Dear Avatar, We Get It. Sky People Suck!

Jake Sully

Finally got a chance to see the A–Dances With Enemy Mine Last of the Mohican Samurai–vatar in 3D and I shall now lay its body out to flay it for you good people. Actually, I quite enjoyed the film overall, but there are bits and pieces that I’d like to chew on for a bit. My review is split into three parts which I will attempt to keep spoiler free or at least spoiler light, but honestly, the previews pretty much tell you everything you need to know about the plot. The story is nothing new. But no one is praising it as a revolution is storytelling.

Shiny Blue Nipples

You will hear from everyone who walks out the theater that the visuals are stunning. And if you are like me, you will say to yourself, “bullshit.” I was a huge skeptic of the visual effects going in to the theater. I’ve seen cool shit before. I will see cooler shit in the future. What does a movie with ten-foot tall blue cat people have that CGTalk doesn’t? Well folks, I’m a believer. As far as the visual effects go, I’m a total Avatard.

The lush environment of Pandora looks like a giant, fantastical rain forest during the day. It’s at night that Pandora’s disco glory really shines. The effects folk had a lot of fun turning an entire planet into a living, breathing, disco nature rave. The plants, the moss, the trees, the bugs, it all glows with ethereal energy. At times, I found myself wondering when the shitty DJ would show up with pacifiers and glow sticks. The floating islands are freaking gorgeous in 3D. I suspect on a big enough screen, you’d get the same overwhelming feeling of depth, but the 3D helped to draw me in.

The human tech looks as though it was salvaged from the Aliens set and cleaned up with a nice, new coat of paint. The military hardware feels very familiar if you’re an Aliens fan. User interfaces of the future are all holograms. Do want.

The Na’vi are alright. I don’t really like the design of the blue cat people. The proportions don’t really work for me. But their movement is very realistic. There were only a few scenes that jumped me out of the film and screamed, “Hey, that’s a mo-cap rig on that 3D model right there.” For the most part, the cat people are quite good. I also like the way the Na’vi use their ponytails to connect with their environment and the animals of Pandora.

For me, the stars of the CG demo reel are the creatures. I absolutely loved all of the animals, the big hammer-head rhino things, the four winged dragon things, the dew licking eight legged horses. Sure, they looked like cousins of Cloverfield, but they were all absolutely gorgeous. Some of them looked so real that you could almost believe there was an animal under there wearing some kind of elaborate costume. If they weren’t as impressive as they were, I don’t think I would have liked the movie as much.

Noble Savage Ten-Foot Tall Blue Cat People With Blue Nipples

Now a lot of people have been railing against the noble savage aspect of the film. They express great disappointment that it takes an outside to save the day, that the Na’vi are a one-note pastiche of native cultures that have all been dominated by white people in the history of mankind, that it’s yet another white-man’s guilt fantasy film in which the hero falls in love with the native culture and becomes their leader, the great white savior.

That aspect of the film is kind of thrown in your face. I know, I know, how can this movie be racist against blue people? They don’t even exist. But science fiction serves as a mirror of society so it’s almost impossible to see the Na’vi as anything other than a hodge-podge of native cultures that have been oppressed and decimated here on earth. It’s so very Hollywood to have a hero from the outside come in and lead the natives to glory, but we know from our earth history how very rarely, if ever, that truly occurs.

I was sad to see that it was Jake Sully, our hero, leading the charge to defend what he calls “our land.” In my view, it should have been Tsu’tey, the male Na’vi warrior who spends most of the film just mean muggin’ at Jake. Tactically, it makes sense for Jake to be involved in the planning of the attack since he knows the tactics of the Sky People, the Na’vi term for humans. For him to lead the charge de-powers the native culture. Only the outsider can save them. Even the little twist to this Hollywood ending was initiated by Jake. The Na’vi are more like bystanders than actors in their own damn fate.

Of course, the outsider saves the day in all sorts of movies. Mad Max, The Seven Samurai, Beowulf, Yojimbo and plenty more. So why is it a big deal when Avatar follows in the same footsteps (although, let’s be honest, Jake is no Yojimbo)? Doesn’t seem fair that we let Beowulf get away with it and then give Jake Sully such a hard time.

I think the problem is that any time you bring the noble savage society in as the ones needing saving, you’re setting yourself up for charges of racism, ethnocentricity, or discrimination.

Sky People Suck

Joseph Campbell talks about the hero’s journey. The hero sets off to seek fame and fortune but during the quest, he or she finds something much deeper. The hero then returns to his or her people to spread that enlightenment to enrich the lives of those he or she left. Jake Sully completes the first part of the hero’s journey. He goes to seek personal gain and ultimately finds a deeper meaning to his life. But he doesn’t return. And humanity is not enriched from his experiences. Indeed, we are left to our fend for our greedy selves.

It is this aspect of Avatar that I found most disturbing.

Now granted, we aren’t exactly given a complete picture of humanity. We’re introduced to one-note, cliche spewing jar-heads and a handful of scientists. Not exactly a complete cross-section of our species. But because this small sampling of human kind is so horrid and greedy, we ultimately grow to hate humanity. The humanity of Avatar has raped its own home and will not hesitate to do the same to Pandora for mere profit. This implies that all the wars, all the hate, all the shit that we subject each other to even in this new millennium will continue in the future and ultimately lead to this. How sad.

Science fiction can serve to give us hope for the future. Star Trek is all about unity and the indomitable will of humanity. Avatar is about us being total dicks to ten-foot tall blue cat people. I find that far more sinister than the noble savage aspect. Sky People suck so bad that even Jake can’t stand to be one. He spends most of the film in his Avatar. Why should we give a toss what happens to humanity when our hero doesn’t.

Avatards Unite

In the end, even with all the nit picking and complaining and over analyzing, Avatar was damn entertaining. I’m not surprised it’s already clocked over $1 billion. The theaters around me are really pushing the 3D version hard. There were only two regular viewing show times on Sunday as opposed to six 3D options. Theaters are raking in more per ticket. And people are more than willing to pay for the experience. 3D is here to stay and I’m certain that more and more theaters will be pushing their 3D showtimes of future films.

Avatar was a lot of fun. It’s long, but it didn’t feel long. Be sure to eat something. We snuck in burritos so we could have dinner. If you haven’t seen it already, it’s definitely worth the ticket price.