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Wednesday
Dec232009

« In Which We Teach James Cameron A Thing Or Two »

The Unsubtle

by LAUREN BANS

Avatar

dir. James Cameron

161 minutes

There are still things Hollywood has yet to learn in this brave new age of cinema. Maybe most importantly —  no matter how good the CGI or whatever brand new visual technology they’re flashing before our eyeholes may be, nothing trumps a believable story and good acting. 2012 may have realistically wreaked destruction upon the Christ the Redeemer statue, but the fact remains someone cast Lloyd Dobler as the one American who can outdrive the crumbling earth in a limo. Oops.

James Cameron’s Avatar is saddled with this same problem. The 3D experience is incredible. It’s stunningly immersive and immaculately executed. The camerawork is exciting without any overly graphic scenes (a surprise stabbing in 3D could really spur a heart attack).

It’s like spending 3 hours in a Lisa Frank folder on acid. You might as well invest in 3D Lasik now — it will only save you money in the long run. The visual revolution is here. The only thing that could possibly be more entertaining than watching Avatar in 3D would be some sort of Avatar 4D screening, wherein James Cameron stands behind your seat yelling, “Watching you watch my movie is like watching two monkeys fuck a football.”

As an allegory, Avatar is a hit-you-over-the-head cautionary against American imperialism set on a moon called Pandora. There live a hot blue-bodied humanoid species, the Na’vi, and they inhabit a tree parked right over the mineral we grabby earthlings came for. It’s called UNOBTAINIUM. (Close runner up in the unsubtle naming pool: Nevergonnagetitium.)


For all you worrywarts out there, rest assured, despite all current signs to the contrary, America is still the number #1 world power in James Cameron’s future. The foreigners on base in Pandora can easily be divided into the good science-y Americans who just want to better understand the Na’vi people and the bad overly-militaristic ones who see the Na’vi as savages in the way of a precious resource.

Jake Sully, a paraplegic jarhead straddles the line between these two extremes, and he’s sent into the forest as a “dreamwalker”—a human embodying a genetically-forged, controllable Na’vi avatar. Jake lies in a pod, a scientist presses a red button, and poof he’s in the forest running around with a ten-inch electric blue cock.

Of course, when Jake’s journey begins his only goal is to spy on the Na’vi people. But as he learns more about them and is trained in the Na’vi way, he grows to like the Na’vi and see them as the benevolent, advanced society that they are. This of course is made easy because Cameron endows the blue people with English-speaking abilities, hot bodies, classically beautiful features, and the exact same family structure and benevolent rule as the greats of Western civ. It’s just so natural to love ‘em. They’re not ugly and they’re totally like us!

There are important lessons to be learned from these easily swallowed anthropomorphic creatures. For one, the Na’vi are super attuned to their environment. In fact, they can just plug their ponytails into trees and horse-like creatures and immediately become in synch with their surroundings.  Which is a good lesson for us—we Americans SHOULD be more plugged into the world, more in tune with our delicate ecosystem or whatever. When I got home from the theater I plugged my ponytail into my iPod receptor and immediately had the greatest synchgasm of my life.

But the more blatant lesson of Avatar is not that American imperialism is bad, but that in fact it’s necessary. Sure there are some bad Americans—the ones with tanks ready to mercilessly kill the Na’vi population, but Jake is set up as the real embodiment of the American spirit. He learns Na’vi fighting tactics better than the Na’vi themselves, he takes the King’s daughter for his own, he becomes the only Na’vi warrior in centuries to tame this wild dragon bird thing. Even in someone else’s society the American is the chosen one. He’s going to come in, lead your army, fuck your princesses, and just generally save the day for you. Got it? This is how we do it.

Lauren Bans is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She blogs here. She twitters here. She last wrote in these pages on our robotic future.

"Dandelion" - Charlotte Gainsbourg (mp3)

"Greenwich Mean Time" - Charlotte Gainsbourg (mp3)

"Trick Pony" - Charlotte Gainsbourg (mp3)

"Time of the Assassins" - Charlotte Gainsbourg (mp3)


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Reader Comments (20)

What's Ripley doing in drag in this gently jingoistic film? Penance?

December 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSteven Augustine

Terrific. A $300 million version of Thomas Friedman telling the infidels to "suck. on. this." I haven't seen Avatar yet but your review reminded me of perhaps this film's polar opposite: The Limits of Control. ”He who thinks he’s so great should visit the cemetary. There he’ll see the world for what it is: a handful of dirt.” When they're both ghosts, Jim Jarmusch's autobot will stomp on Jim Cameron's decepticon.

December 23, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHugh

Can I publish this tomorrow again as a review of Pocahontas?

December 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBans

or Ferngully.

December 25, 2009 | Unregistered Commenter32feet

I agree with most of what you say but I enjoyed every minute of this. I saw it on an IMAX screen in 3D and I pretty much just sat there losing my shit for three hours. It's not particularly less enlightened than most Hollywood fare, but it looks so much better.

Though why that robot at the end had a knife I'll never understand. What kind of robot carries a knife?

December 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterZoe

Lisa Frank on acid! Yes!
I blog about this article and others here:
http://www.roguefemmeart.com/Site/Rogue_Blog/Entries/2009/12/27_Avatar__Racism%2C_Sexism_%26_Art_Responsibility.html

December 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLisette/Rogue Femme Art

Actually, 'unobtanium' *is* clever. It's a longstanding geek term: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unobtainium .

Complaining about that is like going to a Quentin Tarantino movie and complaining you saw it all a few decades ago back home in Tokyo.

January 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergwern

I re-watched “The Crucible” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0115988/) these days, when it was on TV. And it is such an awesome movie imo - the text is brilliant and *all* actors give a show.

Just mentioned because it remembered me how it is much more a metaphor about America than a Superman or Avatar movie, as one would like to think. “This is how we do it” (points John Proctor hanging) :-D.

January 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterrodrigo moraes

anyone who said any part of this movie was clever deserves a demerit

January 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteralex

Folks, this just in. THE UNIVERSE IS RACIST! It has just been confirmed in an experiment at the Large Hadron Collider. I think this stands for a toast, black can bitch forever now! There is literally no limit! The economy is racist! My computer is racist, my dog is racist, my car's radiator is a motherfccking racist!

January 9, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterpeter lauryl

On target if you replace "American", every where you see it, with "Racist/ White Supremacist."

The few earthlings thrown in this movie that are not white, are there, I suspect, for the same reason that "American" is used in THIS review instead of the most accurate term, "racist/ white supremacist." As the author of the review points out, deceit is the most valuable weapon of those who systemically mistreat people of color. Violence is the back-up tool of last resort...The word "people" IS used in this movie to describe the Na'vi blue (the darkest people on earth are called 'blue-black" and many of them are very tall and thin in build like the Na'vi...(Alek Wek supermodel, Manute Bol former NBA basketball player) And, c'mon, cornrows????

Jake Sully, the film's main character does not speak English with an "American" accent. He has a clear Australian accent as that is where the actor who portrays him, Sam Worthington, is from.

If you have the will to establish for the first time a condition in the known universe that there is no record of ever existing, justice, you will be faced with eliminating the most powerful obstacle to it. Say it. Slowly, loud, and with emphasis: "WHITE Su-prem(e)-acy"

This movie should be rated "X." Do not, if you can help it, let your black offspring watch this film until they have a firm understanding of racism/white supremacy---why it is, what it is, and how it works--- Recommended reading for black attempted mothers and fathers: The United Independent Compensatory Code: A Textbook/ Workbook for Thought, Speech, and/or Action for Victims of Racsim (White Supremacy).

January 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCree7

Cree7, you make me sick. Stop projecting your own insecurities and prejiduces upon the world around you and you may be a happier person in life.

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