Saturday, March 06, 2010

Movie Review: Avatar

It seems you cannot have a blog these days without commenting on James Cameron's epic motion picture Avatar. The special effects are tremendous and worth more than the price of the ticket.

The plot is a pretty straight forward a politically oppressed group on the planet Pandora, “the Na'vi”, defeat the human oppressors, with a boy meets girl sub-theme, and some religious evangelization. A common plot line, a little better executed than most movies with this plot line. The trailer gives a pretty good overview of the plot:

CFV 426 - Avatar/Pocahontas Mashup FINAL VERSION from Randy Szuch on Vimeo.
Creative Minority Report


In many ways the film is an unintended commentary on how to make a persuasive film.

1.) Cameron has a Pantheist religious worldview and effectively works it into the plot quietly, more by showing than telling. This is done well enough to subtly influence the audience unless they are paying attention.
2.) He also has political message whose impact is reduced by cardboard characters for the bad guys, and a heavy handed approach so that you don’t miss the point. Since the point is so obvious it pretty much immunizes viewers who are not already true belivers.

A lesson for future filmmakers on how to it.


While a tribe living in one with nature is a nice picture, on earth that is the most grueling from of poverty; never more than a few days food on hand, no certainty of getting more, high infant mortality, low life expectency, no more possessions than can be carried on one’s back, at the mercy of extreme weather, and predators both animal and human. In reality is anything but idyllic.

The updated “natives with righteous indignation and spears defeat machine guns in a frontal assault” plot device is great cinema; but in reality it would just pile up dead bodies for no purpose no matter how righteous the cause. He should have included a “these are professional actors - do not try at home” disclaimer.

The first human effort to work with the Na'vi is personified by Doctor Grace Augustine, the Director of the Avatar program. She presents an updated White Mans Burden approach to dealing with the Navi.

Take up the Human Peoples burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind your children to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

But of course the corporate people at home get impatient and send representatives to take a more direct plunder and pillage approach. This sets up the plot. While the soft imperialism of the Avatar program is not as bad as the hard imperialism, I don’t really care for either.


The movie also intends to comment on our relations with nature.

From Biology On Line
noun, plural: ecosystems
A system that includes all living organisms (biotic factors) in an area as well as its physical environment (abiotic factors) functioning together as a unit.
An ecosystem is made up of plants, animals, microorganisms, soil, rocks, minerals, water sources and the local atmosphere interacting with one another

noun, plural: environments
(1) The external conditions, resources, stimuli etc. with which an organism interacts.
(2) The external surroundings including all of the biotitic and abiotic factors that surround and affect the survival and development of an organism or population.
(3) The totality of the surrounding conditions and elements in an individual.

Pandora is an Ecosystem. The human base is an environmental (external) intrusion that is effecting the ecosystem.
/Satiremode=ON.Poor misunderstood Colonel Miles Quaritch,
he's just trying to protect the environment..

Despite the common usage,
1) Generally one does not protect environments - one protects an ecosystems from undesirable environmental effects.
2) There is no such thing as The Environment, an environment is always relative to it’s ecosystem.
(I know, I know, these are pet peeves and I will never win.)

See the movie for the fantastic special effects, remember everything else is an excuse for the special effects.

The real trailer.


Peter said...

Interesting post, Hank. In particular, I thought your comment on "soft imperialism" and "hard imperialism" was perceptive.

hank_F_M said...


Thanks for commenting


LFC said...

I haven't seen Avatar so can't comment on the movie, but thanks for the link to the Ross Douthat column, which on a very quick read I find to have perhaps slightly missed the point about pantheism. Can't elaborate now but maybe I'll try to when I resume posting a little in a couple of weeks.

As for the Kipling quote, this must be one of the few reviews -- or perhaps the only review -- of Avatar to quote "The White Man's Burden." What more can one ask? :)

hank_F_M said...

Enjoy your break

It seems like many reviews site the poem, but I did wonder from their comments if they had actually read it.

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