Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On Avatar

Spoiler alert: I'm taking a break from posting about tea and food to discuss the film Avatar, and in doing so I'll be revealing certain key plot points. More important spoiler alert: Avatar is a terrible movie.

Before we come along, the planet Pandora is inhabited by tall, blue humanoids that look part African, part Native-American, have pointy teeth and can hiss like snakes.

As a Jew, I found the portrayal of my people in Inglourious Basterds to be rather flattering. If I were Masai or Sioux, I'm not sure I could say the same of the creatures in Avatar, who with their ear stretchers and monkey chant-like prayer ceremonies are clearly meant to represent the indigenous peoples of Earth, only hotter.

With air-brushed features and waspish waists, the Na'Vi look more like something from the pages of Cosmo than National Geographic. In creating a race of athletically superior, scantily clad supermodels, Cameron commits one of the biggest colonialist no-no's: sexualizing the natives.

In the director's defense, the Na'Vi have an elaborate social order, rich spiritual traditions and live in harmony with their planet and their god. Of course all of this, including learning to control flying dinosaurs with your hair, is mastered by the protagonist in three months.

Though the film champions indigenous rights, it's white people (in blue bodies) who get the best health care. When the Na'Vi tribe is decimated in an attack meant to evoke September 11th, instead of looking after their own, the entire clan gathers to appeal to their god to heal one white lady. And who unites all of the tribes to save the day? A white guy, on a red dinosaur.

Halfway through the film, at which point you'll already have to pee, I found myself wondering how Cameron could possible resolve a situation that, in the real world, has yet to be resolved: how to make peace between corporate interests and the livelihoods of indigenous peoples. The solution was fantastical flying reptiles, some guns, and the will of god. (forehead smack) Of course!

But my problems with Avatar extends beyond the portrayal of the Na'Vi. Despite the film's title, the actual theme of what it means to have an avatar was underdeveloped beyond the notion that if you don't have legs and your avatar does, you like it. The 1994 Aerosmith video for Amazing makes you wish you had an avatar more than Avatar does.

Also, what's the message for the thousands of adolescents who are flocking to see the film in crowds as thick as the trunk of the Hometree? That deep down, who you really are is your twitter account.

A word on the effects. Contrary to what you are clearly meant to think after being beat over the head with millions of dollars of technology, I didn't find the CGI drenched landscape realistic or even engaging. I found most of the effects shiny, cartoonish, and sort of... fruity.

The 161 minutes of eye candy make you feel the same way you'd feel after eating real candy for 161 minutes. After Halloween, all you want is a piece of lettuce and a glass of water. After Avatar, you crave real actors and good writing.

Also, who named the planet Pandora?

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12 comments:

Jocelyn M. Berger said...

Yes! I also totally thought of Baraka. You might like this other review, which makes the very good point that we've all seen this movie before, when it was called Dances with Wolves, and then we REALLY had to pee like a third of the way through. http://io9.com/5422666/when-will-white-people-stop-making-movies-like-avatar
I'm just waiting for Stuff White People Like to pick up this topic, too.

Mehfil said...

So you're saying that even entertainment has to follow the Word of "God" ( A Jew supporting Bigoted God at that ! ) and follow the Torah to the Hilt ?

Wow, You have STANDARDS at least , No matter How retarded your views maybe. I wonder if you had any Negative views against Jurassic Park as well, I highly doubt that since the movie producer was a Jew !

and talking of decimating, You are doing quite effectively in Palestine, 8 years of blockade is transparent to you while a fucking movie is ?

I rest my case.!

Greg said...

Dang, Aaron writes one movie review on his food blog wherein he mentions that he's Jewish and the idiot anti-semites come out of the woodwork.

Mehfil, you realize that if the author hadn't mentioned that he's Jewish, you never would have posted what you wrote. Your comment adds nothing to this conversation and only demonstrates that you're a bigoted moron.

Anyway, I thought the movie was Fern Gully meets the Matrix. I thought the special effects really did represent an advance in CG technology but the story was just so-so. The characters were a bit flat, too. As for why the aliens look the way they do (i.e. tall and slender), it's due to the low gravity on Pandora (mentioned in passing in the film). This isn't an excuse for the aliens' look and the message it conveys, but at least Cameron thought through some of their biology.

Now, back to food...

Anonymous said...

Normally I'm against commenting more than once in a blue moon or so...but, hey, it was a blue moon on New Year's Eve, so maybe that gives me some mild license to say WTF?! to Mehfil's note. WHERE did our Tea and Food blogger say that the movie should've followed the Word of God? Oh, yeah, in that comment about the genius of using the will of God to justify colonialism--but that'd be sarcasm, so often lost on so many. And WHAT exactly does the blockade of Palestine have to do with Avatar, Jurassic Park, the blogger (who doesn't appear to be blockading anyone, even Wal-Mart) or the price of tea? But I suppose the anti-Semitic card is always an option for those who pull their comments out of their...teacups...rather than actually responding to the arguments in the actual post.

I will use Mehfil's post as an anti-example the next time I have to teach logical argument to my freshmen.

--Catherine

Jocelyn M. Berger said...

Back to the original topic: NY Times' David Brooks has now taken up the argument, too: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/08/opinion/08brooks.html?th&emc=th

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