About six weeks ago, I wrote a brief post about the dismal trailer for the movie Avatar, which made it clear that the movie was going to recycle Dances with Wolves. In other words, a turgid, adolescent paean to the Noble Savage, carefully white-washed to eliminate the less savoury elements of hunter-gatherer existence and to emphasize every stereotypical flaw in white men. “Fade to black” before the farmers and ranchers show up. Yawn.
Well, Avatar has just passed the $400 million mark in box office gross income after less than a week in theaters. I caught a late-night showing yesterday and I contributed my $15 (Cdn) to the pile. My wise-ass prediction from the earlier post, that the protagonist would bite the bullet tragically, didn’t come to pass. Foolish me. What was I thinking?
Not “SEQUEL-SEQUEL-SEQUEL” apparently.
So the Kevin Costner character gets the exotic girl, impresses the natives with feats of improbable physical skill, betrays his sponsors, invokes Gaia/Pandora to save the day, and sees off those wretched
American soldiers Space-Mining Conglomerate white male bigots. Happy ending. Every politically-correct Hollywood hobbyhorse, carefully groomed and manicured. Hell, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio were made for this one. Except that they wouldn’t put up with Jim Cameron’s legendary brow-beatings.
The analogy to the 19th century American West does hold up amazingly well, however. In the case of Avatar, director James Cameron gets to rewrite history by setting his story 150 years in the future, with “scientists” filling in for missionaries, on a different planet, with completely different/unpredictable rules of physics. Thumb firmly on the scales, this time the director ensures that the Native Americans win … the Sioux Ghost Dance … in which the White Man is supernaturally banished from the land … actually works in the year 2154.
The plot did require a sudden onset of retardation in the movie’s various villains. Though living on a planet with deadly atmosphere and life-forms, and mysterious forces which limit their technological advantages unpredictably, the antagonists suddenly stop watching their security cameras, noticing employees acting suspiciously (just the women and non-whites, you idiots!), or keeping all their military eggs out of one basket. Oh, yes. Cue the obligatory “monologuing,” so the chief villain gets a dramatic death. No worries. There are lots of military gizmos that’ll thrill the boys 8 years and older, and provide toy company tie-ins.
After 150 years of inter-planetary space exploration, you’d think
Americans, woops, Space-Mining Conglomerate greed-bags wouldn’t have forgotten the basic lessons of tactical warfare with indigenous peoples … but no … it turns out that mining on a distant planet is run much like a third-rate mining operation in Papua New Guinea. Strangely, enough, even the military slang is identical in the 22nd century, sloppily copied from every hackneyed wannabe shoot-em-up of the late 20th century made by James Cameron.
In sum, Avatar‘s plot is dreck … but in delicious Hollywood irony, while it bangs the same old drum (Americans=bad, 3rd Worlders=good), the lesson it’ll actually teach the world is that they’ve just been priced out of the movie blockbuster market, yet again. They don’t have the money. They don’t have the technology. They don’t have the people. They don’t have the logistical skills and industrial marketing might. I’m not sure that’s what James Cameron intended but I’m sure he’ll be happy to cash the royalty checks on his technology patents for many decades to come.
Yeah, people in the hinterlands can prance around with a camcorder taping car bombs and beheadings, but for real eye-popping entertainment, you have to spend $500 million in petrochemically-powered Anglosphere computation (produced in London, LA, Montreal, and New Zealand) and release your 3D movie everywhere on Earth simultaneously (except for Argentina, China, Italy, and Uruguay). Between Steve Jobs, Page and Brin (the guys at Google), Burt Rutan, and James Cameron, it doesn’t seem like anyone’s grabbing the world’s tech-culture high ground from the US anytime soon. One way or the other, all your base are belong to us.
I’m glad I saw the movie. It definitely raises the bar in movie experience and gives a middle-aged adult a reason to brave the endless advertising and sticky floors of the modern cinema. The visuals were, by turns, charming, imaginative, and dramatic. But I agree with other commentators who felt the technology would be the only memorable impact that Avatar has on movie history. And the temptation for Cameron to screw up the sequels (like George Lucas did), will be immense. Based on blogosphere comments, I skipped the “IMAX experience” and went to a generic (i.e., RealD) 3D theater. No nausea, no vertigo. But in contrast to the relatively short kid’s 3D movies, the length of this film does challenge the vision a bit.
Avatar sucks … but it sure is purty. And it proves that anti-Americanism will put mountains of money in American (er, ex-Canadian) pockets.