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Review: Avatar

January 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Warning:  Spoilers abound!

So now that Avatar is hurtling through box office history, it’s time that I went and wrote a review.

Little of what I have to say hasn’t been heard before: the visuals are outstanding, inventive, gorgeous, and entirely convincing.  There are fantastic creatures I never would have imagined on my own:  delicate tree seeds that are crosses between dandelion fuzz and jellyfish,  hammer-headed rhinos, horses with aardvark heads, and many others.  Many animals have six legs instead of four, for no real reason but to show that this place is an exotic Other World.  And the story is pure and utter cheese.

Steven D. Greydanus, a movie reviewer whose site ranks among my top ten (see, decentfilms.com), summarized the plot best: “Not only is it Star Wars and The Matrix, it’s also John Smith and Pocahontas, Dances With Wolves and Fahrenheit 9/11, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Rider Haggard, Hayao Miyazaki and Jack Kirby, Ferngully: The Last Rainforest and Battle for Terra, Jurassic Park and Aliens. It’s noble primitives and warmongering Westerners, imperialist and expansionist guilt and no blood for oil, Cortez and Custer and George W. Bush in one fell swoop. It’s environmental apocalypticism, Gaia and the Force, Vulcan mind-melding and fal tor pan mysticism and Disney’s Grandmother Willow. It’s space Marines and military oppressiveness, mystic/enlightened feminist consciousness and interspecies romance.”

Essentially, it’s every single Hollywood cliché and deeply held belief all put together into one amazing CGI package!

Thus, my enthusiam for the visuals was strongly tempered by disgust for the storyline.  It’s not that seeing innocent Na’vis’ sacred places being destroyed didn’t make me want to shed a tear, or that I wasn’t a bit happy that they were able to fight back.  It’s just that most of the way through the show I had to fight the urge to roll my eyes at the absurdly black-and-white thinking of Cameron’s Earth antagonists.  It didn’t help that Earth seemed to be only represented by white U.S. males, and that the mercenaries hired to “overthrow” the Na’vi were U.S. soldiers.  During the tensest battle scenes in the movie, it occurred to me that we were supposed to be rooting against the U.S. soldiers.  We were supposed to be thrilled each time one died.  This was sick.

I have taken the liberty of locating some of the following absurd Hollywood belief system clichés in Avatar:

Natives are pure and live in perfect harmony with nature.  They are kind and gorgeous and in terrific shape.  They have no technology and are presumably very into Going Green.  Animals are considered Brothers and Sisters and killing them is considered a very sad event, yet for some reason the Na’vi are not vegetarians.

White men are greedy warmongering pigs.  All white men in this movie aside from the Hero whose name I cannot remember (perhaps due to his subdued screen presence) and one other guy who’s kind of wimpy think of the Na’vi as dangerous murderous savages and are too pigheaded to think of them in any other light.  Will they consider working with the Na’vi, or trying to understand their culture, or negotiating with them in order to get the “unobtanium”?  No, a thousand times no!  They will consent to nothing but flinging themselves into full-fledged war with presumed killers! 

The perfect native religion is matriarchal and goddess-centered.  As men (especially white men from the U.S.) are overwhelmingly violent and pig-headed, the perfect pure religion must certainly be focused on female divinities and leaders. 

Any non-pigheaded white man who starts living with an indigenous population will want to stay with them forever.   Also see Dances with Wolves.  The hero, who has the virtue of open-mindedness that other white men do not, lives with the Na’vi as one of them, and is entranced by their way of life.  In this case it’s understandable, for the Na’vi live in a paradise and get to ride flying dragons.  ‘Nuff said.  The open-minded white man turns from his own kind forever in favor of the indigenous population, which would be quite a difficult task in my opinion when you’d assume the guy has family, friends, and a life back home on Earth, but in the movie it just takes a moment of decision.

White women are less pigheaded than white men.  The Sigourney Weaver character is a scientist with the Pandora invaders who wants to study their ways.  She, of course, is the only other white person who is open-minded.  Oh, but there is a female helicopter pilot who in the end rejects the evil violent ways of her pigheaded white peers.  Which can be attributed partly to the fact that she’s female.  Which was a dramatic plot twist that shocked nobody and appeased feminists (not that this movie needed to do anything more, really!).

In short, Visuals = Good, and Storyline = PC Mumbo-Jumbo.  Well worth seeing in theaters, but in my opinion does not deserve to topple Titanic.  Which apparently it just did recently, according to the world-wide box office.  In the domestic box office it’s just passed The Dark Knight, which just about breaks my heart, as TDK left an impression on me that Avatar never could (I only saw it five times in theaters).

My heart would be broken for good if not for the smug confidence of knowing that when adjusted for inflation Gone With The Wind is still the top earner, and will probably never be beat.  (Plus, who has made the adjustment for Avatar‘s extra money from 3D tickets?  That person I would like to talk to.)

When all is said and done, should the box office really matter?  (My soul says “It’s an important status thing and you know it!” but my reason is trying to drown in out.)  When regarding Avatar, I can’t see the characters becoming a part of pop culture in the way that, for instance, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia have–or even Jack and Rose.  The Star Wars characters had a freshness to them–sure, they represented archetypes that have been in stories for generations, but they were also distinct and relatable.  Jack and Rose at least had strong chemistry and humanity.  Neytiri and What’s-His-Name?  Well, if I were in the same room with Neytiri I think she would scare me, and I’m not talking about her 12 feet of height or catlike aspects.  What’s-His-Name is too wooden for me to feel a strong connection to.  After all, I can’t even remember his name.

Perhaps I’ve become a little too jaded to appreciate this “film event.”  Or perhaps I’m still spoiled by my first breathless viewing of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (truly, sincerely, I have never viewed films the same way since).  In any case, I would only give Avatar a 3 stars out of 4, and I’m am starting to feel concern over this year’s Oscars…~

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And so it begins…

September 30, 2009 1 comment

It came upon me quite suddenly, like a flash of light, or a parting in the clouds, or a sneeze.  It would be a wonderful idea, one that would be my first step into the vast arena of the public eye.  Yes, my friends, your suspicions (if you have any right now) are correct:  the fabulous idea was that I would START A BLOG.

(I occasionally like to type words/phrases in caps.  I think they add a quirky, slightly humorous emphasis and charm, similar to the kind you find in British books for children.  Don’t ask me why I think this.  I feel sorry for you all already.)

So why did I start this blog?  I can get pretty caught up in the news of the day and I love to read reviews of all kinds–TV, movies, etc.  I’ve always thought it would be fun to put out musings on the news and reviews and such of my own for other people to read.  And one evening, as I sat there in an icy auditorium listening to that slightly dry university lecture on the pros and cons of allowing commenting on news stories (it results in a virtual cesspool!), I hit upon it:  start a blog!

(Rather: START A BLOG!)

It was perfect!  I could write about what I like and others might enjoy reading it.  And fortunately for you, my interests are vast.  They are also somewhat eclectic: books, TV shows, movies, music, book/TV show/movie/music reviews, nature, Catholicism, Minnesota (can you guess where I’m from?), antiques, baking, cooking, film history, photography, the 19th century,  pets, The Phantom of the Opera, decorating, scrapbooking, Roger Ebert, costumes, travel, Sweeney Todd, current events, pop culture, Twin Cities life, etc.  Hopefully there will be a little something for everyone.  Oh, but just so you know, I don’t care as much about sports that don’t involve the Olympics, although since the last PGA I’ve found golf quite interesting.  *many stop reading*

What else should you know about me?  I love beauty, particularly less obvious beauty.  I love innocent fun and am incorrigably sentimental.  And I procrastinate.  Which doesn’t bode too well for a blog, but I won’t be too obsessive about writing schedules. 

If you’ve come this far, thank you.  I think we could be friends.~