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Review: Avatar

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December 26, 2009 - Posted by | movies, REDIRECTED


  1. This is a great review, I saw it yesterday and have to agree 100%. Thank you for the well informed and clear analysis!!

    Cheers, Robert

    Comment by Robert | December 27, 2009 | Reply

  2. What’s wrong with living in balance and harmony with nature?

    What’s wrong with having the kind connection in relationships that the film depicts?

    What about the fact that Jake Sully is not just a white man, but a disabled white man? Does that change the analysis at all?

    Comment by Stephan | December 28, 2009 | Reply

  3. interesting review…

    -hollywood’s primary function & survival mechanism is to make money by making movies that sell to it’s audience, more subject to the drab laws of supply & demand, than `racial stereotyping’. And when the producers/writers/directors et al happen to have an ancestry & gender that is similar to it’s largest intended audience (triple criteria group) aka `American White Man’.. then it’s likely that people with limited imagination or empathy will be more to be receptive to seeing something similar in some superficial respects to where they’re coming from. Among the ways to change that is by creating movies that are superior and celebrating them when they come out.

    you undercut the seriousness of your argument by cursing….rhetoric of righteous anger, while probably justified,diminishes the seriousness of your premise and purpose. so that’s fucked up:-) Second, I think using the term `aboriginal’ itself is proof of adopting the very methods that you rail against. I’m not aware of any group of people that initially used that word to describe themselves. By using `american White man’ language you perpetuate the very propaganda that you’re speaking of.
    I’m wondering why we don’t call Europeans in Europe with family ties dating back centuries aboriginals as well. I have a south asian ancestry and still pissed at people who refer to First Nations as Indians. But instead of complaining about it, I rather dream up ways to change it so that the truth is the princple that is consistently applied in every conversation. or why Christopher Columbus `discovered the New World’ when millions of people were already living there.

    Generic denigration does more harm than good, better to laser focus on malignant qualities and use a scalpel to cut it out..not particularly productive to hand a lumberjack an axe and asking him to swing away at a cancer-ridden body.

    There are people in other countries with different degrees of pigment who think Baywatch is what America looks like, or think Jerry springer is a representation of the true American

    If the movie generates a sense of compassion and respect for justice, thru fictitous exploitation (that sadly has mirrored reality) of the `native’s and environmental destruction, then i think that’s good.

    there’s an appeal in natural stories when most people live `civilization’, whether it’s a denigration against another culture, or just a human tendency towards the grass being greener on the other side, people craving what they don’t have and failing to adequately appreciate what they do have, I’ll leave it for people to determine themselves.

    You mentioned something about western students and coming back with proud tales of `going native’ et al.. they are students for a reason, they need to learn something, hopefully they find a wise teacher to teach them, sooner rather than later, otherwise the cycle of ignorance, apathy, incompetence and just plain stupidity will continue.

    I think to address the perceived and very real short-comings of the movies requires people not to limit their efforts at making change by writing diatribes, as formulaic as the movies they comment on, in radio talk show host language… but support a better film, state that there’s a better way of moving forward, create something novel that stands the test of time and transcends the trivial pettiness that many people thus far are unfortunately afflicted by and limits the full potentiality of their life.

    I think the true positive value of the movie comes from it’s ability to nurture a sense of compassion, empathy and justice… and intolerance to the evils of unjustified violence, greed run amok, moral apathy and blindly doing your job irrespective of the impact on the world at large or a group of innocent people.

    Any great movie has different stories, it’s how they blend, interact and provoke, that helps to create something that stands the test of time. Unfortunately great story-telling isn’t a commodity, it’s a rare skill that not enough people can or know how to cultivate…

    Overall movie was good entertainment, pioneering with 3D technology, story could have been better..

    also think it’s funny that my rambling review of the review was probably longer than the review itself:-)

    Comment by DL | December 29, 2009 | Reply

  4. I’ll wait for it to come to TV so shan’t be englamoured by the 3D wizbangery but the reviews I’ve read or heard made me think of Last of the Mohicans et al. The film may be simplistic and banal but the fact that it’s giving the RWDBs apoplexy suits me.
    Re Whitey always getting the Princess, Pocahontas is buried on the banks of the Thames, abandoned in London by Smith.

    Comment by amphibious1 | December 30, 2009 | Reply

  5. Heartily agree — both the “Dances with Wolves” syndrome and the “Whiteman spirituality” are blatant failings, though not of evil intent, but rather a lack of imagination and (as a more serious problem) lack of knowledge.

    Bravo! Thanks for such an eloquent and insightful review.

    Comment by L.Feng | January 3, 2010 | Reply

  6. This is a helpful and well-written review, but why pay to see the film in the first place? Hollywood’s marketing machine talks up these bloated tentpole monstrosities into cultural “events” that one feels obligated to see, but one *always* has the option to vote with one’s feet and invest one’s time and money in the worthier offerings of finer minds. I’ve gone twelve years without ever once watching Titanic, and trust me, my life is none the poorer for it. I don’t need the visual richness of Cameron’s immersive 3D world–I have the visual, sonic, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory richness of immersive reality. I don’t need Cameron’s impoverished imagination and historical blindness–I have the works of Shakespeare and Zhuangzi, Black Elk and Marx close at hand. The savior fantasies of delusional white males will become irrelevant as a matter of course when China overtakes the US economically and non-white Americans overtake white Americans demographically. In the meantime, any kind of publicity–good or bad–perpetuates the structure of financial incentives that allows and encourages this kind of soulless (or pseudo-soulful) spectacle to keep being made.

    Comment by KY | January 3, 2010 | Reply

  7. The New York Times
    Printer Friendly Format Sponsored By

    January 8, 2010
    Op-Ed Columnist
    The Messiah Complex

    Readers intending to watch the movie “Avatar” should know that major events in the plot are revealed.

    Every age produces its own sort of fables, and our age seems to have produced The White Messiah fable.

    This is the oft-repeated story about a manly young adventurer who goes into the wilderness in search of thrills and profit. But, once there, he meets the native people and finds that they are noble and spiritual and pure. And so he emerges as their Messiah, leading them on a righteous crusade against his own rotten civilization.

    Avid moviegoers will remember “A Man Called Horse,” which began to establish the pattern, and “At Play in the Fields of the Lord.” More people will have seen “Dances With Wolves” or “The Last Samurai.”

    Kids have been given their own pure versions of the fable, like “Pocahontas” and “FernGully.”

    It’s a pretty serviceable formula. Once a director selects the White Messiah fable, he or she doesn’t have to waste time explaining the plot because everybody knows roughly what’s going to happen.

    The formula also gives movies a little socially conscious allure. Audiences like it because it is so environmentally sensitive. Academy Award voters like it because it is so multiculturally aware. Critics like it because the formula inevitably involves the loincloth-clad good guys sticking it to the military-industrial complex.

    Yet of all the directors who have used versions of the White Messiah formula over the years, no one has done so with as much exuberance as James Cameron in “Avatar.”

    “Avatar” is a racial fantasy par excellence. The hero is a white former Marine who is adrift in his civilization. He ends up working with a giant corporation and flies through space to help plunder the environment of a pristine planet and displace its peace-loving natives.

    The peace-loving natives — compiled from a mélange of Native American, African, Vietnamese, Iraqi and other cultural fragments — are like the peace-loving natives you’ve seen in a hundred other movies. They’re tall, muscular and admirably slender. They walk around nearly naked. They are phenomenal athletes and pretty good singers and dancers.

    The white guy notices that the peace-loving natives are much cooler than the greedy corporate tools and the bloodthirsty U.S. military types he came over with. He goes to live with the natives, and, in short order, he’s the most awesome member of their tribe. He has sex with their hottest babe. He learns to jump through the jungle and ride horses. It turns out that he’s even got more guts and athletic prowess than they do. He flies the big red bird that no one in generations has been able to master.

    Along the way, he has his consciousness raised. The peace-loving natives are at one with nature, and even have a fiber-optic cable sticking out of their bodies that they can plug into horses and trees, which is like Horse Whispering without the wireless technology. Because they are not corrupted by things like literacy, cellphones and blockbuster movies, they have deep and tranquil souls.

    The natives help the white guy discover that he, too, has a deep and tranquil soul.

    The natives have hot bodies and perfect ecological sensibilities, but they are natural creatures, not history-making ones. When the military-industrial complex comes in to strip mine their homes, they need a White Messiah to lead and inspire the defense.

    Our hero leaps in, with the help of a pack of dinosaurs summoned by Mother Earth. As he and his fellow freedom fighters kill wave after wave of Marines or former Marines or whatever they are, he achieves the ultimate prize: He is accepted by the natives and can spend the rest of his life in their excellent culture.

    Cameron’s handling of the White Messiah fable is not the reason “Avatar” is such a huge global hit. As John Podhoretz wrote in The Weekly Standard, “Cameron has simply used these familiar bromides as shorthand to give his special-effects spectacular some resonance.” The plotline gives global audiences a chance to see American troops get killed. It offers useful hooks on which McDonald’s and other corporations can hang their tie-in campaigns.

    Still, would it be totally annoying to point out that the whole White Messiah fable, especially as Cameron applies it, is kind of offensive?

    It rests on the stereotype that white people are rationalist and technocratic while colonial victims are spiritual and athletic. It rests on the assumption that nonwhites need the White Messiah to lead their crusades. It rests on the assumption that illiteracy is the path to grace. It also creates a sort of two-edged cultural imperialism. Natives can either have their history shaped by cruel imperialists or benevolent ones, but either way, they are going to be supporting actors in our journey to self-admiration.

    It’s just escapism, obviously, but benevolent romanticism can be just as condescending as the malevolent kind — even when you surround it with pop-up ferns and floating mountains.


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    Comment by Johnny | January 8, 2010 | Reply

  8. […] reviewed Avatar here. It’s genuine science fiction, though heavily derivative and hardly worthy of an award […]

    Pingback by The 2010 Hugos « | April 5, 2010 | Reply

  9. […] me greatly, as does modern civilization’s treatment of extant tribal Aboriginals globally. In my review of the movie Avatar, some commenter made the annoying and all too common criticism, “I’m wondering why we […]

    Pingback by deonandia » In Memory of Bo | December 26, 2013 | Reply

  10. […] review of James Cameron’s new science fiction movie Avatar is now up at Go have a […]

    Pingback by deonandia » Shantaram | December 26, 2013 | Reply

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