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?