I finally saw Avatar (in 3D) without anyone threatening to beat me up. It was everything I thought it would be. The 3D was cool. The glowing plants in the jungle were really quite pretty. The special effects were spectacular.
But for all its spectacular spectacle, beneath the blue-skinned exterior there wasn’t really any meat. It’s basically Ferngully meets Dances with Wolves. It’s a crowd pleaser if the crowd happens to be a new-agey set of anti-war, anti-capitalist environmentalists or, in other words, Hollywood. The native Americans Na’vi are perfectly in tune with nature, and Avatar’s director, James Cameron, treats them like directors have been treating native people in Hollywood for decades – as noble savages. The word “condescending” leaps to mind.
The evil soldiers are made all the more wicked because they’re working for a private corporation whose sole mission is to destroy the natural world of Pandora in order to strip it of its precious minerals (or mineral, rather – unobtanium to be precise….) They are not only violent and callous, they are also greedy and imperialistic and doing it all not for love of country but for love of money. The only people who are almost as noble as the savages are the scientists – and the wayward marine and heroic protagonist Kevin Costner Jake Sully.
Anyways, I won’t summarize the story. I still think you can enjoy the film if you go in with low expectations for the plot. Like I said, the visuals are really amazing. I haven’t seen a movie in 3D in ages and it was entertaining. I wasn’t ever bored even if I wasn’t ever really emotionally engaged, and even if I thought the plot was a bit contrived and a bit too much of a cliché. That didn’t take away from the cool monsters and the battle scenes or the glowing flora and fauna.
I think Jonah Goldberg is right on the money here:
What would have been controversial is if — somehow — Cameron had made a movie in which the good guys accepted Jesus Christ into their hearts.
Of course, that sounds outlandish and absurd, but that’s the point, isn’t it? We live in an age in which it’s the norm to speak glowingly of spirituality but derisively of traditional religion. If the Na’Vi were Roman Catholics, there would be boycotts and protests. Make the oversized Smurfs Rousseauian noble savages and everyone nods along, save for a few cranky right-wingers.
I’m certainly one of those cranky right-wingers (wanna see my decoder ring?), though I probably enjoyed the movie as cinematic escapism as much as the next guy.
No, Cameron wasn’t trying to be controversial. He was sailing in calm waters and he aimed to please. And as an escapist jaunt in an alien world, it was a pretty good flick. It wasn’t deep. It didn’t have the emotional appeal of other epics like Braveheart. And speaking of Mel Gibson films, it certainly paled in comparison in terms of quality or depth to Gibson’s marvelous Apocalypto.
It is what it is, and it can be a fun ride if you don’t expect anything more. It is, as Douthat termed it, a “gorgeous disappointment.”