So, I went with the Roommie to see Avatar over the weekend. The visuals were stunning, beautiful, gorgeous. . .all that. The actors gave it their best, I think, considering the script given and the direction from their director. The main characters (Jake and Grace) were interesting enough to draw the audience in to their stories. It could have been an amazing, truly awesome and great film.
Sadly, that very sentiment haunted my viewing as I watched, all the places where I thought “Jeeze, this coulda been so good if they’d not been morons.”
And, of course, if the entire movie hadn’t been cribbed from better classics: Dances with Wolves, Dune, Cameron’s own The Abyss, and even some things from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.
So, a few questions regardnig Mr. Cameron and this movie:
1) Has James cameron actually ever, you know, met a Marine? Or hell, any member of our Armed Forces? Has he spoken to them, ever with the intent to truly understand them? The fact is, this isn’t the first time he’s (lazily) gone with the “Marines are all dangerous nutcases on the verge of killing everyone and everything” theme in a movie. The aforementioned Abyss is what comes to mind first. In fact, much of Avatar is a revisiting of themes from The Abyss: Glow-in-the-dark aliens, Sigorney Weaver, humans are stupid and evil and aliens are glowy and enlightened, and of course, TEH Military is SCARYYYY!!!!! Oh Noes!
The local commander of the operation, especially, came across as a caricature of what Cameron thinks military brass are like. Yeah, they talk crap, they talk tough, they get in your face and keep rigid dicipline. . . discipline far tighter than I saw with that bunch of mercs. And, most military leaders would come up with far better ideas for doing their job than what that guy, whatshisface, came up with. You know what, Gregg Easterbrook covered a lot of these points, so go here and scroll down about 3/5ths of the way. . .
2) Has James Cameron ever been camping? As a corollary, has he ever been to the jungle? I ask because Pandora is so very, very clean. Only Jake ever gets muddy (and only the once). We only see one insect (a lovely, glowing helicopter bug). Everything is shiney and glowy and clean. . . which doesn’t match my experience camping. Much less that time camping in the jungle. Where are the rest of the space-bugs? The cosmic, glowy spiders and beetles? Where are the glowy swarms of starry Botlas flies that get through the netting and feast on your legs with their anti-coagulant saliva? A commenter over at HotAir notes quite correctly that:
But I really agree with those who say it’s a dream of Eden, and by extension, of heaven.Those who get depressed when they see Avatar because Pandora isn’t real must be very far from God, and long to be with Him. (benthere5516 on January 11, 2010 at 12:48 PM)
Pandora is perfect. All the people and animals talk to each other, the people and the plants talk to each other, and everything is perfectly balanced. It never rains on Pandora, and the nights are never dark– the plants and critters glow so much I’d wager they’ve got really bad light pollution, and thus never get to see the beauty of the stars, if they even bother to look up. It’s perfect, and I can’t help but sort of pity those who would live there. . . Because yes, as Heaven, Pandora would be great. But as Life, as a place to learn and grow? Pandora would become Hell if I wanted to grow, to evolve. . . because it’s impossible on Pandora to ever be anything other than what you are.
See, Eywa, the Goddess of the Na’vi and the sentience of the entire moon, keeps the balance of life. But anyone who believes in anything other than straight-up Creationism knows that “the balance of life” never existed on Earth. Evolution and, specifically, Natural Selection, run off imbalance–> one species gaining an advantage with prompts other species to adapt, which in turn prompts other species. . . etc. . .
In addition, the Na’vi are completely spoiled by Eywa. Everything they want is given them. Food and water are plentiful. Locomotion by steed is easy, thanks to the handy neural link that every living being on the moon has. So the “horses” give them rides over the ground. If they want to fly, there are “dragons” to catch and bond with that then fly. All the ancestors store their memories in the Soul Trees (Glowy, white willows not half as cool as Grandmother Willow in Disney’s Pocahantas). There is nothing for the Na’vi to do– no illness to cure, no troubles to overcome. Everything is perfect, clean and balanced, and therefore. . . stagnant. Eywa has coddled her one sentient (and remarkably human) species. She has given them everything, so there is no need for imagination, ingenuity, growth. . .
You know, I had a flash last night as I tried to get to sleep, of Gaia and Eywa meeting one day, and Gaia pounding the crap out of Eywa. Eywa would be seen as a tall, willowy sprite that glows and dances and talks to the trees like a valley girl. Gaia would be shorter, stouter, and would speak in a think Russian accent.
“Like, Oh my God, Gaia, your kids are like, unrefined!” Would say Eywa. “They don’t glow or anything!”
“Da,” Gaia would reply. “My sons are smart like fox, like wolf, and strong like ox. I make them strong! They try to grow oranges in Florida, I freeze the trees. They build city near water, I crush with great storm! They become strong to survive what I give them. They dream so they can grow, become better all the time! I send swarms of mosquitos so they make medicine! Clever they are! Some think they might hurt me, but I am Big Girl! What can they do to me, compared to what I do to them all the time! Ha!
“My sons need no dragons to fly, for they have learned to fly without wings! My daughters do not need glowing trees and skin– they build their own lights! My children do not need carbon re-inforced bones, because I have made them strong!”
Avatar is full of people being judgemental– the Na’vi, specifically, assume that Jake’s attitude toward wilderness survival is a symptom of insanity. Rather, I see it as the sign of coming from a much harsher world. A world where it rains, where the sun scorches, where tiny bugs eat you alive, where the weather is always changing, always in flux, from one extreme to another. If the Na’vi were placed into the pristine, Earthern wilderness (say, a raw Cantral America Jungle), trained in the edible foods of the area, I suspect they’d quickly die, sometimes in quite prolonged, painful ways. Because they wouldn’t be able to “bond” with anything. They wouldn’t be any better in those environments because the Na’vi have had it easy. Even with the Big Dragon, even with the black, shiney wolves. . . the day to day miseries of gnats, mosquitoes, temperature flux, disease, poisonous fruits, parasite infected water (even in the pristine places!). . . what would a Na’vi think to encounter such an environment, so much more hostile than that they’d known?
If Gaia, Mother Nature, has any sentience at all, I’d say she’s the Original Tough Momma. As a committed Catholic, I don’t tend to think of things this way but, if I regress to my more pagany past I can think along these lines easy. Mom Nature is red in tooth and claw, capricious and often cruel. But, if one believed in Gaia, one might say she showed us tough love. Her capriciousness and cruelty are what prompted humans to migrate out of Africa, to wander Eurasia and over to the Americas. To learn agriculture, engineering, all the sciences that make us different from all the other animals on this planet. We found our own lights, crafted our own wings, looked up to the stars and said “Wow, got to check that out!”
A human has the dignity, then, of overcoming obstacles. Of bettering and evolving, of deciding to change self for the better, of changing the environment for the sake of its children. A human, flawed and dirty, can grow and evolve. A Na’vi will only ever be a Na’vi, a blue, glowy space monkey that lives in a tree and never dreams of anything different.