Monday, December 21st, 2009
143

I Hated 'Avatar' With The Fire Of A Thousand Suns, by Maria Bustillos

AVATARFrom time to time, The Awl offers its space to normal, everyday people with a perspective on national issues. Today, we're pleased to bring you this report by Maria Bustillos, who went to the movies this weekend.

So: Avatar. Here is a story with an alleged anti-corporatist message, underwritten by a huge corporation to the tune of $250 million plus. It preaches closeness with (outer-space) nature, but must have produced CO2 emissions at the rate of a dozen oil refineries. It alleges respect for women, who are shown to be uniformly, pornographically subservient to the alpha males. Its message is anti-violence, but it's also stuffed to the gills with the glorious super-lethal war machines from which toys and video games can and will be fashioned.

The whole of the planet Earth cringed when James Cameron shouted, "I'm the king of the world!" at the Oscars that one time. But did we learn our lesson? No, we did not. We gave this clown a quarter of a billion dollars to make an even more terrible movie. I am sorry Mary HK Choi et al, but I feel that you misled me gravely. What James Cameron knows about being a fanboy could be stuffed in a watch and rattled. He is entirely bereft of the crucial ingredient of fanboyness: humility.

I don't say that Avatar is not beautiful to look at; it is. I saw it at a 3D IMAX theater and found the images dazzling, if Disneyfied. However, there is not enough beauty in the world to wallpaper over this writer-director's crude outlook. He is bully and a boor, graceless, swaggering, self-congratulatory, puerile. He has got the emotional nuance and literary sensitivity of spackle.

The worst thing about this movie is the pretend-not-glorifying of violence. Its lush, slow pleasures are taken in the final gasping breath of a fantastical beast, in long, loving strokes of the camera over scenes of annihilation, over explosions, and people impaled on poisoned arrows, over blue bodies exploding out of helicopters or off of psychedelic space-pterodactyls. These brutalities are expiated with a line or two of portentous Native Hokum every now and then.

The impression of complete hypocrisy was in no way lessened by the glossy war-porn recruitment commercial for the National Guard, produced in exactly the same style and character, that played before the movie (though with no aliens, I guess, and not, thankfully, in 3D).

But no, the really worst thing is the ham-fistedness of Avatar's alternate history. Okay, so this time the Native Americans are able to throw off the European oppressor. Note well, however, that l'homme sauvage, for all the purity of his Native Wisdom, is still quite helpless without a white man to show him what the hell to do. So what if this "hero" "goes native," just like in Dances With Wolves? (Even as he goes about gathering "the horse people of the plains" to assist him.) It still takes a white man to tame the really BIG dragon, and to outfox the enemy.

He will also take the "best" woman, the noblest, the highest born, the smartest, whose token resistance will dwindle its sorry way from faux-contempt to near-drooling adoration in a matter of days. Her former man will die, and her father will, too; her whole civilization will lie in ruins. She will pretty much get down on her knees to thank this white man, anyway (see Klaus Theweleit's Male Fantasies for a gruesome but believable explanation of the underpinnings of that whole business).

Notice how nobody-not the Marines, not the brilliant scientist, not the wise blue natives-can make a single successful move without this white guy. They are all completely powerless and vulnerable until he comes along with his fake self-deprecation and his blunt, forceful manner and his great big muscles. Pathetic. I can't believe more people aren't all grossed out, here.

p.s. How come the lovers don't mutually plug their ponytailed braid genital things together? They plug 'em into everything else.



Maria Bustillos is the author of Dorkismo: The Macho of the Dork and Act Like a Gentleman, Think Like a Woman.

143 Comments / Post A Comment

Rod T (#33)

I've read Awl movie reviews with a cocked eye-brow, ever since they convinced me to see the shamelessly foul Twilight II.

OMG I loved Twilight II!!

Rod T (#33)

It's weird how people think we share a demographic.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

I kind of admire how the Awl generates fantastic reviews, which I love, of movies I would not dream of sitting through. (Not that I would even have read a review of Twilight II.) Yum yum writing. It's like reading really exalted nonsense poetry.

Bittersweet (#765)

Ditto. I might actually get around to putting Avatar on my Netflix queue by 2013, but reading the reviews was delightful.

Ronbo (#2,383)

Leftard propaganda flick – the contemporary version of TRIUMPH OF THE WILL – SEIG HEIL OBAMA!

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

I love that this article, which includes a feminist critique of the movie in question, is headlined with a quote from 10 Things I Hate About You. Which is, of course, a remake of "The Taming of the Shrew."

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Actually now that I think about it that line may have been lifted directly from the Shakespeare. I'm such a plebian.

You are our ideal reader. I would actually like it if you came to the office every day to read things before we publish them! (I'm being serious!)

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Only if I can wear a nametag that says "IDEAL READER" where the job title usually goes.

the teeth (#380)

Oh gawd I'm totally changing my job title TODAY.

slinkimalinki (#182)

you get to wear a plastic cone around your neck!

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Be careful whose nametag you wear, and who wears your nametag. Who did Kingsley Amis identify as his ideal reader? (It was Hitchens, according to a less-than-kingsley Amis.)

Abe Sauer (#148)

Hitchens is Amis' ideal reader b/c the latter can count on the former always bringing more booze = IDEAL

Tulletilsynet (#333)

He'll surely get another chance.

Turboslut (#1,036)

Having not seen it it sounds like Lawrence of Arabia in space, without Omar Sharif of Peter O'Toole (another strike against it). I mean really, how do all these savage tribes even begin to accomplish anything without a stern but loving white man to help them?

afarerkind (#379)

It's "Princess Mononoke" plus "Return of the Jedi."

Also, elements of "Fern Gully: The Last Rain Forest."

HiredGoons (#603)

DING! DING! DING!

Turboslut (#1,036)

All of which would also be improved by the inclusion of Omar Sharif.

kneetoe (#1,881)

This very much falls in line with what I would expect to feel about this movie if ever I were to see it.

I was disappointed that there was no blue penis like in Watchmen.

LondonLee (#922)

That will be on the Unrated Blu-Ray Combo Pack.

kneetoe (#1,881)

Blue balls are more common.

Carolyn (#2,695)

Although there are lots of blue titties.

balsa_wood (#465)

It is odd that Hollywood gave more money to James Cameron after making TITANIC. The movie was a notable flop.

mike d (#61)

I had lots of ideas as to what the "crucial ingredient of fanboyness" was going to be. "Humility" was not one of them.

Mary HK Choi (#1,469)

Word.

Oooh, that's interesting! I was thinking about this for a minute this morning. Fanboyism: hubris v. humility. (Then I got out of the shower, and for a while I thought about food, which I really love.)

Regina Small (#2,468)

Really? My conception of "fanboy" = constant state of awe, which requires at least some measure of humility. (Of course most fanboys haven't directed the most financially successful movie of all time, so that's a part of the mix, too.)

Mary HK Choi (#1,469)

This is an interesting point. I agree with the awe. I love the awe. But often time what immediately follows is this series of thoughts of exactly how you would've done it better or differently. I'm not sure if I'd necessarily peg this as hubris but there isn't an awe that enjoys some hallowed stasis. I think the dismantling comes from a place of admiration but I definitely don't know about humility. Certainly not the fanboys I know (and love!).

paco (#2,190)

Mary, I think when you wrote "hallowed stasis" you meant "hallowed status". Unless you didn't, in which case I wouldn't really understand what you were trying to say.

Kataphraktos (#226)

I was thinking "eternal state of virginity", which is similar to what you get if you structure your life based on books like "Act Like a Gentleman, Think Like a Woman".

Kataphraktos (#226)

(for the record, I'm just making fun of the title of the book, not the contents)

balsa_wood (#465)

Also, can a movie postulate an "alternate history" if it takes place 150 years in the future?

Things to chew on…

Mindpowered (#948)

Ah but it's an allegory. New worlds, white mans burdens etc. It's the same trope since Las Casas.

HiredGoons (#603)

Like how 'The Old Man and the Sea' is an allegory about fishing, right?

balsa_wood (#465)

Yes, but there's certainly an ethical question here. Commenting/revising history is a lot different from changing history. I don't think it's accurate to call this an "alternate."

For the full bullshit, see PATRIOT, THE, in which, if memory serves, slavery ended sometime around the drafting of the Constitution.

iplaudius (#1,066)

This is kind of like how the resolution of Guess Who's Coming To Dinner requires the white male patriarch to validate the interracial reunion by giving a speech, climactically, for all to hear (and they must remain quiet and listen as the white man speaks). A more radical, equitable take would have the entire dinner table stand up and say, "fuck you, white daddy, nobody cares what you have to say, if you don't like it, go eat a dick." (And then white girl and black boy would do the nasty in the mashed potatoes. Or something.)

With Mary HK Choi, you have an aesthetic response that is largely unconcerned with the declarative content of the movie. It is like reading a Shakespeare play, all the while ignoring the drama and savoring the poetry-which you can do to great pleasure and profit.

To continue the Shakespeare comparison: Maria Bustillos is the kind of critic who wants to talk about, say, justice in Macbeth, existentialism in Hamlet, or gender relations in Much Ado About Nothing.

Or: Mary HK Choi reads the sonnets and describes why they sound so good; Maria Bustillos reads the sonnets and tells you why Shakespeare may have been gay and why his treatment of the "dark lady" is problematic from the perspective of feminist and post-colonial theory.

There's nothing wrong with either approach. With one, you have "poetry"; with the other, you have "ideas." Both are dangerous, both alluring.

In short: *HUGS*

(Kidding.)

I actually feel kind of crazy because I feel both of these things at Avatar! Watching it, I'm like "OH FUCK YES, LET US KILL SOME THING AND GET REVENGE" and also I'm, like, troubled.

Also I like how Mary appreciates the beauty.

ALSO I do like how James Cameron luvs him a strong lady. (Except this time he SPOILER SPOILER.)

iplaudius (#1,066)

Well … I'm not sure which better serves the Awl readership, who would not likely watch a movie like Avatar for "the story" nor, for that reason, be especially interested in a jaundiced critique of it-though, as moralizing enumerations go, Bustillos's is attractive in so far as it is frank and concise and, as far as I'm concerned, politically righteous.

That came out cunty. Maybe I'm giving everyone too much credit.

La Cieca (#1,110)

When James Cameron sees a strong woman, he always spoils'er.

metoometoo (#230)

For the record: I'm avid Awl reader and am especially interested in a jaundiced critique of Avatar. I haven't seen it yet and will probably see it soonish, for the pretty visuals, not the story. But knowing that someone has already leveled this type of criticism of the story will probably make me feel a little better while I'm watching it.

Mindpowered (#948)

MMmm..

I see it as

MHKC: You Should.
MB: You Should NOT.

It boils down to how you feel the movie will be taken. Is it visual bubblegum or is it the reifying of archaic and fundamentally dangerous concepts of white male hegemony, violence, colonialism, and sexual submission in a pretty package. Will we brush it off or does our support for this (by paying for it) eventually lead us down the path to The Handmaids Tale, with blue tits.

Ultimately it's only one narrative among many, and despite Ms. Bustillos lifting up the carper to show the wormy, rotten undergrowth it will get drowned out, by the background noise. Titanic/Gladiator this is not. Besides as, George Lucas showed long ago CGI does not a moviemake if it's plot rotten to the core.

scrooge (#2,697)

Very PC, but, like you say, just awful plotwise. How about giving 10 other directors $42.5mm apiece and seeing what they come up with? (Or nine other directors and me for walking-around money).

Yes, according to the FT, this cliche-ridden videogame movie cost $425mm!!!

melis (#1,854)

I would absolutely support a remake of The Handmaid's Tale with blue tits.

slinkimalinki (#182)

some of us can't turn the "ideas" off. except when when watching horror movies.

Who says we can't have both? Plenty of poetry and ideas here.

Each review has its own merits, of course. I have zero interest in the film– but this continuation of the "How to Cook" exercise-cum-joyride has been extremely gratifying just the same!

I made latkes this weekend. I might cook a fucking steak for dinner tonight.

KarenUhOh (#19)

I decided against seeing it after learning that Steven Seagal aggravated his sciatica on Level 2 of the Wii version.

Joe MacLeod (#22)

TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT BLUE. DANCES WITH ELVES. BLUE MAN CRAP. SMURFIN' WITH THE ALIEN. BLUE BUCKS CLAN. This is ALL 100% CORRECT and movie is still AWESOME. Also-but, though, SPOILER, who really saved who with what at the end, really-really?

City_Dater (#2,500)

Sing it, sister!

He can make pretty pictures, or find and pay the right people to make pretty pictures for him, but when it comes to story and dialogue, James Cameron makes George Lucas look like Clifford Odets.

No. Sorry, no. Lucas + Lawrence Kasdan = tolerable. Lucas w/o Kasdan = Phantom Menace. As perineum-clenchingly bad as the Cameron script is, it is way, way better than Phantom Menace.

Kakapo (#2,312)

I cannot believe that I haven't seen a single review of this flick that doesn't describe it as "beautiful" or something similar. Even the mildly disparaging reviews attack the story and dialogue but begrudgingly admit that it is "beautiful." Neat-looking, I will grant, but the aesthetics are overall pretty mind-blowingly tacky. Glad to at least see the word "Disneyfied" used into this review.

La Cieca (#1,110)

Every critic is forced to use the word "beautiful" because of that ongoing argument with the copy desk over the hyphen in "eye-popping."

Kakapo (#2,312)

There are still copy editors?

I actually was ok with her use of the word "dazzling," but it unfortunately comes right after she says that she's not going to disappoint anyone by not calling it beautiful.

hugesunglasses (#2,696)

I thought about seeing Avatar until I realized that Rosanne reruns far more closely represent my life.

afarerkind (#379)

The more noble the savage, the more ground-down my molars. The worst part was probably the insinuation that the reason the white man loved his avatar so much was that it had a better functioning body than his human one. Like, yeah, these people are OK, girl is hot, but look how physically improved I am!

I guess it was pretty. Gave me a headache.

Rod T (#33)

On the Jersey shore, Maria would be a Grenade and Mary would be the girl in the hot tub?

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

I saw Maria more as the girl in the committed relationship who still gets roped in by The Situation anyway.

Mary HK Choi (#1,469)

Ew. Fuck outta here. That hot tub reeks of yeast infection. I'm battling Jwwow at Karma because that's how we dance to house music.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Don't forget to pound the floor first.

sigerson (#179)

Hold on there, Freckles McCoy.

Mary HK Choi (#1,469)

UM can we have a discussion about how that girl was SO NOT THAT BUSTED? WTF?

sigerson (#179)

I agree on Freckles. She was fuckable. The girls in the Mercedes, however, took it up a few notches way way way beyond Mikey's range. He was definitely playing the MTV card to get those girls back to the house, right?

ericspiegelman (#1,801)

The best part of Navi culture is that you have to rape your aerial steed before it will let you ride it. "Here, let me forcibly penetrate your tentacle input jack thing, causing your pupils to dilate with the shock. Now you're MINE!"

Abe Sauer (#148)

Ha! and true.

Carolyn (#2,695)

And you will LOVE ME FOREVER. Because I have conquered you.

NinetyNine (#98)

Isn't this the plot to Atlas Shrugged?

hazmathilda (#839)

and everything else she ever wrote!

gumplr (#66)

Due respect to everything else, but I don't think MB's postscript is receiving all the attention it deserves in these here comments…

I thought the same thing as MB too. Sex with that would be mindblowing. But if you think about it, it's really more of a master/slave relationship. To wit:

Navi > Horse
Navi > Disney Tree of Life
Navi > Space pterodactyl

Navi = Navi so no go.

Incredibly geeky exposition: it's a USB cable! You can use a USB cable to connect a computer to a dumb device that takes orders, but not two smart devices.

Mary HK Choi (#1,469)

WHOA. But wait, what about Na'vi > Avatar ?

Well an Avatar being essentially = Na'vi ("walk like them, talk like them"? I think that was the quote), except with its mind blown away, I think the equality would still be correct, no? At least when a human was connected.

Hmm, actually, maybe if they plugged in while the human wasn't connected, the Avatar would be the ultimate buffy-bot?

I do know if I were Jake Sully, I'd probably try it out just to see what would happen.

Mary HK Choi (#1,469)

Oh me too. It's the first thing I'd do. BUT I definitely do think it would be different for Na'Vi to plug into Avatar (even with the human plugged in) PRE going through the EYE than post. I would totally have to get in on that before and after and take notes. And probably WHILST going through the EYE because that's probably the best.

Mary HK Choi (#1,469)

"They're tall and have these spooky braids that have tentacles that curl out and do synaptic axon/dendrite neurotransmitty stuff but like in alien. They do it to animals and plants except they don't do it to each other which is weird because I'd bet it would feel like sexdrugs."

Yes, I remembered this all. All.

NinaHagen (#131)

South Park may be right – Dances With Smurfs.

Neopythia (#353)

I think puerile is the best description of Cameron's films.

NinaHagen (#131)

Then again if this paves the way for a 3-D Steve-O colonoscopy, how bad could it be?

Ralphie (#1,886)

None of the great paintings are by the guy who invented paint.

deepomega (#1,720)

And nobody remembers the name of the guy who invented paint. (Nor does anyone claim his painting was The Best Ever.) [Nor did Cameron invent ANYTHING for this movie, jesus. He technically gets a credit for developing the stereoscopic HD camera, but that's not what is New Technology here.]

EvilMonkey (#1,063)

Hokum = hocus pocus + bunkum (nee Buncombe)
Now that's using your pen prettier than a twenty dollar whore.

Abe Sauer (#148)

What about Cameron's apparent obsession with tough-talking, Aviator-wearing female Marine pilots…? "Spunkmeyer!"

balsa_wood (#465)

He was married to both Kathryn Bigelow and Linda Hamilton. He likes 'em bicepy.

alsomike (#2,396)

That movie was about race?? I thought it was the story about that time the Marines invaded Berkeley to "extract their natural resources" (recruiting in the high schools), and they managed to beat them back! Plus a romance about one Maine who fell in love with a Code Pink activist because she was in touch with the mysterious and sublime ways of Nature.

dietcock (#1,496)

What about the cheesy new-age font for the subtitles?

afarerkind (#379)

That typeface is more played out than comic sans. It must come standard with Microsoft products and be labeled, like, "ethnic." HATE.

deepomega (#1,720)

It is called papyrus. My heart shivers upon seeing it, as though presented with the evidence of my own mortality. I had to have my wrists tied from my armrests to keep me from lunging at the screen and clawing it to shreds.

Mary HK Choi (#1,469)

OH TOTALLY. This I completely agree with and forgot to mention. I HATED this heart of darkness-ass font. Look, it's hewn as if from wood…

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Papyrus actually came standard with Apple products for ages and only more recently migrated to PC, if I remember correctly. It, along with comic sans, is indeed a Face That Must Not Be Used by any designer with even lukewarm typographical skills. Its presence in the trailer alone downgraded Avatar from "opening week must-see" to "eh, if I miss it, I can always rent the DVD" for me.

hazmathilda (#839)

WAIT this movie has Papyrus in it? Looks like my inebriation plan will be clutch in dealing with more than just the writing… (and enhancing the visuals?)

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Yes.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0499549/

(WARNING: Ads will hurt your eyes.)

Abe Sauer (#148)

inebriation helps with the excessive pan flutes as well.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Some of us just prefer theaters where they sell booze, OK? Name me a movie that isn't improved by a bottle of wine.

rhettoric (#2,639)

I'm surprised no mention was made of the female lead's overt anorexia. While most of the blue natives were lanky, her emaciation was glaring. Small breasts, thin thighs and a lanky frame is almost precisely antithetical to traditional expressions of female fecundity (i.e. larger distended breasts, and a large waste). I realize that distended breasts are hardly attractive in modern American culture, but surely large breasts are. Still, Cameron makes her breasts small and her hips narrow. Yet another subtle implication that her culture is impotent without the white man's infusion of fertility (so to speak).

Abe Sauer (#148)

I speculate that Cameron had to market this film to PARENTS and if they were too much like a National Geographic there would be protests and outrage (remember everyone going ape when Lohan's new breasts did the Herbie remake?) Avatar was already damn near Furry/Yiff fetish stuff.

Plus, I imagine small breasts made covering them cleverly easier on the FX guys.

LondonLee (#922)

But when I think "fanboy" I don't think "humility" I think "loves big tits"

deepomega (#1,720)

Not really cleverly. Their solution was, never let their feather necklaces move unless there is an arm in the way of nipple. Frustratingly cheap solution, that makes me wonder why they didn't just put clothes on them.

Abe Sauer (#148)

@London. EXACTLY. This was Cameron's recent interview with Playboy:

PLAYBOY: How much did you get into calibrating your movie heroine’s hotness?
CAMERON: Right from the beginning I said, “She’s got to have tits,” even though that makes no sense because her race, the Na’vi, aren’t placental mammals. I designed her costumes based on a taparrabo, a loincloth thing worn by Mayan Indians. We go to another planet in this movie, so it would be stupid if she ran around in a Brazilian thong or a fur bikini like Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C.

rhettoric (#2,639)

They aren't placental mammals (which I'm guessing means they don't produce milk)? Why would they have breasts at all then? Honestly, the pseudoscience of this movie pisses me off more than any of the patronizing feminism.

Mary HK Choi (#1,469)

Wait, non placental animals lactate. It's mammals you're looking for. AND kangaroos have different nipples that produce milk of different compositions (!!!!!) AND the platypus has milk ducts in its abdomen. OK i'm done.

Yes: we should critique the positioning the while male outsider hero, etc. This is not mentioned enough. However, I have to say that among films that retread Lawrence of Arabia/Metamora in this way, I much prefer the stories that end with a successful violent uprising (L o A, Dune, Avatar), to those that trade on the tearful (but inevitable) eradication of the noble savages (Dances with Wolves, Last Samurai). This is to say I prefer my capitalist, masculinist cinema with Trotskyite artificial flavoring.

Also, I question your application of Theweleit. Yes, the movie glorifies and revels in violence, but our hero is physically infirm, denuded and otherwise bodily vulnerable, whereas it is the villain who meets the definition of a Theweleitian hard-bodied subject propelled toward an ecstatic disintegration in battle. This latter male is ultimately extracted from his shell and killed by a female character. Admittedly there is something ambivalent and prurient in the machine-lust retailed as part of the spectacle, but couldn't you read this movie to deliberately expose and vanquish the familiar figures of ur-fascism?

rhettoric (#2,639)

Couldn't you extend this final moment of pseudo-feminism to an even greater degree? After impaling the consumptive warmonger she rescues her lover, now trapped in his impotent human body. She gives the oxygen mask to him, literally giving his body breath, while cradling him like a bizarre extraterrestrial Madonna (if there was white light to balance her blue skin I might think this was intentional).

Despite the oedipal implications, are we to think of her as a midwife to their life "after the time of sorrow?"

barnhouse (#1,326)

Ha, awesome. I too enjoy the Trotskyite sprinkles on my macho narratives.

It's not the violence or hard-bodiedness per se that recalls Theweleit in this movie, though I would argue that the villain is in a human body and the hero's "real" body, his invincible body (could go off an a whole other Theweleit-tangent there) is the blue one. (rhettoric's point is astonishing and great, too)

The super-Theweleit part, though, is in the view of sexuality in general, and of women as "at best, social inferiors and at worst, a form of filth." The ecstatic renunciation of our blue consort's former "superior" position recalls Theweleit totally. As does the absolute lack of sexual passion, which in Freikorps-land (or among the Republicans) is a demonstration of weakness; the single love scene was freakishly eunuch-like. The Disney cartoon of Beauty and the Beast is far sexier.

It's not like I'm even a feminist, either! Most of the time I can't stand that stuff. But in this case it is like shrieking out at you.

I appreciate your reading, but I cannot agree that Cameron perpetuates this kind of image of femininity in this movie. The Na'vi are a faux matriarchy, and Cameron really seems to try to elevate his female characters in all sorts of way. Plus that love scene, however weird, wasn't without passion–it was without penetration. I still think Cameron beats the Male Fantasies critique. This movie would make a terrible Freikorps paperback!

barnhouse (#1,326)

You are right. But you are also right about the faux matriarchy, which is just what I was getting at (these being all "white" women not "red" ones, though in this instance most of them are blue–bah. You know what I mean, I think.)

Yes, we agree.

Jonas Cord (#2,698)

"Note well, however, that l’homme sauvage, for all the purity of his Native Wisdom, is still quite helpless without a white man to show him what the hell to do."

Maybe I don't understand what happens in the movie well enough as I haven't seen it, but I'm confused by this particular critique.

1. An advanced civilization is battling a far less advanced one.
2. An accomplished member of the advanced civilization's armed services becomes a part of the less advanced one.

Am I supposed to believe that this new guy, what with both presumably advanced knowledge and specific experience wouldn't be essentially the world's most useful dude to the natives… like ever?

I understand why we get touchy when this sort of thing is done in a movie about a real culture, but this movie is about fake blue aliens. Who cares?

Slava (#216)

I came here to say THIS.
Because it's true.

slinkimalinki (#182)

define advanced. if you dropped me in the middle of, say, the forest in papua new guinea, i would be the world's most useless dudette.

just cos you know how to press buttons doesn't mean you know a damn thing about being useful in a different context.

sigerson (#179)

SPOILER ALERT

A few objections from a SF nerd:

1. So let me get this straight: Pandora is an M-Class planet (temperature, solar radiation, etc. all with human tolerances) with low gravity and an atmosphere that is poisonous to homo sapiens. Then what is that gas giant planet and why is it so close to Pandora? Does Pandora orbit it like a moon — cuz if it does then it would spends DAYS if not WEEKS in complete darkness (hardly habitable…).

2. The robot with a knife. Really? A heavy-duty piece of industrial gear that has the speed and dexterity to get into a knife fight? And it's a ground attack combat machine with a HUGE class windshield? Why not just let the guys ballsack droop down below so that it would be EVEN easier to kill him?

3. The sex scene. PUUUHHHLEEEZE.

4. Loved the CGI, particularly the water and the fine dust. But why was Sigourney Weaver's avatar so lame looking? Those combat boots and little Stanford t-shirt looked like something on a Nintendo circa 1998. Suspension of disbelief, my ass.

5. In the first jungle encounter, our hero gets chased by a six-legged lion-like animal. His backpack gets ripped off before he jumps into a waterfall to escape. Next scene, he has somehow figured out where to find a vat of flammable jelly AND HAS MATCHES TO LIGHT A TORCH???? WHHAAAAAAT?? Not only was his backpack ripped off, but he was just UNDERFREAKINGWATER!

6. First scene — people are waking up from several years of hibernation like it was a 20-minute nap?? Where is the muscular atrophy and long-hair and beards?

7. Shuttle as bomber. Why, exactly? How can you use a suborbital reentry vehicle for slow-moving bomber duty? Don't you have a huge flying disc heavy-lifter that the Colonel is on? Why press the shuttle into service, just so you can blow it up? And why are all those bad guys flying so goddamned slowly?!

8. Ground attack (robots against horses) — (a) where are the bulldozers? Wouldn't those be perfect weapons for clearing out a bunch of restless natives? (b) LLLLLAAAAAAMMME deus ex machina alert!! After massacring hordes of the horse people (who somehow rode their horses ACROSS A CONTINENT in 12 hours or less), the robots are overrun by the hammerhead rhino things? Where were these rhinos from the get-go? And why did they come along SUDDELY to destroy all the robots and the nasty bald white guy who always said "Get some!" like a drunken Marine from "Generation Kill"? Ehwa heard his prayer? I thought she didn't take sides?

9. Drunk chick from Lost as helicopter pilot COMMITS MUTINY and ignores the order to fire on the HomeTree and suffers NO CONSEQUENCES??? She is free and walking around with her tits hanging out, armed with a pistol, and even able to sweet-talk the prison guard? Huh? And then she can fly her helicopter into the "vortex" where all instruments are scrambled but the obviously computer controlled aircraft can still operate unfazed?

10. Nerdboy who is a Navi avatar driver. We see his avatar get shot three times. Later, as the humans are being escorted off the world, not only do we see his human form, but also his Navi avatar? And why dressed like a slacker from the Nineties?

All that said, I love the film and need to see it in full IMAX 3D. The blizzard kept me close to 57th Street so I had to settle for oldtech bullshit. But it was still amazing.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Bravo.

afarerkind (#379)

Also, the arrows didn't work against the armored vehicles until SUDDENLY THEY DID? Like, the made a point of showing them ricocheting off the glass early on.

And I for real LOLed when the girl navi held human Jake and they touched each others' faces.

balsa_wood (#465)

Good points, though your #8 sounds pretty much like, "What's with all this narrative convenience timed dramatically so that audiences might yield more pleasure from this film?"

Abe Sauer (#148)

Actually, thinking about this last night, I would add the fact that humans had perfected things as complex as space travel and "Avatar" technology (!!) and the still use gunpowder-based rifles and incendiary weapons like today's hellfire missiles?????

Abe Sauer (#148)

slightly off topic: If this 3D stuff is going to be the future can we at least get TWO sizes of glasses please. Those things may fit kids fine but…

Slava (#216)

Also: Fit kinda funny on top of my existing glasses!

Abe Sauer (#148)

Jeez. Yeah. WTF.

scrooge (#2,697)

I walked out when Chipper Chopperwoman decided to rescue Mary Mead and the valiant anthropologists.

BoHan (#29)

Where in the frack is Walt Fruttinger on these issues? Has this movie not made it to Missoula yet? Is the drive-in closed for Winter? I want Walt!

Didn't anyone see Up In the Air instead? (Only nearby screening of 3-D Imax version of Avatar at some suburban monstrosity called the "Mall of Georgia," which, no way. I want to see it as it is intended, so I will go see it with family unit when arrive in different metropolis's 'burbs later this week).

It was a good movie, if not a little predictable in both message and plot content. Clooney is quite good!

Up In the Air was quite possibly the worst movie I have seen this year. It's premised on the assumption that the only one true path to happiness is marriage and procreation. Wait too long and happiness will pass you by!!!!! Any other choice and that person is doomed. DOOOOMED DOOOOMMMMMEEEEDDD I tell ya!!!!

vespavirgin (#1,422)

That furry suit must have been really scary in 3D.

kpants (#719)

Loved this review. So. Much. Hope there are more op-eds by MB on whatever subjects she wants to write about in 2010.

paco (#2,190)

I would like to congratulate MB for writing an article for the AWL that does not rely heavily on ALLCAPS or slang appropriated from hip hop songs downloaded from the Wesleyan or Vassar or whatever-the-fuck server.

Alex Balk (#4)

Wait, Paco, you have a problem with the use of all caps and popular vernacular to indicate emphasis? I had NO IDEA, bro!

paco (#2,190)

Wow, that was DEVASTATING, Balk. I'm crushed.

Wait, can we acknowledge that the substance they want to mine for is called 'Unobtainium'?

barnhouse (#1,326)

It turns out that this is an actual engineering word for like "miracle substance we can't get" from the 1950s, or something.

Makes it seem better and then you realize it goes along with just about every other uncreative part of the story:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unobtanium

'a humorous name for any extremely rare, costly, or physically impossible material needed to fulfill a given design for a given application'

Cameron didn't come up with the term but he came up with using it as an actual element's name in the movie despite its wide use as a vague substitution for a scientific situation.

I cannot for the life of me recall what it actually does besides make a one dimensional cackling super villain out of Ribisi.

barnhouse (#1,326)

TRUE.

Joe MacLeod (#22)

IN THE NA'VI.

Marioninnyc (#2,702)

Thank you for saving several hours of my life.

Foxy (#2,703)

- Corporate support: yeah it would have been cool if the project could have been funded without corporate support but that isn't really possible. Sorry, what's your point? James Cameron shouldn't have relied on a Hollywood film making corporation to fund his message about corporations that might use vast mercenary armies to ruthlessly kill anything in sight because both feature similar incorporation?

- Non violence. Sorry, where did you get this "pretend-not-glorifying of violence"? I mean, what about the movie or anything it promoted was pretending to be non-violent? or do you just assume that non-violence is a defining ideal any time a "native" culture is featured? Native Hokum indeed.

If you remember, the na'vi are pretty bad motherfuckers. THey're really good at fighting. the girl one efficiently slays a whole bunch of those hyenas in the scene introducing us to our first native na'vi. She is clearly a well trained warrior. Most of them are, we later learn. and the na'vi are pretty into kicking ass as soon as they got stomped on. It was whitey who had to remind them to chill out for a bit, because they just had bows and arrows and shit and maybe that wouldn't work against the enemy now. Then it's whitey's grenades that save the day. It's whitey who stops the white empire, not so much as a matter of "Native Americans able to throw off the European oppressor" but as a matter of they have fucking ridiculously space age technology and weaponry evenly matched only against similar technology. The white man doesn't really show them what to do. He just stops other white men from doing what they were doing. It's a crack in the empire. It's us white people who need to stop the evil machinations of other white people. Save your l'homme savage theorization for glorificaiton of white peopl saving savages from savagery, or savages supposedly teaching the civilized what's up with everything, on the inside. Here a white person is saving brown people from other white people, because he can, or more specifically, because only he can, because he has grenades that he can throw into the rotors of the helicopter gunships.

Like it's true motherfuckers. Iraqis are unlikely to truly "outfox" us, or maybe not, but they are unlikely to ever STOP us. But we can stop us.

- just like: it's not that whitey appeals to the planet to intervene with rhinos etc because he's some godly messiah who is superior to everyone else involved. He appeals by referring to how fucked up earth got, and citing some documentary proof of that if the planet god will only take a look at sigourney weaver's memories. once again, earthly (whitey) doom is spared because one whitey decides it's enough.

- He obviously doesn't just tame the really big dragon because he's a big bad white dude. He gets lucky because he thinks about the whole thing a little bit differently, which makes sense, considering he's a fucking alien.

- Some commenter's point about mutiny and consequences re michelle rodriguez: that was a really cool thing about this movie, that there were no state we were dealing with on the human side, which is confusing for us, being all used to authority and especially any exercise of military. there's usually some form of absolute authority in these movies, and of course it's subverted or whatever but there's usually the implication of sovereignty, which we don't really have here. It's totally mercenary. yeah it resembles armies like we know them and the implications of allegiance etc. but no one gives a fuck

- James Cameron didn't make up Unobtainium: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unobtanium

- Water proof matches: dude. They have the technology.

- and maybe they do plug their braids in when mating. we don't know! Chill out man.

BoHan (#29)

I got your Fanboy Humility, and I raise you 10 squared.

Slava (#216)

FOXY!

miette (#2,704)

Okay– I must live under a rock on another planet, because I actually haven't heard much about Avatar. Haven't cared one way or the other, but found your thoughts on it reaffirming (hey, I'm not missing much!) UNTIL you mentioned those braided genital bits. Which I'm guessing are beautifully rendered with little lens flares or delicate particle effects when the characters attached to them move. I'm guessing the dvd extra scenes will include interviews with the modelers of these braided bits who will disclose that they are comprised of special algorithms with a billion independent muscles, and took years to render. Which has me more curious than I ever should be.

Which wasn't your intent, obviously. But, damn.

KarenUhOh (#19)

If Cameron earns a buck a word for all the ink splashed over his SciFi MetaActioner, he'll have enough cash for Craft Services for Avatar II: The Trailer.

balsa_wood (#465)

Avatar II: The Fire of a Thousand Pandoras

mothnyc (#2,752)

1959

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