Avatar: A Lamentable Waste

In every interview with a Pixar director they stress over and over the need for a good story.  If the story isn’t good enough, they say, the audience loses interest.  You could have all the special features in the world but if the story doesn’t carry it through, it’s not worth it.  James Cameron should have had lunch with some of the Pixar directors.  Hear this, Mr. Cameron:  Avatar wasn’t worth it.

I look at the Avatar enterprise as a tremendous tragedy.  What a huge waste of money, talent, and time!  Since seeing the film last week I’ve been telling people that if they go see Avatar, they should bring some earplugs—it would be much better if they didn’t know what was going on and could just drink in the beauty of the 3D film.  In the case of the Avatar story, ignorance is bliss.

To be fair, I am happy I saw the movie because it is, as many other reviewers have mentioned, spectacularly stunning and unique in genre.  It pummels over precedents with its impressive special effects and animation, drawing you fully into this alien world.  I loved how they played with the idea of bioluminescence, creating plants and animals that glowed hazy blues and pinks and greens, an effect which, especially in 3D, bedazzled all aesthetic sensibilities.  Let me not forget the floating mountains—oh the floating mountains—how gloriously you gave new meaning to majesty.  And this praise means a lot, especially considering I still don’t understand what’s up with the blue cat people.  Regardless, I congratulate Avatar’s artists for their vision.

Avatar’s writers, on the other hand, ought to be drawn and quartered for their implicit racism, lack of creativity, and extremely twisted and disturbing understanding of human nature. Many of you might have heard or noticed for yourself that the plot line for Avatar is practically identical to Disney’s Pocahontas.  The basic gist is a soldier arrives in a new world and wants to explore.  He comes across a female of the native people and learns from her aspects of her culture.  As is the way with predictable stories, they fall in love.  Despite their relationship, the two peoples are fated to war, and a battle ensues.  Fine.  Whatever.  Very nice.  But Pocahontas manages to have one up on Avatar.  The story of Pocahontas is a woman rescuing a stranger and managing to bring peace between nations.  Avatar assumes a paternalistic tone in that the male protagonist must go in and save the natives who supposedly couldn’t possibly fathom the coming threat.  In this sense, the movie came off as shockingly racist, especially given that all of the native people spoke and dressed as African tribal peoples.  Somewhere in the design of this film these writers and designers said to each other, “OK, they are supposed to look savage.  Let’s make them African.”  Oh please tell me, where are the finger-pointers?  Or are we suddenly supposed to be OK with this association between Africans and savages? “But they aren’t really portrayed as savages,” says Avatar’s hypothetical defense, “they are actually a superior species in their values.”  Sorry, guys, but I’m afraid that doesn’t actually make it better.  In fact it makes it worse.  Not only is the film racist, it also achieves a hefty amount of reverse racism, in that it portrays Americans (all of them white, by the way) as being simple-minded imperialists drowning in avarice and destroying environments in the process.  What kind of statement did Cameron wish to make here?  Does he do any service to anyone by portraying almost all of his human characters this way?    It seems as far as Cameron is concerned, to be a white American is to destroy the world.  Great.

Ah, but you might say, not all of the humans were portrayed this way.  There were some who stood their ground in defense of the natives.  But here Cameron fails again.  None of the characters in the whole movie were developed sufficiently as to evoke any sympathy from me.  Maybe I am a tough audience, but once again I can’t help but look at this as another wasted opportunity.  The protagonist, for instance, was a cripple.  They could have done so much in developing that—his motives, his longings, his history.  As far as we know, he had no history besides being a marine and having a dead brother.   Where did he come from?  Why should we care?  Where is the exposition?  Now let’s look at Sigourney Weaver’s character.  She was a scientist; they could have done so much more with her as a heroine or a defender of knowledge or a source of enlightenment to both cultures or something.  But no.  She dies.  Big whoop. Her character struck me as completely tangential to the plot, what little there was of that to begin with.

Overall, the movie was neither moving nor uplifting nor enlightening.  Just pretty.  And that’s about all I’ll say on that.

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