Sunday, June 13, 2010

Winner of the PWR "Webby": Trees Are People Too

I was going to write a review of Lady Gaga’s last album, but I couldn’t make it through the first song, so instead I chose the next best (worst) thing – James Cameron’s “Avatar”. Call me idealistic and snobbish (please don’t, that’s mean), but I have made a point to not see this movie until now. I’ll admit that yes, part of the reason for my abstemious refusal was that everyone loved this movie so much and I take stubborn pride in my individuality – since I believe myself to be sui generis – and will defend it at all costs. Another reason is that I really didn’t want to pay sixteen dollars to see a movie – any movie. Plus, if you ask me, that whole 3-D thing is a bit of a gimmick anyway.

But alas! I have given in. I figured that to truly get to the essence of the movie, I would filter out all of the excessively sensational visuals by watching it on my computer illegally in really bad quality. If you watch a movie in bad quality and don’t like it, then it’s not a good movie. Let me make it clear, however, that it is not Cameron’s views I am concerned with here (maybe a little), but his want of artistic tact, if you will.

To start off with, there is a general lack of depth in the movie’s characters. It seems like Cameron sacrifices adding dimension to his characters by adding it to his visuals instead. Let’s start with the bad guys. You have the antichrist himself in Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who cares about absolutely nothing except killing the Na’vi and “making it home by dinnertime”. Cameron makes his view quite obvious: the U.S. army is a war machine consisting of a bunch of violent thugs that have nothing better to do than pick on the little guy (figuratively, since the Na’vi are about eleven feet tall). Oh, but let’s not forget the corporate influence. In one of the brighter spots of the movie, Giovanni Ribisi plays Parker Selfridge (“Self rich?” Really James? Really?), a corporate administrator who oversees the mining operation on Pandora. Ribisi offers the viewer a few brief glimpses of Selfridge’s slight unease with the Colonel’s violence, but that’s all they are, just passing glimpses. Ultimately, Selfridge just wants to make a buck, no matter the cost to others.

On the good side, we have Dr. Grace Augustine, played by Sigourney Weaver. In case you missed it the first time, let me remind you of that character’s name: Grace Augustine. Could there be a more peaceful and benevolent name? I guess maybe if she were named Jesus or Flower Kitten. And of course, her personality directly reflects her name. She is the peace-loving scientist who only wants to understand the Na’vi and collect a few samples for her research. No ulterior motives there. The Na’vi themselves are goodness personified as giant blue catlike hippies who are “at one with nature”. One tawdry scene that really stuck in my craw is when Neytiri (Zoe Zaldana) is about to shoot Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), but decides against it because a seed from the Tree of Souls falls on her arrow. I literally rolled my eyes at how cliché this symbol of peace was (think back to Bernie Boston’s “Flower Power” photograph).

What Cameron fails to realize with his portrayal of indigenous peoples as pure and enlightened beings, is that they aren’t any better or worse than any other human being, because they are exactly that: human. Unfortunately (fortunately, if you are an Objectivist), being human means being selfish and greedy, which means that indigenous peoples, just like soldiers, scientists, and civilians, are not perfect and fall victim to these traits just as easily as any other human being (I’m speaking generally of course). To think that the Na’vi or other indigenous peoples don’t exploit their own natural resources or murder each other is absurd. Mind you, I am not defending the actions of imperialism, which are unjustified and reprehensible, but I am suggesting that Cameron is blinded to a crucial part of the human condition – namely, that no human is exempt.

But I digress. Like the characters, the plot isn’t very interesting either. In fact, it’s quite formulaic. It’s as if “Dances with Wolves” had sex with “Pocahantas” and then put their half-aborted offspring in a time machine and hurled it into the year 2154. That being said, I never thought alien lovemaking could be hot, but to his credit, Cameron manages to pull it off. I started to fall in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) myself and would gladly be “mated for life” with her. Also to his credit, the setting and visuals are well done, but not as mind-blowing as they were made out to be by all my friends. Then again, I did watch it on my computer in two dimensions, so I can’t really knock him on the visuals. But I will anyway. I read an article a few months back that said moviegoers were becoming depressed because they longed to live in a place as beautiful as Pandora. Obviously those people don’t get out much and haven’t watched “Planet Earth”, because our planet already is as beautiful as Pandora. All Cameron did was capture that beauty and add a few new touches, like glow in the dark plants. Good thing we have raves to make up for that.

In the end, “Avatar” turned out to be just what I expected it to be: trite and inane. It is obnoxious and in your face, which is probably why Cameron chose to shoot in 3 dimensions. He really wanted to hammer the point into those thick human skulls of ours (too bad they aren’t made of carbon fiber). Take away the third dimension, however, and this is just another forgettable fantasy film.

-Rutger Rosenborg

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