Thursday, January 07, 2010

Avatar: Great Movie, Irrelevant Message

I went to see Avatar because the special effects looked awesome and the sci-fi space fantasy story looked interesting. I was disappointed by neither (although, I found the 3D more distracting than enhancing). The CG was flawless and the world of Pandora was an engrossing tsunami of visual stimulation. The plot was predictable, but very well conceived and well paced.

The device used to create Avatar’s intriguing fictional story line – exaggerate an otherwise negligible element, extrapolate the consequences in the absence of natural controls and see where it takes you – has been used by many authors. Isaac Asimov explored a future where an exaggerated desire for safety and convenience with no regard for the consequences resulting in robots that protect us through subjugation. Climate "scientists" model a world where CO2 has an exaggerated warming effect while nature’s dynamic checks and balances are simplified and marginalized resulting in a fanciful tale of higher seas, intensified natural disasters, drought and famine. Both are fascinating works of fiction.

Avatar employs this method by exaggerating corporate greed and diminishing moral checks and balances – the result is attempted genocide and environmental destruction to obtain an extremely profitable resource. Throw in some “soldier falls in love with primitive native girl” from Pocahontas, some “spiritual planetary being” from Final Fantasy, a dash of “mind connection, biotechnology and cool military equipment” from The Matrix and a hint of “single-minded enemies vs. balanced, dynamic heroes” from Star Trek and you’ve got yourself a great movie.

As with most stories there is an intended “message.” In Avatar, James Cameron wants us to decry greed and imperialism that “tends to destroy the environment.” While I agree that in the fictional world of this movie this scenario is plausible and abhorrent, in reality, I don't accept the analogy that the American Military-Industrial Complex is as evil as the corporation in this movie, nor is it headed there; so, the “message” is irrelevant. It’s like saying, “stop murdering your neighbors and burning their houses down so you can have a bigger back yard.” Well, I’m not and I wasn’t planning to; so, whatever.

The left:
is getting all fired up about a “liberal message movie” making a big impact. They think conservatives are greedy imperialists that have no regard for the environment or other cultures and believe the record breaking turn-out implies that all those people agree with them. The audience finally sees what evil, greedy bastards we are and will now rise up and defeat conservatism once and for all.

The right:
is getting all fired up about our characterization of the left being vindicated. We think that liberals are arrogant socialists that fraudulently exaggerate every issue to attack capitalism and destroy personal liberty. Hollywood is constantly interjecting its liberal agenda into entertainment media and James Cameron’s has finally admitted what the right has known all along.

If Cameron’s goal was to transform the political landscape and shine light on the evils of unchecked capitalism, this movie was an utter failure as both sides are standing their ground and declaring victory. If, on the other hand, his intention was to earn money like a capitalist by selling a ground breaking special effects movie and wisely exploiting free press by sparking political derision, then it was an overwhelming success to the tune of $1 billion and counting.

For this layman, it was a great movie that earned my money at the box office and probably will again when the DVD is released. Since I don’t accept the political premise, it was purely a work of fiction with a noble, but irrelevant message. James Cameron, you have my condolences… or congratulations.

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