Smile Politely

No humans were harmed during the making of this film

There is currently a lot of hub-bub and hoop-lah about James Cameron’s Avatar, an extraordinarily expensive sci-fi movie which arrived in theatres about two and a half weeks ago.  Since the initial trailer was released, people have been ‘freaking out’ over the visuals, the alien world of Pandora itself, and most sadly, the implied politics wrapped up in the films narrative.  I say implied because 1) the script makes no mention of any political party or affiliation, 2) the story takes place on a different planet, and 3) it’s a movie — you can’t vote it into office.  Seriously, if you think that by purchasing a movie ticket you are giving a mandate to the creators of the film, then watch out — depending on who you listen to, you may be simultaneously condemning the Bush-era, undercutting the American economy and re-electing Obama in 2012, just by attending.  But chillax people, it’s a film worth bringing your nephews and grandmothers to, not pitchforks and torches.

For those who have not seen the trailers, here’s a quick breakdown of the plot: ENRON survived, and they have spaceships. They send people to Endor, where instead of finding Ewoks they discover big blue cat-people with bows and arrows. This quickly turns into a PR nightmare. They need to mine rocks in the area but the indigenous folks keep killing them, so they bring in some scientists to study the land, commune with the natives, and make things go smoother. To facilitate communication between the scientists and the natives, Enron grows giant blue cat-people (“host bodies”) for humans to mentally inhabit, allowing them to walk amongst the natives (!!!). 

Trouble is, the natives think the scientists are weird, and don’t like hanging out with them (they suck at bows and arrows). Fate intervenes, and along comes a former marine. He is good at bows and arrows, and the natives choose to hang out with him some. Then John Wayne gets involved.  John Wayne is awesome — he’s tough, he’s direct, and he ‘takes care of his own’.  He’s job is to take care of security for the Enron employees, and so naturally he convinces the marine to feed him intel on the natives, suspecting he’ll eventually need to use it against them. The marine is suddenly living in two very different worlds, and the one he chooses to stay in will alter the fate of… the Universe!    

But get this; John Wayne is the bad guy. Later, he gets an arrow shot through his chest and two aliens make out on top of his corpse. No really.

Whether or not films are a product of our culture, or our culture is driven by the social messages represented in our films is hotly debated (by me I guess). But even though it takes place on a distant planet with a lot of giant blue cat-people, the plot of Avatar bears a striking resemblance to Earthly events of the last 500 years or so. Specifically; the birth of the United States. Really specifically; unpopular stuff that white people did to everybody else they encountered (honestly, if you identify yourself as Caucasian, check this movie out to see how Muslims feel when they watch True Lies, James Cameron’s film before Titanic). 

This creeping familiarity is there because the overall storyline is pretty hammy and unoriginal, but about 20 minutes in you’re not going to give a crap about all that.  You’ll be ‘ooh’ing and ‘ahh’ing all over the place. You’ll cheer for the good guys, even when they’re slaughtering what look like US infantry troops. You’ll likely get misty eyed a few times. And for Chrissakes, when was the last time you clapped at the end of a movie? Long story short; the film does have a message, and it goes something like this; we’re boned. Mankind is inevitably doomed to put the needs of our species above the needs of the planet, and that’s eventually going to ruin a lot of what we like about this place (trees). But there’s hope that it will end with Earth — that we won’t turn into Darth Vader’s Empire, drunkenly planet-hopping in search of better stuff. And if we do, maybe somebody will stop us.  See, the film is about hope, just not for any of us.   

Which righteously pisses off a lot of people. But if you hold the belief that humanity can do no wrong in its quest for survival, you’re not likely to be swayed by big blue cat-people. And if you just don’t like that the Democrats picked up the ‘green’ football before the Republicans did, then it’s okay to stay home, bide your time and then secretly rent Avatar when it comes out on DVD (as if it’s porn or something).  In any event, check it out, because in spite of it’s story and dialogue, Avatar is a stunning film worth everyone’s attention.


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