My take on Avatar

My take on Avatar

SPOILER ALERT! I am going to talk about specific things in the movie in this post, and that will gave away plot elements and other bits.  If you haven’t seen the movie and would rather avoid the spoilers, you’d better skip this post and come back to it after you have seen it (or you stop caring). 🙂

I managed to avoid knowing much about the movie Avatar before I went to see it.  That wasn’t very easy…hey, I’m a long-time subscriber to Entertainment Weekly.   I’ve learned how to skip those articles, though, and hit the Tivo remote if something is coming on TV.

That was pretty impressive in this case, because I didn’t go to see it for weeks after it was released.  You see, it’s not the kind of movie my Significant Other would like…there’s a problem there both with cartoons and blue people.  Yes, blue people…I have to say when it is safe to look if the Blue Man Group comes on TV.  :) 

Fortunately, we decided to go see it as an outing for work.  Since I’m on the social events committee, I had a really good reason to be there. 🙂

I have to say, my reaction to it was very different from everybody else’s in that group…although, I am used to that. 🙂

Here’s how I felt.  The moral of the story seemed to be, “Violence is always the answer.”

Now, I’d heard that some conservatives didn’t like it, and I can see that.  It’s definitely anti-imperialism and anti-anti-ecology. 

It isn’t exactly pro-peace, though…not by a long shot…and a short shot, and a flamethrower, and everything in-between.

It was more of a revenge fantasy.  You know those movies…bad guys do something to a good guy, who then apparently has the right to do anything back to them.   Those range from the Clint Eastwood movie Hang ‘Em High to I Spit on Your Grave (Warning!  Even the cover image you’ll see if you click that link will be considered offensive by many).

I know, I know…many of you don’t see this movie that way.  When the evil military/industrial complex was coming to destroy the beautiful tree, the main character tried to get everybody to run away.  But that didn’t happen, and then it was “start killing bad guys” time.

The movie was pretty predictable, and that doesn’t help my appreciation of it.  The first time we saw one of those hammerhead guys thrashing around in the jungle, I thought, “Oh, it’s Tantor, the elephant from Tarzan.  At some point, a herd of these things are going to be called by somebody to crash through a village.”  Needless to say, that’s what essentially happened  later.

There is some Tarzan in this movie…and some Rambo, for that matter (the first movie, First Blood, anyway).  

What I didn’t like, partially, is that the movie set up a sympathetic philosophy for us…and then blew it away at the end.   At one point, Jake, the marine who will lead the Na’vi, appeals to Eywa for help.  Neytiri says that “Eywa doesn’t take sides.”  That’s good, cool, very philosophical.  Once the battle gets going, though, Eywa definitely takes a side.  No attempt to stop the fighting.  One odd thing to me was sending the animals into the fight.  Eywa presumably, from what we’ve seen earlier, values all life.  Yes, the Na’vi kill animals to eat, but they apologize to them for it.  When Neytiri has to kill some wolf-like things to protect Jake, she’s mad at Jake.

Why did animals have to die in the fight against the imperial invaders?  I think it’s pretty clear that they were compelled to be involved…they could have just been left alone, and you can bet they would have been out of there and safe.

There was a lot of talk in the movie about “seeing” people and the interconnectedness of the life on Pandora.  I was hoping that either the Colonel or the bureaucratic administrator (Giovanni Ribisi in  a role reminiscent of the Paul Reiser part in Cameron’s Aliens) would “see” the Na’vi.  Maybe Ewya would contact them somehow.  Not have them end up wearing love beads and Lorax t-shirts, but saying, “Hey, let’s think about this.”  By the way, while you’re thinking, you might not want to name your next metal discovery “Unobtainium”…tends to make people want to grab some at every opportunity, you know?  I’m thinking it inspires greed.

Anyway, I said I was hoping for that…but I wasn’t expecting it.  This is James Cameron, after all.  His movies have often contained big guns and machines of mayhem.  Not always, of course, but you didn’t win the Terminator movies by staging sit-ins and filing lawsuits.

When I brought this “violent answer” thing up to people, somebody said to me, “That isn’t realistic.”  Well, not everybody counters violence with violence…look at Gandhi, or Martin Luther King.  Also, I have to say…it’s a fantasy.  You can accept big blue people and floating mountains, but you can’t accept a non-violent solution…because it’s unrealistic? 

Now, to get to the heart of the issue, the thing most people ask: did I like it?  Yes, I did.  It was very pretty, and a lot of the images were cool.  I saw it in 3D, and thanks partially to this movie, you are going to see a lot of things in 3D.  In fact, the process is in place to retro things in 3D, so expect to see the Star Wars movies that way eventually…you didn’t think you were going to get away without ever paying for another version of those, did you?  ;) 

The acting was generally good, although ironically, the characters were kind of two-dimensional.  Yes, some people developed throughout the movie, but some of them were pretty easy to define five minutes into meeting them.  I do think it was a pretty good script, even though I would have liked to have seen something different.

As to the “realism” of the Na’vi and such…well, they still looked like cartoons to me.  It’s partially the way they move.  They have a fluidity when walking that normal humans don’t have.  It was certainly impressive, but I would not have been fooled into thinking they were people in make-up…and that’s fine.  Could James Cameron fool me by putting a CGI person in a movie?  Yes, probably.  He’s talked about that.  You may see movies at some point with dead stars in them…people have been talking about that for years.  How about a buddy flick with James Dean and John Belushi?  You could mix the living and the dead…what about Cary Grant and Will Smith in a charm-off?  I could totally see Humphrey Bogart and Gary Oldman on opposing sides.  But in this movie, I didn’t buy them as real people.

That’s okay, I’m really good at pretending.  I can get emotionally choked up watching a Godzilla movie.

Would I recommend Avatar?  Sure…that doesn’t mean I agree with its philosophy, though.

What do you think?  Feel free to let me know by commenting on this post!

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.

2 Responses to “My take on Avatar”

  1. Diane Says:

    Sometimes when I have had a bad day/week at work taking sh*t from customers/supervisors/the boss, watching a movie like this or “Road Warrior” while drinking a couple beers and eating popcorn can release a lot of tension. Don’t do it often, but there it is. Also right now lots of people think big business and/or politicians and/or all those cheating men could use a good pounding.

    [edited for language]

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Diane!

      Hey, I love movies like The Road Warrior! However, they don’t set up the first hour of the movie telling us how Officer Max is connected to everything. I completely understand the catharsis of Avatar…heck, I like seeing Godzilla stomp Tokyo. There’s a funny bit in a movie a lot of people hate, Schlock, where the “Schlockthropus” caveman rips up a car. That’s a good revenge fantasy for many people…primeval road rage. 🙂 Oh, and in Americathon, it’s fun to watch Meat Loaf versus the “last car in America”.

      In Avatar’s case, it just seemed like an incongruous message, I guess…

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