Avatar is the movie with the greatest gap between its potential and the actual delivery. Cameron poured an incredible amount of thought and effort in building a solid, realistic, scientific background. Then pulled a curtain of bastardized “social commentary” over it that hides everything real. Avatar is the crown jewel on Cameron’s mad quest for money or popularity.
Don’t take it seriously. Most criticisms are rebutted by this easy one-liner, so start with rejecting it right away. I don’t take the movie’s message seriously, I can promise you that. My problem is that many people will. It is not a comedy, it is not a mindless blow-em-up action movie. Not presented that way, and not plays out that way. The movie is heavy handed on social issues, and I assume the audience gets it, lets it sink in their unconscious. In no small degree, the movie’s success lies in its message. A message that resonates with the viewers, reinforces them in their current views, prejudices and myths. So yes, we need to take this very seriously. Falsehoods are shouted in our ears from deafening megaphones. I don’t call for the prosecution of those that shout. But at least let’s call them out, shall we?
The cute Na’vi
Ask around in your circles, what the Na’vi are like. They live in harmony with nature. They are brave, honest, wise. They know something we forgot. It takes a genius to paint the creatures we saw in the movie in this light. No doubt, their feline appearance plays a great role. Cameron allegedly gave instruction to the designers to make them sexually desirable. Talk about marketing.
But what the Na’vi are really like? Even if we look through the colored glass of Cameron, we can still infer a lot about their culture. If you are a Na’vi, you win a debate if you are a better fighter. Tsu’tey, a respected member of the community, draws a dagger every single time he doesn’t like someone. Even attacks Jake when he is lying unconscious on the ground. Such a jerk would not be tolerated in any neighborhood I want to live in. And he seems to be the norm around there. But this anger quickly goes away when Jake comes back on dragonback, as for the Na’vi, it is to rule or to be ruled.
If you are Na’vi, you better be agile, and take care of yourself. On exams, they don’t hand out bad marks. If you can’t catch a vine many hundreds of feet above the ground, you die. If you are not able to tame a man-eating bird twice your size, you die. They don’t use technology. If you get sick, you die. If you break your leg, you die. If you can’t outrun the many predators wanting to eat you, you die. What do you think controlled the Na’vi population? I bet they don’t rely on calendar method. Maybe the other tribes around, and those arrows dipped in a neurotoxin, have something to do with it.
How much the Na’vi care about another intelligent species? Apparently, not much at all. Dr Augustine was banned from their land, together with her school. The only thing that got their attention was a soldier. Scientist? Hell no. Warrior biorobot! That’s something! As Neytiri put it, you have a strong heart, no fear, but stupid. These are worthy traits for the Na’vi.
The Na’vi had a general distaste for science. They had a central knowledge base, Eywa. A consciousness overreaching the entire planet. A mind they could reach easily through those tentacle thingies. We know that, since Jake contacted Eywa, and updated it about human intent. The tree actually listened, and acted. So what about the Na’vi, knowing about Eywa for who knows how many centuries. Did they upload knowledge? Did they access knowledge? Did they ask questions? Nope. They prayed to it.
You can love the Na’vi, but you certainly don’t want them to be your neighbors.
But man still wins
So if you are human, especially if white, god forbid a male, you are the filth of the universe. You exploit nature, you murder anyone in your way, you care about nothing but money and power.
However at the end, Jake is the toruk makto, he takes the chick, he saves the Na’vi and the planet. Despite all the white guilt, we still want to see the white man win. You might say, yes, he learned the Na’vi way. But no, in fact many times throughout the film he did things that Na’vi either didn’t. Jake talked to Eywa, the Na’vi didn’t. Jake decided to ride the big bird, no Na’vi did. Jake did not follow the Na’vi way, but on the contrary, acted quite human, and showed the primitive blue monkeys how to act like a man.
But is Jake a positive character? Not so much. He is a former marine, a minister of death, killer by occupation. He is even proud of it. “You might be out, but you never lose the attitude”, right? All the places he destroyed, were just “another hellhole”. It is easy to sell a soldier these days, but with a dash of realism, you see that nearly everyone is a better and more valuable person than a soldier. Just as the Na’vi are misrepresented through deception and carefully selected information, Jake Sully is also depicted in much more positive light than he deserves. In fact, he and the Na’vi match very well. They are all dumb uneducated brutes. Meanwhile the so called evil people, though definitely no saints, are much more sophisticated and civilized.
The evil of technology
Watching the movie, one easily gets the impression that the mining operation’s primary goal was pointless destruction. The rationale is summarized as “this rock sells 20 million a kilo”. The actual use of the mined ore was not explained at all. Let’s not confuse the poor viewer with weird statements about needs, progress, technology and such. Let’s skip the boring fact that interstellar travel was largely enabled by unobtanium, as well as the Earth’s energy supply, and therefore quality of everyone’s life. No, it is surely greed. Let’s go with greed.
So we hate greed together, watching a movie that cost over 200 million dollars, and available in 3D. But please turn off your smartphones during the film. Also, choose diet coke, it does not make you diabetic. We hope you enjoy double legspace. How can anyone believe for a split second that technology and civilization hurts us? If you honestly believe, how do you play along so easily? I mean, not going to the movie theater does not seem that hard. Hypocrisy much? So yes. It is possible to consume less. If you care, start now. But please stop talking about the greed of mankind, because it is embarrassingly shallow.
But the Na’vi was better, of course. They were not contaminated by greed. It makes things easy for Cameron, as it eliminates the possibility of trade, thus a peaceful solution. Education, medicine, roads, the Na’vi can not be bothered with such greedy things. It’s okay, you say, the Na’vi is a fictional race. They can be that way, writers’ freedom. But it is still a lie. There is exactly zero people on this globe that did not think of colonialism, native americans or other historical events when watching the movie. And the analogy just does not hold.
Actual historical people (those in harmony, you know) did rob and pillage nature the best they could. The reason global warming came in the 20th century is not because we got insane that time, but because earlier people was not capable of getting oil out of the ground, and burning it by the shipload. But for example our great ancestors managed to eradicate many species on ancient Australia, including giant kangaroos and turtles. Such calamities are not limited to humans. Invasive species often cause great waves of extinction, or significant destruction of the environment. In fact, life on earth started with a major climate change, when sea organisms ate all the nutritious carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and poisoned it with deadly oxygen. (Look up Oxygen Catastrophe if you don’t believe.) The harmony of nature is a myth. Nature is just as cruel, only it is slower.
And last but not least, trade is innate to all humans. If you offer medicine, roads, but hell, even nails, and alas whisky to primitive tribes, they’ll sure take it, and offer a great deal of gold, meat, animal skins and young women in return. Because they do want that stuff. Because they are really in need, unlike the film’s audience. They can see how those things improve their lives (well, with the exception of whisky, but mistakes are sometimes made). We, the privileged, condemn smartphones. Poor people don’t.
The movie treats the audience as brainless stupid. This actually works, because for every viewer offended by it, it appeals to at least a hundred actual brainless stupids. A lot of scenes makes no sense at all if you think on them for two seconds. If you happen to have an IQ of 105 or more, you probably facepalmed through the whole movie.
So we have a scientist with a heart. Someone who thinks about taking a sample while dying. Someone that respects the Na’vi, and spends a lifetime studying them, and teaching them. But the very first time she meets Jake, she acts like a spoiled child, bitching about she wants his brother. You know, who is dead. And whose brother, still grieving about the loss, is the one she is talking to. Can you get any more childish and tactless? In reality she would probably say a nice-to-meet-you in a less than excited tone, and turn away. But no, the audience needs to understand that soldier bad, scientist good, and they are enemies. We need to hammer it into their thick skull.
You are not supposed to be running
When Jake first gets into the avatar body, breaks loose, and starts running. It is totally out of character from a soldier who followed orders in his entire life, but whatever. Probably got very excited. But then we have the other guy appointing himself to solve the situation by running after him. Why nobody seems to care about that? He is just as much a first timer, never actually controlled an avatar before. So why the hell they don’t try to stop him too? And why he thought it is a good idea to run after him? Shouldn’t he know better? Also, what is the actual danger? He falls over, and bruises his elbow? So what? This scene makes little sense. But it makes more sense, if we don’t think about it: it just establishes in the movie’s crude way that he is really into this avatar thing. It also gives a little more screen time to an otherwise totally unnecessary supporting role. And last but not least it gives the scene more dynamism, which is needed, or else our tiny attention span would not keep up.
You are making me nervous
Dr Augustine and two rookies go on a journey in the forest. This scene is so wrong on so many levels, it boggles the mind. First of all, what the heck the other avatars were doing meanwhile? They played basketball? How about bringing someone who actually has some experience in the wilderness? To make things worse, she even dismissed the armed security guard. Okay, so what is the plan? Apparently, they wanted to speak to someone (“let Norm do the talking”). It must be the Na’vi, nobody else can speak out there. But the Na’vi banned them, and also issued orders to kill them on sight. A little later Neytiri in fact attempted to shoot Jake, and only stopped because of a divine intervention. Not that it matters, because they had very little chance to get there. As it was explained earlier, Pandora is extremely dangerous. There are a lot of predators preying on Na’vi, and quite clearly the humans had no clue how to handle themselves out there. When they, as was expected, ran into dangerous animals, Augustine had not much helpful to say, except “hold your ground”, and “run”. Yet again, the scene makes much more sense if you just accept it without thinking. It just gives a useless supporting role some screentime, gives Jake an opportunity to get lost in the jungle so he can meet Neytiri, and gives Cameron an opportunity to showcase some cool animal designs. That should be enough, stupid audience!
You should see your faces
If we spend a lot of money making a good looking location, we better call the viewer’s attention to it, or else they might miss. We also need to prepare the viewer that something really cool will happen, otherwise they might not understand how cool is it. They might mistakenly think it is mediocre. The audience needs guidance. The cooler our scenery is, the more preparation is required. When we finally show our work, it should be accompanied by obnoxious music, and actors making the most overacted awe-face they can summon up. Only then we can ensure the most emotional impact. Observe this principle in action. Before our heroes approach the flying mountains, the scene is telegraphed from a mile ahead in a very embarrassing dialog. The useless supporting character gets overly excited (“yessss”), and scolds Jake for not knowing what those are. Then we get more heads-ups, radio interference because “we are close”, camera angles showing nothing but the fog, hinting on something big is about to be revealed. Intensity of the music is increasing. The actors are showing us how we are supposed to feel (jaw drop), before any images of the mountains themselves actually appear. In case somebody missed the facial expression, which is not possible, another character points that out for us. And then boom, mountains, loud music, orgasm. The whole thing resembles how television shows are recorded. The so called “audience” there is instructed when to laugh, when to clap. Cameron literally instructs his audience what to feel.
Freeze! Scale up! Enhance!
I’m not kidding you. These words are actually uttered in the movie. Is this the 90’s?
The time of great sorrow was ended
At the end, people are boarding the spaceship, and leave. Except those that choose to stay. Question. Those that don’t have an avatar, will do exactly what there, without all the crew to run the base? They will have to go home after a while, aren’t they? But on what ship? They don’t have a spare. And what would they say? Won’t they be put in jail for siding with the rebels, disobeying their contract? Also, after the crew boards the ship, why don’t they just turn some weapons on the Na’vi or the magic tree? They don’t even need actual weapons, just position the ship in the correct angle, and burn the area with a gamma ray beam from the antimatter engines (what the ship actually has). By the way, why didn’t they do that with the tree earlier? But suppose they can’t for some reason. What about the next ship that is expected in three months? And then another one six months after that? Those ships are on route, launching every six month, and can’t be turned back even if they want to. They lack the fuel to turn around midflight. Without proper refuelling and maintenance, they can’t even set sail home after arrival. You will kill them? Also the Earth will learn about what happened in a few months of time (using the superluminal communication system). So you have six years to party, at which point significant military is about to arrive. Is the Na’vi willing to step on the path of technology, and prepare for defense? But you know what? Don’t think! Eat popcorn! Slurp Coke!
Finally, here is a quick rundown on some of the many little stupidities not covered in detail. Like why the heck the Na’vi have one USB port, while all animals had too, why they have four limbs, while every other animal had six, and why they didn’t have breathing holes on their neck. How they grew hair in braid. Why they used the USB port to communicate with animals, with eywa and with their love, but never with friends or kins during meetings. Why animals had USB connectors at all? How Eywa communicated with the animals, because apparently not via the USB ports. Why wasn’t the length of the day on Pandora many weeks long, being tidally locked to the gas giant? If it was not tidally locked, why not? Why did the Na’vi attacked on the ground, if the real danger was the bomb on the shuttle? Why humans attacked on the ground if they planned to drop a bomb? Why humans used usual machine guns, usual rounds with casing more than a hundred years in the future? How the avatar control link worked while radio communication didn’t? Shut up, we are not making some stupid science fiction here! It is about harmony with nature!
It started all well. Subluminal space travel with six years travel time. Huge fuel tanks, huge engines, tractor configuration, heat radiator panels. Moon of a gas giant. Superconductor ore that makes magnetic rocks levitate. The mixing of different gases visible when opening the shuttle door. It is obvious that a lot of thought and care was put in the design of the world. They even made a little featurette, a half minute short trailer of an imaginary educational film on Pandora’s geology and biology.
All this goes down the toilet, as soon as Cameron’s hand refurbishes every tiny aspect to sell more tickets. Can we mention in the movie that Unobtanium was a superconductor? Hell no, science just reminds people of their bad physics marks. Can we have a long daylight cycle? Absolutely not, everything should be just normal. Do we need futuristic technology? Who have time explaining the zombies all that? A big knife will do! Can we have the Na’vi fit in with all the other animals? Are you crazy? Nobody would want to bang a four-armed monster with two weird looking tentacles growing on the back of their neck! Boobs it is! How about some actual interaction between the Na’vi and the humans, which is multilayered, involves meeting and mixing of cultures, interesting questions, dilemmas, etc? Give me a break! This is not a ph.d. thesis! A greedy businessman playing minigolf will suffice.
If you know where to look, you can still see the real movie behind the dollar press. The real script was used as paper to write this lame, dumb, we-are-the-99% crap over it. This movie is an experiment. It asks the important question of how many people can be satisfied with nothing but artificial flavorings and sweeteners. Apparently, most of them.