It was thought provoking.

albert - January 5, 2010 @ 11:22 pm

Avatar that is. It was very thought provoking. And while the following is going to seem smart ass, it’s true; I’ve spent a lot of quality time thinking about what it was exactly that I didn’t like about it.

I was prepared not to like it. The critics seem to be singing in perfect harmony on this one, but I was surprised at how angry it made me, I wanted to walk out at a couple points, and I’m still not sure exactly how to express what it was that made me angry. What follows is the best I’ve been able to convince myself of since Sunday.

The critics I read are panning the story as overly derivative and dull. That’s true. But I’ve also been reading that it’s got a decent message, that it’s got good intentions, that there’s a progressive heart to the movie, as poorly told as the story is. I’m not so sure about that.

I’m well aware that my criticisms of the “message” of the movie are criticisms of people who have written about the movie, including stuff I read before I saw the movie, and not the movie itself. That having been said, what I saw was a movie that glorified violence and war, and did so without any art but instead portrayed it in very lazy cliche hollywood action movie style. I believe that war is never to be glorified. It demeans us. When you come home the victor you are supposed to be in mourning. War may be inevitable but it is still to be considered a personal failure. It doesn’t matter to me that the blue cat people are the good guys here and the military / corporate dudes are the bad guys. War is war, it is not to be celebrated and for me this cast a dark shadow over whatever “message” the film may have.

Why is everyone happy at the end of this movie, like their time of war is over? Their war isn’t over. I guess we’re saving the nuke armed retaliation force from Earth for the sequel.

The military guys in this film are supposed to reminiscent of our neoconservative friends. The phrase “shock and awe” is used. They’re all single track minded, rude, insensitive, childish kinds of guy when their characters are developed at all. I dislike our American militarism as much as the next man but it doesn’t do anyone any service to cast those we disagree with as simply stupid ugly and evil. On the other hand, sometimes our opponents really are simply dull, arrogant, unimaginative and violent. See Dick Cheney for example.

The good guys, the Indians in this film are also one-sided, crazy romanticized. Chalk this up to poor storytelling and not a failure of message or good intentions, sure. But in order to make our self better people we need to be realistic about the world we live in. Reality presents us with very few problems that boil down to the good guys vs the bad. This movie reminds me of Obama voters who believed that he was the great democratic hope, here to fix up all our problems. What problems exactly? How’s he going to fix them? Oh who knows? The important thing is that Obama is the good guy and the republicans are the bad guys and we won. Hurray!

Besides being supposedly anti-war or anti-colonial or something, the movie supposedly has an environmental message. How? Sure, it’s set in a rainforest and the cat people really love nature and the Earth guys have a bulldozer and don’t love the earth but since the good guys won that makes it an environmental movie? The cat people don’t have a spiritual connection with the earth either, it’s a physical biological connection. Their ancestors souls are literally stored in their trees. What the hell is that about? I can’t decide if this is a metaphor, or if it’s just a misguided, blindly secular impulse to replace spirituality with science like Lucas and his midichlorians. Anyway, even if they did just really love trees, how does portraying them that way give the film an environmental message? You’ll never convince anyone that they need to do better by the earth by telling them how much you love the trees. I guess that speaks to another thought I had. You can’t call it a good message if there’s nothing there to teach or convince. The cat people just like the same thing you like. That’s all.

The only part of the movie where I actually threw my hands up is when the big mechanical exoskeleton pulls out its knife. The big bad evil dude is driving the exoskeleton from Aliens — only it has a big freaking exoskeleton sized knife. A knife. For a battle machine. It’s like a tank having a bayonet.

Thinking about why I didn’t like this movie is forcing me to think about movies with similar flaws that I’ve enjoyed in the past. Doesn’t Braveheart spend at least as much time wallowing in it’s own awesome violence? Aren’t the various factions in District 9 similarly dumbed down into caricatures? Did this movie piss me off because I read so many reviews talking about the clunky story in all my smarty liberal news sources? Am I a snobby-crowd follower, a sucker for the echo chamber? Was I angry that I sat through a two and a half hour tech demo? Am I an elitist? The movie was legitimately thought provoking. I think I’m actually a better person for having seen and disliked it.

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