Friday, December 25, 2009

Avatar or How I learned to hate the White and love the Blue

OK, OK, I surrender! I hate the white race. I hate humankind. I hate corporations. And I want desperately to be blue-ish! After two hours and forty-two minutes of three dimensional humanity bashing I am ready to do all I can to push carbon emissions into the 500s and hasten the death of this awful species called homo sapiens sapiens.

As you may have guessed I spent Christmas Eve watching James Cameron’s blockbuster hit, Avatar. I don’t do movie reviews, but this is such a cultural phenomenon (at least on NPR) that I feel obligated to say something about it. So let me say this: a trite, predictable 380 million dollar remake of Dune? You have got to be kidding me.

Of course the 3-D was fun and perfectly understated. And I loved wearing the 3-d glasses that made the entire audience look like we were contestants in a Buddy Holly look-a-like contest. And the world of Pandora was visually stunning. And the time flew by entertainingly. And if the acting wasn’t so stiff and the script so lame, the special effects might have been enough to get my vote for Best Picture of Christmas Eve, but the moral was so obvious, the plot so derivative, and the manipulation of my emotions so heavy-handed that in the end I felt neither elated nor satisfied, but rather pissed off and cheated.

I get it: We humans have, as the film says, “killed our mother.” And, left to our own devices we may well, as the movie says, strip our planet of “green.” And certainly our history right up to this moment is one of genocide, slavery, and planet-wide degradation in the name of profit, power, and the gods that serve them. But does that justify mashing together Dune, Dances With Wolves, Wall-E, The Last Samurai, and Starship Troopers into what has to be the most over used “plot” of the last fifty years? I don’t think so.

One sign that Avatar failed to totally capture my imagination, were the questions that kept running through my mind as I was watching the film. For example:

Why call the world Pandora? I assume it refers to the Greek myth, but why? In the myth Pandora is given a jar (pithos, not a box) in which are stuffed all the woes of humankind. Pandora is told not to open the jar, but her curiosity gets the better of her and she does open it releasing all evil on humankind. What does this have to do with either the planet or the movie? Planet Pandora doesn’t contain evil. And the Blues of Pandora, the Na’vi (which is bluish, I mean Jewish, for “prophet”), don’t appear curious about anything. They have no science or medicine. Given that only two of them seemed to have aged past what I estimate in human years to be 19, most Na’vi die very young.

Perhaps the planet is called Pandora because at the bottom of Pandora’s jar lies hope. Except that the movie offers no hope— not for the earthlings who go home empty¬–handed or for the Na’vi who will eventually be slaughtered when the earthlings return better armed. And make no mistake about it, they/we will return. And not simply because there is more money to be made in sequels, but because when it comes to killing indigenous species in order to extract rocks from the ground, we are Number One.

And speaking of rocks, did I hear correctly that what the humans are willing to commit genocide over is a rock called unobtainium? Unobtainium? Are you kidding me? Is the best we can get for 380 mil is a writer who rips off Rock and Bullwinkle’s star mineral, upsidaisium?

And why are all the Na’vi anorexic? Didn’t anyone overeat on this planet? After eating one Giant Jumbo Large bag o’ popcorn (sans butter, I’m in OA) during the ads and previews leading up to the movie, and working diligently on a second bag (I paid for that free refill, damn it, and I am going to get my money’s worth), it was clear to me that the blue people of Pandora had no room for fat people like me.

And what were the tails for? Was there no evolution on this planet? At first I thought they needed the tail to plug into the giant beasts they rode, but then it seemed they could jack the dragon with their hair, so why the tail? They didn’t use it for climbing, swinging from trees, holding weapons, or anything useful. I would expect it to have fallen off eons ago.

And, if the Na’vi are so peace loving, why is their sole technology focused on weaponry? They knew how to make poison, but not medicine; bows and arrows but nothing else. They knew how to hunt and kill, but not how to farm and heal. What does that say about them?

And then there is the racism and sexism. The bad guys were almost exclusively white and male, and came in two flavors: corporate murderer (short, scrawny, and heartless) and military murderer (huge, muscular, and heartless). The only person of color (other than blue) in the film with any kind of part to play was the female Han Solo stand-in who at the height of the initial slaughter of the Na’vi had a change of heart and joined the other side. The only other person of color I noticed was a black guy yelling his desire to slaughter blues as Colonel Quaritch whipped up his troops for war. The morality of this film was clearly Blue and White. Pick your side.

In the end the good guys won, and the remnants of the white, oh, sorry, human race, return to their green-less dead mother planet without their unobtainium (Oh, now I get it, the rock was unobtainable! Talk about foreshadowing!). Are we supposed to think that this is the end of the story? Are the rock-hungry earthlings so weakened and ashamed as to go home for good? Are we to imagine that peace between White and Blue is possible? Talk about unobtainium! Corporate warmongers do not take “no” for an answer. They will return, and when they do they will do so with a huge armada of deathstars rather than one stupid command ship that lacks proper shielding.

True, given the fact that Na’vi seem to die so young, the capitalist armada may not return in Jordo Schell’s life time (Get it? He’s just a shell), but it will return. After all, when it comes to doing battle with beings armed with wooden sticks dipped in poison (they hadn’t even invented the arrow head; no rocks on Pandora other than upsidaisyum?) we humans know how to kick some tail.

And this is what bugged me most of all: there is no way out of war and genocide and corporate greed and human hatred of all species blue and nonhuman. No one learns anything on either side of the conflict. And the people who could possibly help both sides learn are either dead (Dr. Grace Augustine—can these names get any more obvious?) or permanently blue (Jordo Schell). At least in the Star Trek version of this plot (“The Devil in the Dark,” Original Series, aired on 3/9/67), Mr. Spock manages to broker a deal that allows the white heartless miners and their evil corporate overlords (can there be corporate overlords in a society without money where anyone can replicate anything they want for free?) to get their precious rocks without murdering all the Horta in the process. If the Na’vi can’t mind meld like Spock, couldn’t they at least hair-jack the bad guys in the ass and help them learn the value of blue:

“I am a Blue. Hath not a Blue eyes? Hath not a Blue hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? … If you prick us, do we not bleed? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”

But nothing like this happens in Avatar. On the contrary, the bad guys go back to earth with years of homeward bound space travel during which to perfect their story about this evil, hostile, and human-hating species on Pandora that mindlessly murdered all our brave mercenaries and miners who only wanted a few stones that the evil Na'vi didn't even care about. When they get home they will rally what is left of our greenless mother-killing species, and fly back to Pandora to take our revenge in Avatar 2: The Return of the White Meanies (please note clever Beatles reference).

But I am not totally without hope. Things may get better in Avatar 3: Dead, White, and Blue when Pandora is a mining colony and the Na’vi have opened casinos, legalized prostitution (“You’ve never had tail, until you’ve had blue tail”), turned the Tree of Souls into a theme park, and have found myriad other ways to profit off of the White Man’s obsession with sex, gambling, and mindless entertainment. In fact they will have improved their lifestyle and diet sufficiently to allow themselves to live long enough to die of cancer.

So, what’s the bottom-line? Yes, Avatar was fun to watch, and the special effects were wonderful. But was it worth the 380 million dollars James Cameron spent on it, and the $10.20 that I tossed in to help him recoup his expenses? Doubt it. Is it the movie of the decade? No. Will it change movie making forever? Maybe, but who cares? Will it change anything else? No. In the end it is just a screed against capitalism offering no redemption, and promising only endless slaughter. And, given the state of our planet at the moment, it may well be prophetic—Na’vi, get it?


TheNote said...

Rami - I super commend you for doing without the butter on that popcorn . . . I STILL prefer movie popcorn all soupy-slick . . . and, I'm also STILL rather roundish . .
I should send you a trophy . . .

All Best!

Avi Baron said...

But have we learned anything from the past 50 years of this fable? No! So obviously we need movies like Avatar and Happy Feet that make us feel bad for being human, movies that make us feel guilty to play Halo.

I must say, I was disappointed with the tail, and the way they simply put extra limbs on creatures to make the jungle cats seem alien, and the horses seem less like the horses from Disney's "Spirit." The spine seemed to be the winning evolutionary concept on Pandora as well, which is an astronomical possibility, along with the amount of wood, opposed to some other type of plant life. Though I understand the limitations of the human imagination and empathy (having the main species being a non-humanoid alien would be hard for us to connect with, as viewers).

The movie was amazingly visually stimulating and had a nice, if not over-used, plot.

The Na'vi's fitness, I think, is easily explained by their primitive nature. For, without any technology to make them lazy, they are in constant movement. As in any native society on Earth, it is expected that very few are fat.

As for their technology being "focused on weaponry," it would seem they need weapons to kill the animals, in order to eat, but their technology of healing is simply done with the help of their Mother Nature, Eyra.

I was scientifically impressed with the effects of low gravity on their planet. The Na'vi were larger than humans, almost all the animals there were large, even the trees were taller than those we are used to on Earth.

In the end, I think we brought evil, corruption, and other humanly woes to Pandora, instead of it being released from the jar planet. Though it may just be a slick name the scientists thought was cool, as that's what they tend to do, naming space ships after Greek gods, and other such mythology.

I think unobtainium was just a cheap laugh, though we do tend to have odd names for elements and metals: 111, Unununium.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Rami said...

Thanks to you both. I had to check out unununium and, as Avi said, it is a real element. Here is what we know about it:

Name: Unununium
Symbol: Uuu
Atomic Number: 111
Atomic Mass: (272.0) amu
Melting Point: Unknown
Boiling Point: Unknown
Number of Protons/Electrons: 111
Number of Neutrons: 161
Classification: Transition Metal
Crystal Structure: Unknown
Density @ 293 K: Unknown
Color: Unknown

Michael said...

May I offer another view ...
Some times a movie is just a movie. We can visit the theater to relax in a world of make believe, loose ourselves in a fantasy and just relax and enjoy the special effects, the 3D and the story.
Its not always necessary to analyze and compare a form of relaxation to real life.

Avi Baron said...

Why make a movie without some moral? Without something to take away from it, a movie is just a coffee break.

Movies are the modern day fables and should be viewed as such.

Spend 2 hours in the real outdoors of Earth to relax. I feel like it works better than shelling out $8.50 (MN theaters are cheaper :) ) for a comfy seat and air conditioning.

Though don't get me wrong, the seats are extremely comfortable.

Jeni Lee said...

Rami--as your health counselor I commend you for exercising restraint on the butter for your popcorn. Hope you followed up all that sodium with some water!

Going to a movie tonight...don't think it will be Avatar. Thanks for your perspective. Other suggestions?

Jordan said...

Shalom Jeni Lee,

Rent "Crime and Misdemeanors." Much to discuss and
you can provide your own refreshments for far less.


Working on my speling said...

Cameron, et al could have gone to Ecuador and made the same movie about real people and real corporations for 100K. THAT would serve humanity more

Andrea Cohen Kiener

AaronHerschel said...

But it wouldn't have special effects or a toy tie-in and you couldn't advertise it at McDonald's. Over 100,000,000,000 served!

Peter Schogol said...

Yes, the acting was leaden, the script underwritten, the plot predictable. Yes, unobtainium was a stupid name and Pandora an odd choice for a world whose language more resembled Klingon than Greek. And here's one you missed: no animal species, including humanoid, has any body hair.

It is entirely possible to overthink Avatar. The joy of Avatar, besides the visual, is the spiritual. If you can grok the "Gaian" spirituality, the rest falls into place. If you can't, you can write grouchy reviews comparing Avatar to Dune.

Mitcheru said...

I think everyone lost the plot, and saw the movie only for its boiler plate plot and up to date graphics. The amount of trees, the lack of farming, no obesity etc. I think these all symbolised that they lived in harmony with their world. Taking what they needed. The weapons was to defend and hunt not attack and pillage.

Our farming does more harm to the planet than good. It allowed our species to sore into gross numbers, discovering medicine did the same. This all removed balance and we became arrogant, careless, and fearless even.

The evolution of their tales not going missing is I would assume for balance seeing that they do so much acrobatics on the said trees.

They are supposed to be, I assume, everything we aren't as humans. It's not an attack on America as many sites deem it to be. It's an attack on humanity, corporations all over the world work the same. No one cares about longevity of their environment, staff or anything else other than a quarterly report.

I'm not a hippy, I love technology and enjoy the spoils of our limited innovations but I agree more with the Smurfs than with us.

The cultures Cameron used depicted how the Dutch, French, British later Americans, us South Africans and so on just mindlessly destroyed the natives and replaced it with our weak believes founded in greed and corruption.

I didn't see the race issue as you did, it wasn't the point. As humans we are no longer playing a symbiotic role we are no completely parasitical we destroy until nothing is left then we find the next host to destroy. Unfortunately for us our rate of destruction races past our ability to find a new sustainable host to rape.