive and untrue.  I think everyone already knows the Vietnam was a political mistake and a human tragedy.  Sticking the reputation of those veterans in the mud again with obvious references to killing women and children is unnecessary.  It is sad that attacking our veterans has become cliche.  The Na'vi are not only the Vietcom, but they are the Native Americans, the oppressed peoples of colonial empires, and they are Al Qaeda terrorists.  How were mainstream audiences not offended by a movie where the heroes were Al Qaeda terrorists?  Anyone who has seen the movie, which at this point is apparently nearly everyone, knows I am not making this up.

The second problem with this movie is that every single character is a stereotype.  Jake Sully is every white man needlessly turned into the central figure of some other race's story.  He is the mighty whitey.  Neytiri is the chief's daughter/ his girlfriend.  Doctor Augustine is the lovable crank who needs her "g-- d--- cigarettes!"  Colonel Qaritch is the cold-hearted military man.  Everything about him is a caricature of a grunt.  Trudy Chacon is another tough/cool laconic military type.  Most everyone else is a military or researcher stereotype besides the N'avi.  The Na'vi are of course a white man's stereotype of Native Americans.  They are the "noble savage."  They've added nothing to Hollywood's Native American trope.  Despite Hollywood's hatred for Christianity, they've once again come out to praise fringe paganism.  This idealization of primitive peoples rings very hollow coming from a multi-millionaire who is obviously living an ostentatious lifestyle.  The movie alone felt like it was purposely unoriginal, but of course the marketing hype outside the movie went to great pains to tell us James Cameron spent sixteen years writing it and it was the most original thing ever.

The movie had a few strengths.  From the first shot, I was a little disappointed to be watching it at home.  I imagine it was quite majestic at the theater.  It was visually beautiful and the effects were very seamless, which was not the impression I got from the trailer.  The visuals and some of the story ideas reminded me of the work of Japanes anime maestro Hayao Miyazaki, especially Castle in the Sky.  At no point during the movie was I particularly bored.  If the movie had had a similar story, but with more dynamic characterizations, more dynamic ideas and was less, painfully, obviously political, it would have been better and more entertaining.  I also would have liked to see more of the Jake Sully character in a wheelchair.  I understand that it could be boring watching a paralyzed man wheel around, but the character development would have made his transformation more meaningful. As I stated in the opening paragraph, Avatar was not as terrible as I expected, but that's only because I set the bar so low.

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