Avatar

  • Directed, Written, Co-Produced, and Co-Edited by James Cameron
  • December 10, 2009 (London) / December 18, 2009 (US)

A paralyzed veteran takes his twin brother’s place on a mission to the world of Pandora to mine the valuable mineral unobtanium and soon becomes close with the native population.

Avatar is a science-fiction film that touches on racism, colonialism, the Vietnam war, and the concept of American imperialism all wrapped in a movie with some great special effects and starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez and Sigourney Weaver among others.

To be clear, I do enjoy the movie, but it is far from perfect. Its stunning visuals certainly help smooth out the rough edges. One issue that jumps out at me-and something upon which the story hinges-is that it seems like a possibly bad idea to gift a functioning body of the native species in a hostile environment to a paralyzed individual with emotional baggage. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is not only dealing with the death of his twin Tommy who he is replacing but coming to terms with a spinal injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down while in action.

Considering the situation that was occurring on Pandora with the native population he might not be an overall benefit to the situation-financial investment aside. Jake has all the issues that would make him a security issue. Personal grief and possible aversion to combat given his injury are two things that might make him a bad choice to win over aliens that a mega corporation plans on exploiting.

Avatar can be a little heavy handed in its delivery and symbolism of its messages. One example is that the human compound for this mining operation is in the shape of a pentagon. A bit on the nose there don’t you think? And I found many of the visuals reminiscent of Vietnam footage. Some of it seemed ripped from a documentary concerning the era such as shoots when soldiers are hopping off helicopters.

Unlike other works of fiction Avatar doesn’t try to rewrite history by having the Americans win the Vietnam War in the present day or make peace with the Native Americans. Rather this tries to rewrite American history by having these aliens defeat back the colonial west aggressors with the loving help of a white savior.

Speaking of which, ever hear of the concept of the white savior narrative? The white savior narrative is when a white central character rescues non-white (and often less important) characters. They are a touch messianic and by the end of the story learn a little something about themselves which Sully certainly does once he hooks up with local Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and leads the Na’vi to victory over the white oppressors. Avatar could quite possibly be viewed as the most expensive white savior narrative ever put to the silver screen. I am not joking on that. I think every epic story is the journey of a hero or heroes with race being incidental but given the race of the character this automatically fits into the mold others are complaining about.

In story this movie falls between old school filmmaking and modern filmmaking. Back in the day the message was subtext. It would be there but not shoved in your face. Today the message is first and foremost with story being secondary. The themes and messages of this movie are rather obvious but not to the point that Helen Keller would see it.

From a narrative perspective this is a mixture of Dances with Wolves and Disney’s Pocahontas. Isolated emotionally damaged soldier begins to identify with the native population. Military explorer falls in love with a member of the native population. Both essentially are what compelled those two films. What this does differently is add science-fiction elements and heavy effects.

This has always bothered me but I also question going to a planet filled with things that will kill and hurt you armed with guns that cannot pierce most of the hides of the significantly dangerous predators. This is made clear as the situation after Sully first steps into his golem and goes out into the jungle for the first time. It makes a great plot element to highlight how dangerous things are but makes little sense under minimal scrutiny. They were sending out irritating snacks and not people armed to protect themselves.

And now watching the finale I couldn’t help but think of how the Ewoks took on the Empire in Return of the Jedi and that gets knocked but somehow this never seems to get mentioned. While Native Americans confronting cowboys in battle and coming out on top would make sense since both were equally well armed, it doesn’t necessarily make sense when a vastly technologically superior force is able to route the enemy. At least any film that is attempting to say something deeper which this is and Jedi is not.

James Horner provided a fantastic musical score here. He knew how to highlight the action on the screen and generate feeling. His music told the story as well as the visuals of the movie. The man was a legend and a true musical craftsman. He understood the power of music and film unlike many composers today. This is what a true artist can do.

Despite his help, I do not get a strong impact from many scenes in this movie. They look cool and are exciting but lack much of the punch that they should have. I lay that at the feet of the heavy CGI. The human brain can only take so much fakery before it ceases to emotionally invest in something and that’s the problem here. These are not miniatures or the effects of say an original Star Wars film. That was a mixture of things but those were all things that were real. From the look of the Na’vi to the bulk of the environment to the creatures to the vehicles, what we get is more an animated movie.

Having heard that there is a sequel coming finally after so many years I’m not sure why. I’m not even sure of one shortly after this first came out would necessarily have been warranted. This is a finite self-contained story. Sully goes through his journey and learns where he truly belongs. The evil Space Americans are driven from Space Vietnam/Space Wild West by the Space Vietnamese/Space Native Americans and everything is right with the universe by the end. Where else do you go from there?

Avatar is an exciting and visually stunning science-fiction film with something to say. And most importantly it does not beat you over the head with its message. I say check it out!

Published by warrenwatchedamovie

Just a movie lover trying spread the love.

2 thoughts on “Avatar

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