Avatar: Critical review | January 25, 2010


The tagline: "Believe it or not"


SPOILER ALERT: I will be stating scenes and key plot points from the movie, Do not read this if you wish to watch the movie and you have yet to do so. This is NOT a movie review or my opinion or judgement on if the movie was good. This review does NOT scale the entertainment value of the movie. This is purely insight on the movie’s influences and the influence on people by use of subtle techniques and such.   

     This movie has a lot of meaning. Obviously, or I wouldn’t be writing about this movie. The plot is simple, and very epic. It is not just cross-cultural, but it is cross-world story. It’s about a war brought on by earth, who have come to colonize “Pandora”. Earth is represented by american people. Even the military is American, the style they fight and go battle. This movie is very American, but I cannot expect it to be any different as it is by James Cameron. This is not an insult, but an insight as to where cultural references and the views portrayed come from. These views are American, and it is culturally natural to be this way. Again, there is nothing wrong with it being an American film in style. It just gives you more understanding to where its coming from, all the things I will bring up in later paragraphs.   

     The first level of understanding this movie, is superficial. It is obvious to see without even trying, and it is portrayed very bluntly. It is the shamanistic and tribal characteristics promoted in this movie. I particularly didn’t like this because it portrays it as a very harmless thing and is natural and looks normal. This theme I had found in more and more movies. I always wondered why when going to other cultures and portraying other cultures in American movies, they are generally more primitive and tribal. All with rituals and “magic”. “Australia” for example, that movie had much to do with tribal ways, and even magic to a small degree, but it was a realistic movie. They portrayed Australian life as this way as normal and it was set in the not-so-far-away past, and in a less developed part of “Australia”, but still, this is only one example of this. This is the “American” style of film-making I see. But this is in part to the culture we have made. The views of America and the views brought by our culture. This view that has subtlety permeated in our culture that “Americans are superior”, that pride for our country that we have been brought up with. Cameron, however brings a twist to that American pride. he shows it in the attitudes of the soldiers, and he addresses this issue within the scientists and the protagonist who see this and show dislike to this attitude by turning on them. This attitude, is a fatal flaw when it comes down to the end of the movie. This attitude that drives the soldiers to do what they do so mercilessly. Cameron is a very smart director, and shows why he won so many Oscars. Another superficial showing that may permeate and look good, and may become very powerful in theology is the “One with nature” approach. I highly doubt if James Cameron means to promote or even backs whatsoever this “nature-god” concept. And I’m sure that there are people who believe in that. And I’m also sure that it does look like a legitimate form of religion to some. But with this, and all other movies that portray this. They are subtlety promoting it. And when it’s not direct, and not forced, and seems like it won’t affect, because its only a movie, that is when it affects the minds, the subconscious the most. Anyway, sorry that I preached a little too much there.   

War on Pandora


     The second level of this movie, I found under the superficial layer of it, was many things, actually. But one, was what this thing reminded me the most of. The current war in the middle east. The highly expensive resource portrayed oil, and the space marines represented American forces. The Na’vi represented the middle-easterns. They fought to save their country, as we are fighting for oil, another American view on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. My opinion on the war whether we are doing it for oil or liberation from terrorists doesn’t matter in this case because that is what is protrayed in the movie whether I belive in that view or not. Even their attitude, is their flaw, as I mentioned in the above paragraph. Also, the current theme in the public as the war being wrong, is also a bias I saw in the movie. That the war the space marines started was wrong, they did it because they felt they were bigger and stronger. What they can take they will. Which is another view of how we entered the war. Also, that in the movie, they dismissed and didn’t want a diplomatic solution, which also parallels again what we did to start the war.   

The "Big stick policy"


     Theodore Roosevelt had a philosophy on government, it came from an African proverb. It was “Speak softly, and carry a big stick”. This meant to be a man of action, and this philosophy was one that ruled American schools of thought, and it does work. This was also the attitude that the space marines had, compared to the more generally at-peace Na’vi. This philosophy, needless to say, didn’t work in the end. this is a message to the more physically minded and war-like people of the world that attitude is old, from our ancestors, and doesn’t work anymore. Throughout the movie, a predominant theme I picked up was ushering in a new generation, and new way of life, because old ways don’t work anymore.(But that I will cover in the third level) The hard-headed space marines, representing the americans, which is also another view by other cultures of americans, that don’t accept change, that the “big-stick policy” doesn’t work anymore. Thats what the movie was telling me.   


The neon lights of nature.


     Another thing I noticed, and I actually really liked this a lot. It was the nature. The whole planet of Pandora was connected by vines in the ground, roots, that connected every tree. This was a network of trees that could talk to each other, store information, and link up to. This was a database. This represented to me, the internet. In this you could upload, download data from where ever the trees were. This place had a history file of everything on Pandora. And there was a mother tree, which was a supercomputer, a huge server, that gave life. Each tree was like a computer. The space marines were tearing them down, which symbolized an old-fashioned, hard-headed americans stuck on their ways trying to destroy new technology, which gives reference to the “old fashioned” people of reality in American society. Another thing, was the ponytails on the backs, that had little organic wires on the inside of them. To me, they symbolized usb cords. Where they could link up to their animals and ride them, and also upload and download stuff from the trees. the hair was simply insulators.   

     The third level was that Pandora represented the future. They had a world of complete interconnectivity. They had vehicles that had technology that connected them to the rider. That by pure thoughts, they could “drive”. They had a universal usb cord, and could link up to everywhere around them. I liked how Cameron made Pandora, a natural world, giving you the feeling that our technology of the modern era is natural, like the plants. Also used old tribal rites, rituals and other old world things to convey such a modern utopia. The space marines in this case, represented people trying to prevent change, but not just that, destroying it. The neon lights of Pandora, from the trees harkens back to the neon lights of the internet, like a motherboard, server or any other piece of complex technology  that lights up, especially at night. The integration of the usb cords to the necks and the symbolism of the natural environment being a highly connected internet world are views that the future will have complete integration of technology to our lives (But I doubt that we will have usb cords in our necks). It being in our necks just symbolize the integration in ourselves of technology, but just not physically.   

What Jake was...


What Jake became...


     The change of our hero’s life from human to Na’vi, and then the rites of passage he endures symbolizes his change from a soldier (His militaristic mindset) to the Na’vi (his understanding of the modern culture). He fights and in the ends wins. At the end of the movie, he completely becomes a Na’vi, transferring the life completely into his avatar body. This symbolized the complete transformation of his mind and culture, severing all ties to his original race. He then ushers out the losers of this planetary battle.   

     The story of the protagonist is also, like any epic, a hero that has come to save them in such an epic way. It relates to a modern-day telling of Jesus or a religious savior like him. This is another them that movies fantasize about. Jake become “the dragon rider”. He came to them as a stranger, and an enemy too, but he showed them he was a true Na’vi. And in the history of the Na’vi, there was flying beast that no one could tame, except the greatest of them. And in the history of Pandora, only five had come. And this outsider, who soon became outcast, became the “dragon-rider”. The hero tamed the beast and united the tribes under him, and with that, saved the planet. This theme seems to be a favorite theme of moviemakers, and its a favorite theme in the public. This provides an illusion of man, that man is and can be like Jesus. This is a sad idea that is flowing through society. So are a lot of the concepts that we believe.   

Size difference


     The bodies too, gave a subtle message, which does affect you opinion to them, just as appearance affects people in political elections. The proportions of the Na’vi to the humans were very different. The humans focusing on the bulky muscles, they were all very stocky people. The Na’vi however, were very slender people. This is portraying a “new action hero” look that was recognized by Sly Stallone. He saw the size difference of action heros going from big guys like Marlon Brando and Sean Connery, to Schwarzenegger and Sly, to now Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, Orlando Bloom and Pierce Brosnan. These action heroes are smaller, everymans. But also more unrealistic. However, it does not matter my opinion on how unreal it is, but that is a theme that America is liking, and is believing. This movie portrays that build, and they are victors. The “old school” guys lose out. The main antagonist is the epitome of this old american way that I have described in this post. And that is a recurring theme in almost every contrast between the Na’vi and the humans. Another size comparison I noticed was their height. The Na’vi were approx. 10 ft. tall, the humans, mid-5 to mid-6 feet tall. The only thing I could see was that their physical stature relayed their actually stature as a culture. Especially in the end, I saw it. When the humans were in line to go home, their body language told a story of defeat and of lesser significance. The Na’vi stood upright, with more confidence, and they were towering over them, as if giants, this portrayed the feeling of dominance over these people.   

     The unity, was another characteristics that were promoted in this film. The unity of the tribes in the end, and the rebellion and constant struggle for power, the constant dislike by some people, mainly the scientists, the force that the human commanders showed in their orders and control. These opposite characteristics were the reason why one failed and the other was victorious. Unity, just as with the trees and their interconnectivity, were why they won. Also, that they fought for something more noble, less greedy, is another reason why they won. But Unity, even though each tribe believed in different things, were different people, one was a horse tribe while the other was a flying tribe, etc. But in the end, even though different, they won. And each tribe was used as best as they could, the flyers were air force and the horse people were Calvary, etc. This promotes the unity of different cultures in America, different religious beliefs, etc. This movie makes it look simple and wonderful, but it isn’t so easy and I don’t believe that will happen. This thought of unity is not new in America, and it is also gaining a lot of ground as a cultural belief, and want, and moral. This concept is something a lot of people want and promote. It is an American concept that is pushed into debates, and promoted in this movie. It’s a good thought too. But an unlikely one, in my opinion. Again, my opinion is beside the point. So don’t take my opinion for gold, because it doesn’t really matter in this case.   

P.S. I know there are current action stars that are bigger, like Jason Statham and Daniel Craig as the new Bond, and Sly even admits that. But what is more dominant is the skinnier action hero now.


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