Avatar: A lot to look at, not much to see

A bunch of little guys fight to save the ranch from an evil baron. One hired hand rises up, leaves the baron, befriends the little guys, learns their simple ways, finds love and the meaning of life, and kills the baron. And then rides off into the planetset.

Same plot you’ve seen more times than John Wayne has pink shirts, but you’ve never seen it in multi-colored 3D. It was real pretty.

There wasn’t one turn that you didn’t see coming from ten klicks away. A “klick”, incidentally, is a military-speak for “kilometer”, a jargon they had the jarhead hero speak with reasonable accuracy. His, and the other cast members’, other dialog was bought wholesale from Scripts-R-Us, and could have been written by any audience member.

But it sure was pretty.


Yes, there was some standard Hollywood yibber-yabber about native “purity” that would only be restored once the White Man (here portrayed by a mixed palette of humans) was gone. Audiences by now are so familiar with these oh-so-clever attempts at indoctrination that they have learned to divide through for it and focus on the whatever is shiny and new.

And, boy, was that movie pretty.

Maybe I got lucky. I saw the movie in Taipei and it was subtitled in Mandarin, a language in which I cannot read more than a couple of dozen words (characters). So I didn’t follow, word for word, the simple folk’s undoubtedly wise, non-English, utterances. I did notice that what was missing was their hair blowing in the wind as they spoke, as John Redcorn’s on King of the Hill always did, to fine effect.

But maybe that’s because the simple folk mated with their hair—they certainly hooked into everything else with it. It must have been their ‘dos, because they ran around nude and didn’t appear to have any apparatuses (apparatii?). And believe me, the kids in the seats around me were on active lookout. As was your reporter—purely for scientific reasons, of course.

It was obvious, though, that the simple folks never made an error, never suffered a setback, never screwed up. They could jump from any cliff, no matter how high, and land safely. They could best any beast; packs of wild animals more voracious than any movie studio executive couldn’t scratch them. No blade could cut them. They never went hungry. No argument ever caused them grief. Nobody ever got cancer, or even a paper cut. There was nothing they couldn’t do.

Until the White Man came.

And sought the mineral “unobtanium”—another name for the kind of society the simple folk ran if it were ever tried with humanity. For example, the simple folk mated for life: that’s one mate, one life, folks. Surely a state of affairs de amor ne’er to found in our Los Angeles enclave. (Our director, and chief moralizer, dumped Linda Hamilton—Linda Hamilton!—for another squeeze, after he became King of the World.)

The unobtanium was buried in an unobtainable spot, under a tree under which the simple folk sang their simple songs. Presumably, sang ad infinitum. And so an evil corporation—is there any other kind? Apple, of course, and maybe the old Google, and those that sell supplies to Greenpeace and Planned Parenthood, and so forth, but all the other ones, clearly evil, them being corporations and all—and so that evil corporation came to steal what was never theirs.

Of course they had to fail! Of course they had to suffer for their sins! Of course the evil baron had to die!

Actually, to my vast disappointment, he didn’t die. Only his lieutenant, in this movie given the rank of colonel, did. The feckless baron was shuffled off the planet at the end of the flick with all the other White Men. After ordering the murder of hundreds of innocents, his only punishment was to be sent home. He was too big to fail.

But he looked good going. The whole movie was pretty.

What really irked were the inconsistencies. There were enormous rocks with no visible means of support—sort of like Chicago (now Whitehouse) politicians—floating around, some of which had waterfalls. Using water which came from where?

These stones were in some sort of zone, or void, where electronics Would Not Work. Yet our hero could uplink, via electronics, his consciousness to his avatar in that zone.

Ah, but who cares. It was three hours during which we could eat our popcorn and root for the little guy. And it sure was pretty.


  1. J.

    His uplink worked because Gaia — er…the conscious moon Pandora — was on their side so the rules don’t apply. It is the same reason why the most viscous predators turned out to help the perfect natives. They were on the moon’s side…and all linked together by the unobtainium neural net.

    It is a pretty movie. And not entirely unenjoyable if you don’t think about it too much…sort of like the Phantom Plot…er Menace.

  2. 49erDweet

    What a heart-warming, dare I say “earthy”?, review. I imagine the screenwriter/author(s) are suitably humble but proud of their creative efforts. From what you say the story seems to have all the depth and introspection of something “created” while stoned out of one’s liberal, Gaia-loving gourd.

    And how perceptive and original of the writers and producers to gaze into a mirror at a script conference in a studio board room and immediately recognize that White Man run conglomerate corporations are always appropriate to be the “villains-of-choice”.

    I paraphrase Walt Kelly – bless his liberal heart – but in this case he was likely spot on, “We have met the enemy and he is [those of us who wrote and produced this shallow but beautiful flik with such pretty graphics].”

  3. Noblesse Oblige

    Matt graces this cloying piece of trash. Hollywood can and does make excellent films with sensitivity and artistry. This is not one of them. The admiring reviews make the critics part of the problem.

  4. DAV

    I haven’t seen the movie but the trailers make it resemble a sequel to The Matrix
    with its virtual world in which anything is possible. The Matrix has an underlying 2nd Law of Thermodynamics violating premise but at least it wasn’t trying to be Socially Relevant.

    BTW: the blowing hair symbol was not new in King of the Hill . In Candy (1968), Marlon Brando’s Guru Grindl was always depicted with the Winds of Change in his hair.

  5. Ari

    Haven’t seen it yet, but I hear it’s a good popcorn flick. Nothing too introspective or thinky. Not always a bad thing, I say.

    And besides, as much as people complained about Jar Jar (me being among the fire-wielding mob, of course), his annoying presence allowed for Gollum later on. That was good.

    I tend to think a lot of these visual fests are like graphics engines for games: the first one that uses the technology is usually only a test bed. Perfection with the technology usually comes later.

    I’ll be seeing it soon enough, I suppose… but I’d rather see Up in the Air first. It reminds me of me, flying all the time.

  6. Torange

    You obviously do not understand the physics and chemistry of unobtanium. Mountains can fly, trees can communicate around the planet, and paradise reigns.

  7. TomVonk

    Hundreds of millions went to see it .
    Knowing my fellow human as I know him , a large proportion of these people consider that there is a MESSAGE and they go to see it for that .
    When one considers the sequence : Cinderella -> J.Wayne and the baron -> Avatar , one observes that the MESSAGE gets stupider and deadlier at every step .
    The next in sequence could only be “Let’s all suicide and celebrate .”
    This is the part that I find frightening .

  8. john

    This movie wasn’t about what happened with the characters. The scene was simply a setting created to explore what can be done with current film technology. It serves simply as a threshold of special effect ability. Every 3-5 years this happens, so why is it such a surprise?

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