Y'all, I've been needing to get this off my chest for a while. All season long I heard about the AMAZINGNESS of James Cameron's Avatar. Co-workers, Ed's parents, whoever decides the Golden Globes, they were all singing Cameron's praises. The best effects. The most compelling story. Really, people, it sucked.
Sure, the effects were stunning. The environments and the fact that they did MoCap on faces (which, from what Ed tells me, is exceedingly impressive) was great. I could have done without the 3-D, honestly, and was annoyed I spent the extra 3 bucks on it. It gave me a headache and whenever nothing "3-D" was going on I took off the glasses and the movie looked just a cool without it. James Cameron, however, should not be lauded for the visual effects-- the ARTISTS should be. If there's any Oscar that movie deserves, its for best visual effects, hands down.
The story, though. My god, the story. Reviews that focus on how racist and ultimately colonialist the movie is have been well documented and frankly, better articulated that I can do on this little blog here. But I would like to belabor the point a little further, because it's my blog and I can do what I want. First, Cameron had the opportunity to really push beyond some Hollywood cliches and make a movie that addressed real concerns about exploiting indigenous communities and their land base for "civilized" purposes. (To do that, though, he would have to confront the fact that the movie industry is the second-leading cause of pollution in California and that, you know, people lived in California long before movie directors.) He didn't make that movie. Instead, he followed the same old trope of the confused and ultimately good-hearted White Male who finds spirituality and beauty in the Noble Natives; a story that's been done (and done better!) in Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves. Costner's was not nearly as infuriating, however, because Lt. John Dunbar does not become some great spiritual leader or prophesy, like Cameron's Jake Sully does. Furthermore, Costner kept an important distance between the Sioux and Dunbar; ultimately, Dunbar realizes that his presence in the tribe jeopardizes their existence and that he will never be one of them. Sully's relationship with the natives, on the other hand, was founded on deceit and exploitation. Which brings me really, to the icing on the cake. THE ENDING. That fucking ending, man. I would've been able to put all the patronizing and colonialist sentiment aside if Jake Sully had died at the end. (Ok, maybe not totally aside, but I wouldn't be ranting about it a month later, probably.) Sully was not a native; Sully had never been a native; Sully in fact LIED to the natives about being a native. So why, ultimately, are we supposed to be happy that Sully found an eternal place in their community? It feels icky, and not right. It would have been much less infuriating if Sully, who realized the damage the US has done to an indigenous population, had remained human and fought the good fight as a human. Because that's what Sully was: a human.
I have very little doubt that Avatar will take Best Picture at the Oscar's. This is exactly the kind of psuedo-progressive drivel the Academy eats up. Case in point: Crash. Fucking Crash! That movie was a turd of a movie.
I will try to remember that Avatar did have a good message; the United States routinely engages in military conflict over resources that aren't theirs and destroys land bases and communities in the process. This happens all the time, every day, right now, under this administration. I'm glad Cameron made this issue mainstream (assuming, of course, that the average movie-goer "gets" the reality of the film). But to say this movie is progressive, thought-provoking, or in any-way transgressive, is to really miss the mark. In the end, it was just another movie about a white guy kicking ass.