smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)
IO9 asks: Is Avatar Too Realistic For It's Own Good? Maybe I've been nitpicking the wrong things?  Maybe a movie that pisses off the Chinese government, threatens the Vatican, and disturbs American nationalists isn't all bad...?

Edit: Actually, that doesn't follow...if the motives for criticizing Avatar are as thoughtless as the movie itself.
smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)
I finally got around to seeing it. Spoilers ahead.

The OK
  • It's nice to see scientists portrayed as reasonably good people who aren't just witless stooges of some state, military, or corporate concern.
  • It's interesting to see a variation of the Gaia hypothesis explained with pseudo-scientific bio-babble instead of mystical pseudo-Asian spiritual-babble. It's still stupid, though, because the end-message ends up being the same old "spiritual nature defeats mean old technology" nonsense.
  • Pretty to look at, but the use of 3D in Up was more effective and more tasteful.
  • Sigourney Weaver demanding a cigarette was cool. I wonder if that had to be cut from the French release.
The Meh
  • It's embarrassing to realize how vulnerable I am to the standard emotionally manipulative cliches of a generic Hollywood blockbuster plot. Even a stupid one. There were times I found myself enjoying something while a voice in the back of my head was saying, "Idiot!"
The Bad
  • Good lord this was a stupid movie, full of stupid people doing stupid things.
  • "Unobtainium." I think I've read that this term was left in the movie on purpose, as an inside joke to SF fans (or maybe to TV Tropes fans). Here's the problem: it's insulting to SF fans, because it ignores the fact that what SF fans want is good SF, not hack scriptwriting. And it's insulting to everyone else, because it assumes the world at large is either A) too stupid to get the joke, or B) too stupid to realize that they should be insulted when a bad joke is used as an excuse for a bad script.
  • Why is it that it always requires a white American guy to teach an aboriginal people, victims of "Western" colonization, the true meaning and potential of their own culture?
  • Ok, the Na'vi -- a planet-wide coalition, mind you -- barely managed to defeat a small corporate outpost, by analogy an isolated portion of the British East India Company. What's going to happen when the whole fucking Royal Navy arrives and bombs the place from orbit?
  • Why didn't the corporation bomb the Na'vi holy site from orbit? So what if the local "vortex" interferes with instruments? Plot the site on one of your big fancy 3-D computers and bomb it from orbit so you don't have to fight a fucking army of fucking pterodactyls! Stupid fucks.
  • Gregg Easterbrook is right to be disturbed by the glee with which audiences, especially American audiences, are willing to applaud the mass slaughter of characters who look and act (except for being uniformly bloodthirsty morons) like their own citizens in uniform. However...
The Hmmm
  • ...Easterbrook makes no attempt to answer his own question, "Why?" except to blame liberal Hollywood and anti-American sentiment abroad. These are the points that I would make in response to his question.
    • Americans love to cheer on their fellow citizens in uniform, too, and Hollywood loves to produce movies about American heroes -- military, police, and civilian -- kicking ass.
    • But a lot of Americans feel alienated from their own country. Conspiracy theories are popular on the Right and the Left ends of American politics, and nobody trusts a member of the other side to wield the power of the US military-industrial complex.
    • Americans also love to see themselves -- the presumed hero of any Hollywood action movie -- portrayed as rebels against The Man. Even wealthy, white, Christian American males have convinced themselves that they're rebelling against a gay feminist minority atheist "Man."
    • The military and police are the visible, tangible representatives of the force wielded by The Man.
    • In Avatar the "military" is a corporate mercenary force (albeit full of US Marines) designed to evoke and unite our fears: of the government, of big corporations, and of creeping technological domination of our increasingly alienated, unnatural lives.
So I would posit that Americans in movie theaters who root for the Na'vi aren't looking to enjoy the slaughter of US military personnel as such. I doubt that any person who enjoyed Avatar also enjoys the casualty reports from Afghanistan. They're enjoying the slaughter of political bogeys. If those bogeys are more compelling than laughable, I'd blame Congress, not Hollywood.

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smackshack

June 2012

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