Ironies of Avatar
| Peter Klein |
I took the kids to see Avatar this weekend. From a technical standpoint, Jim Cameron’s film is remarkable, a breakthrough, as good as advertised. The alien world Pandora is stunningly realistic, detailed, convincing. The computer-generated characters look and move like real actors. The battle scenes are phenomenal.
But the storyline didn’t grab me. It’s a twist on that familiar Hollywood trope: evil, materialist, capitalist, militarist humans versus nature-loving, low-carbon-footprint, New Agey savages so noble they would have made Rousseau blush. The computer-generated landscapes are dazzlingly three-dimensional, but the characters, both human and alien, are cartoonish and one-dimensional (especially the Head Evil Capitalist, played here by Giovanni Ribisi, essentially reprising Paul Riser’s role from Cameron’s Aliens). The Pandorans are in their own way as clichéd as Peter Jackson’s much-derided Skull Islanders. I appreciate the film’s antiwar, anti-imperialist message, but really, the Earth First! propaganda is way, way over the top. And consider these ironies:
1. Avatar was written and directed by bazillionaire businessman Jim Cameron, is produced and distributed by giant corporation 20th-Century Fox, and will likely gross hundreds of million dollars. Naturally the film’s villain is — you guessed it — a giant corporation! Because, you know, businesspeople and money and corporations are evil and stuff.
2. The film was made possible by Cameron’s highly innovative, beyond-the-state-of-the-art, years-in-the-making technological innovations. Yet one of the film’s main themes is the evils of technology and capital accumulation and the beauty of live-for-today, pre-industrial society. The Pandorans literally worship their planet and don’t just hug their animals and tress, they physically bond with them through some mystical (and anatomically curious) process. The poor humans, one of the characters explains, have destroyed their own “Mother.” Blech.
Update: Peter Suderman beat me to it, calling Avatar
one of the stupidest major movies in recently memory, blithely peddling a message that its entire production process actually undermines. That Avatar’s melodramatic attacks on corporate interests and its defense of simple, natural living come packaged as one of the most expensive, and probably the most technically advanced, corporate films in history would seem to indicate that only quality bigger than the movie’s stupidity is its head-in-the-clouds hypocrisy. Cameron’s made a movie that he intends to be epic and awesome, but the only thing that’s awesome here is his total lack of self-awareness.
Stephan Kinsella sees a libertarian defense of property rights, and so do I, but for me that message was buried beneath the eco-propaganda. Had the earthlings homesteaded some piece of unoccupied Pandoran land, put it to productive use, and then the natives decided they needed the land or that its economic value belonged to “Mother Pandora,” is there any doubt what side Cameron would be on?