Dances With Aliens: Haunted Vet Redux

Director James Cameron, of Titanic and Aliens fame, has been working away for the last decade developing new technology for a film called Avatar, to be released in mid-December. It will combine digital extrapolations of humans and filmed actors in a 3D projection format. Talk is that it’ll cost $500 million dollars by the time that marketing costs are factored in. News that Rupert Murdoch was “excited and moved” by a sneak peek doesn’t necessarily bode well for adults looking for something more than vision quest fodder for teenage boys.

Trailers have been appearing with increasing regularity as the release date approaches. The latest here on Youtube has an appropriately exotic and violent set of clips to whet interest. For the first time, however, it telegraphs enough of the plot to actually reduce my desire to see the movie.

Let me reach for my psychic hat and do my own “spoiling” after having read little, and seen less, of the promotion for this movie.

Looks like a traumatized military vet/amputee is a given a mission to infiltrate a tribal alien species to make the acquisition of the planet’s commercially-precious resources easier. He does so through an alternate body — an avatar — that allows him to blend with the alien species and gain their trust. He’s promised that his own legs will be restored if he’s successful. Vet goes native, has preliminary success with his mission, falls in love, starts to have “doubts.” The corporate/military invade for access to raw materials. The vet switches sides, and leads the courageous Noble Savages in a rebellion against predatory corporate interests. In a climactic scene, they win!

Twenty years ago, you may recall having watched this movie. A long, saccharine historical fantasy called “Dances with Wolves.” It filled Kevin Costner’s wallet to overflowing, won a lot of Oscars, and pretty much concluded his involvement with interesting films. No particular loss.

Now it looks like we’re going to be treated to “Dancing with Aliens,” only with Jim Cameron’s trademark combination tongue-bath and bitch-slap of America’s culture.

My wild-ass guess for the ending of Avatar (cover your eyes, fan boys!): Aforementioned veteran’s punishment for betraying his own kind and “going rogue” is the destruction of his crippled body and his tragic slow mental death while trapped in his avatar body. No new legs! Lots of violins. Closing credits.

Who knows if the movie has enough boobs and bombs to sustain adolescent interest? It’s certain to have enough credulous heroes and nefarious middle-aged white men to steer the average 13 year-old straight. Its ground-breaking technology may very well be enough to sell the movie as the “next big thing” in entertainment and by that very fact, trigger attendance (and higher 3D ticket prices) that will recoup the initial investment. This is a guy who managed to sell a “star-crossed lovers on a boat” story when everyone knew how it was going to turn out.

In a world festooned with newly empowered tribes (courtesy of cheap explosives and pervasive NGOs), the question of what to do with the Natives isn’t going to be left to Hollywood hypocrites. America will have some hard choices about whether to cosset or shatter recalcitrant tribes around the world. There are plenty of supporters for both sides of the argument. For better or worse, few of the tribes are sitting on anything much worth having (except perhaps coltan) … that’s why they’ve been allowed to stay tribes for as many centuries as they have. That places them in the role of “pet” or “zoo animal” in the ecology of globalization. And we all know that pandas prosper and less big-eyed, baby-faced critters get the bare minimum.

What tribes can do, as we’ve seen, is “pee in the pool” (extort) or provide safe haven for ne’er-do-wells (and claim rent). In the bad old days … say 50 years ago, such behavior might get your tribe quietly co-opted and demolished. A century ago, it got your tribe publicly co-opted and demolished. Two centuries ago, your tribe was simply exterminated to make way for agriculture, or mining, or manufacture.

Avatar will likely get my money as eye-popping value-for-money in an otherwise dreary selection of holiday season fare. But the morality play on dealing with the tribes should be left to the kids, young and old.

Can’t wait to see if I guessed right on the ending.

11 thoughts on “Dances With Aliens: Haunted Vet Redux”

  1. Actually, no, I didn’t see that movie (Dances with Wolves). But I did read the story. I couldn’t remember its name or author, but Wikipedia helped me out.

    It’s “Call Me Joe” by Poul Anderson. An embittered, crippled man is a disliked member of a team in a space station orbiting Jupiter. His job is to control “Joe”, a manufactured life form developed to colonize Jupter.

    He eventually becomes — or merges with — Joe, chooses a mate, and severs the link with the space station. The controller’s body dies. But that’s a happy ending!

    Wonder if Anderson’s estate will sue.

  2. You know this movie is a film adaptation of the Nickelodeon cartoon Avatar the Airbender, right? As much information as you would like to know on the story universe is available.

  3. I hated Dances with Wolves for its cartoonish depiction of the cavalry. My kids liked it but probably missed the message. I suspect the same will occur with this movie. I prefer “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” thus dating myself badly.

  4. “It filled Kevin Costner’s wallet to overflowing, won a lot of Oscars”

    While I agree with you on the (suspected) content, I don’t think I can condemn the man or film for appealing to popular, if misguided, tastes in an effort to make lots of money.

    First I head of Avatar, it reminded me of “Call Me Joe,” too, if a bit remolded for the modern area.

    So: will “handicapped is another culture” protestors disagree with a film that suggests leglessness is not desirable?

  5. MisterBixby,

    You know this movie is a film adaptation of the Nickelodeon cartoon Avatar the Airbender, right?

    No that’s another movie called “Avatar:The Last Airbender.” It’s a fantasy set in a Buddhist inspired cosmology. The original was quite good. At the end of the series [spoiler warning] the main character had to wrestle with the moral dilemma of whether to kill the main villain to keep him from launching a genocidal war. They wimped out in the end by whipping out a magic wand that negated the necessity of killing the villain but they at least presented the moral conflict as one presenting no easy solution.

    As to this Avatar, I think we can slap a, “Script approved by Joseph Stalin” sticker on it and call it done. From the preview it does present the standard, “military in the thrall of evil capitalist corporations”

  6. Sigh. I mean do they have to. I guess they do “as a dog returneth to his vomit”.

    I hated “Dances with Wolves,” on cinematic grounds. I called it dances with bad lighting.

    As for the tribes, we beat them in the 19th century, we can do it again. Reservations, firewater, and christian missionaries.

  7. You’re right, of course. I’m an idiot. I got two movies by way overblown directors with similar names (M. Night Shyamalan is directing the other Avatar) and a little bit of knowledge mixed with an overabundance of arrogance is a bad bad combination.

  8. Not that I know a darned thing about mass tastes in pop culture or movies or the marketing of movies to mass pop culture, but my crystal ball says “Heaven’s Gate” redux. If it cost $500M it will lose at least $200M. I saw some commercial (trailers, they’re called, correct?) for it and it looked lame. Maybe the 3D will save it, but I doubt it.

  9. You’re right. The trailer tells you more than you wanted to know. It’s a shame that the extended Cameron sabbatical from feature films has apparently resulted in a $500 million Captain Planet. The villains are clearly the Big Corporation/U.S. Marines pitted against an environmentally conscious race of aliens. But at least the objects of adoration for Dances With Wolves, while wildly idealized, were human beings. I’m afraid rooting for the aliens against the humans is simply a bridge too far. Not even any peripheral interest in the film making technology will cause me a buy a ticket to this one.

  10. So what we are getting is another “Conservative America is Bad” morality play brought to us by the people who don’t think Roman Polanski was guilty of “rape rape”.


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