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Zoethe

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Avatar [Dec. 21st, 2009|10:31 am]
Zoethe
Certain people have reassured me that the "White Man Embraces the Culture and Then Saves It" aspect of Avatar was "only a small part of it."

That's true. If your definition of "only a small part" is "all the plot the movie had."

That's not to say that Avatar isn't pretty. It's staggeringly beautiful. I want to become a blue cat person and live on such a world. For the most part, I was able to forget that we were looking at a completely digital environment - perhaps that is why I was able to see that the clothes had no Emperor.

In addition to the stereotype-filled story, a bunch of other issues arose. What follows is a non-comprehensive list of the stuff that bugged the hell out of me about the movie.

1. During the 5 years that Jake Sully takes to arrive at Pandora, a road is being built through the jungle toward the richest unobtanium deposit on the planet. The EVIL CORPORATION is now three months away from Home Tree, putting the pressure on. Really? 5 years to get a track cut through the wilderness? Because when we see the 'dozers, they are moving at a right fine clip.

2. Also, why is open pit mining the only solution? They have all this technology; surely they could shaft mine.

3. Also also, how is it that the Na'vi, who can sense one stranded Marine staggering around in the woods like a wounded deer, who are so very connected to their world, are surprised by the 'dozers mowing down their sacred grove?

4. The air will kill a person is a minute or two. Yet touching or eating the plants has no ill effect. Got that one wrong - they were in their avatars when they touched such things.

5. Only 5 Na'vi have ever tamed the Turok whatever. Sully's solution is to get a drop on it. You're telling me that these folk, who hunt in the air regularly, can't figure that out for themselves?

6. If your Shock and Awe campaign consists of blowing up the natives most sacred site in order to scatter them, what the hell do you need ground troops for?

7. If you have lived all your life through stealth and tracking, why would you attack the ground troops and their guns - which you know they have - head on? C'mon, where are the Ewok-style traps and sneak attacks from above?

8. What are all those other avatars - the ones playing basketball and running obstacle courses, doing the rest of the time? They are introduced and then disappear.

9. The whole project is to mine unobtanium, which sells for a fortune. To who? What for? Is it something that we are mining to buy humans spots on inhabitable worlds? What's the point?

I'm not sure what it says about me or about the movie, but I was completely unmoved by tragic events befalling characters. I was, however, heartbroken by destruction wreaked on the planet. Perhaps all that says is that WETA Digital makes a better movie than James Cameron does.

EDIT: This is more negative than I really feel about the movie. I did enjoy looking at the pretty. I would go again if given the opportunity. And I can't wait for the DVD extras so I can see all the awesome WETA guys again.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: aiela
2009-12-21 03:48 pm (UTC)
I, too, was way more upset when the tree fell and the forest burned than when any of the characters, human or Na'vi, died.

As for the mining, I got the impression they had been mining the ore from other places on the planet, but the main bit of it was under the tree, so they were grabbing what they could while they prepared to take the tree. So that's what I assumed they had been doing for the previous five years. I think they assumed from the start that with some diplomacy, they'd be able to move the Na'vi without the violence, but by the time Sully arrives it is becoming more and more apparent that diplomacy isn't going to work.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-12-21 03:54 pm (UTC)
Oh, I figured they were mining elsewhere, but there is a narrow track through the wilderness on their map with no side-tracks or areas of destruction/construction. So the evidence of the movie itself points to a large contingent of the paramilitary force working solely on the road project.

Oh, and I remembered one more thing that bugged me. Time to edit.
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[User Picture]From: theferrett
2009-12-21 04:22 pm (UTC)
I, too, was way more upset when the tree fell and the forest burned than when any of the characters, human or Na'vi, died.

That seems to be the general consensus. And that's a shame, really. You should care when they die.
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[User Picture]From: aiela
2009-12-21 04:40 pm (UTC)
It was the same reaction I had when Dumbledore died in the last Harry Potter movie - I cry at the drop of a hat, if I'm not crying over a major character's death, you really fucked up. I cry at commercials.
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[User Picture]From: kibbles
2009-12-21 04:56 pm (UTC)
Yeah but that's a different world, so I don't remember the movie, but I know in the book it was all "well, is he DEAD is anyone REALLY dead in that world?"

And I cry a lot too. But that universe, which I ADORE SO MUCH, gave me a different attitude about death in it because of the way it is portrayed.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-12-21 04:09 pm (UTC)
I dismissed it as tongue-in-cheek, a little wink at the audience. That is the least of its faults.
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From: simulated_knave
2009-12-21 04:24 pm (UTC)
Notably, one European DID defect to the Maya, and became a successful war leader.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gonzalo_Guerrero

He ended up getting shot by an arquebus.

I've seen him presented before as being quite helpful in fighting off the Spanish.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-12-21 04:28 pm (UTC)
I was pretty much willing to let the racefail slide until the capturing Big Bird scene - white man superior intellect and all that.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-12-21 05:05 pm (UTC)
Um, yeah....
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[User Picture]From: andrewducker
2010-01-01 01:31 pm (UTC)
I felt much the same way. I could live with him going over to them, but uniting the tribes was too much for me.

If he'd at least been working _under_ the native leader then I'd have been happier.
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[User Picture]From: wolflady26
2010-01-04 08:51 pm (UTC)
I didn't really think that he had superior intellect for doing that. I kind of thought that's how the others who had done it had started out. I just thought that not many people do it because it's super-dangerous to get near that thing, and you have to be amazingly desperate to try it.

It's kind of like -- it's possible I could tame and ride a grizzly, but I don't have anything like the motivation to go out and try.

Given how generally clueless he was presented with any of the wildlife, I thought the idea was new for him, not new for anyone including the tribes.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2010-01-04 09:48 pm (UTC)
I read the presentation completely differently. But I can see how you would read it that way.
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[User Picture]From: jer_
2009-12-21 05:42 pm (UTC)
To be trite…this!

To be less trite, I predicted the (and I abhor using this term) “racefail” callouts some 6 or so weeks ago, because there is quite literally no way to address a visit to another culture without failing in some fairly significant way. Period. Ever. It cannot be done. Having read a fairly in depth synopsis of plot on opening day, I had made the comment to my wife that it felt like Cameron actually made the attempt to un-Dances-with-Wolves his Sci-Fi remake of the same—but it would come to no good because it would be slaughtered by the sort of people that use terms that end in the word fail.

Of course, it's hard to defend the thing, since the primary (sole?) story arc is more rehashed than boy-meets-girl…but racefail? I guess I just don't see it (and not for lack of having “evidence” thrust in my face, and not for lack of actively looking for the fail). I'd prefer to discuss the ridiculously white casting of the flick; I hate seeing movies indicating that the future is going to be hoary white without more than a tinge of color to balance the scene.

To be entirely honest, though, easily 80% of the audience that I read crying fail had gone ahead and called it way in advance of having seen it. I find that if I have an expectation, I tend to receive that expectation.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-12-21 06:52 pm (UTC)
I am not ultra-sensitive to racefail. I regard a lot of it to be rather tiresome. This was just completely over-the-top.
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[User Picture]From: 28bytes
2009-12-21 04:28 pm (UTC)
4. The air will kill a person is a minute or two. Yet touching or eating the plants has no ill effect.

Well, oceans and lakes kind of work that way too. No breathable air down there, but eating the fish won't kill you.

When they have mountains floating in the middle of the air, I tend to take that as a cue that rigorous adherence to the laws of physics is not a priority of the filmmaker.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-12-21 04:29 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I messed that one up - see retraction.
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[User Picture]From: shezan
2009-12-21 05:27 pm (UTC)

Where is Basya when you need her??????

You mean they are less strategically-savvy than EWOKS????

Woe, woe, woe.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-12-21 05:31 pm (UTC)

Re: Where is Basya when you need her??????

Yup. Amazing but true.
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[User Picture]From: therrin
2009-12-21 06:04 pm (UTC)
I agree with most of these, and number 5 in particular. I feel like the movie would have been a lot more defensible (and not just "the human is just smarter!") if #5 hadn't been in the movie.
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[User Picture]From: lady_guenievre
2009-12-21 08:40 pm (UTC)
I agree, but my (internal) rationalization was that it was stated over and over that the smaller gliders, and by analogy the Turok-whatever, had to *choose* their rider. So I figured that the turoc could have flipped the guy off in about 2 seconds if the nature goddess hadn't approved - the "getting a drop on it" strategy was just a... test, as it were, to see if the guy could get near enough.

I don't know if that makes it better or not, but it helps a bit to me.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-12-21 11:19 pm (UTC)
Except he has a line about figuring they wouldn't look up that implies he was the only one to dope this out.
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[User Picture]From: lady_guenievre
2009-12-21 11:42 pm (UTC)
I consider him to be something of an unreliable narrator as far as THAT is concerned, though. The reason he THINKS he got to ride the dragon and the ACTUAL reason may be entirely different.

(OK, so in reality? your interpretation may be closer to what the movie meant. But it *could* be spun better.)
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[User Picture]From: roaming
2009-12-21 09:11 pm (UTC)
Maybe Cameron ws playing to the lowest common denominator in the audience? The ones who wouldn't notice or ask these questions* but would come away from one viewing with a clear message that

1) Nature is worth saving
2) Destroying Nature for profit is EVIL (anagram: VILE)
3) Just because a people/species aren't "Like Us" doesn't mean they're "less than human" and can be obliterated by Military Testosterone Poisoning
4) Military Testosterone Poisoning is EVIL: Understanding, Respect, Cooperation is GOOD

And I see your earlier post point about being icked by the theme of the White Guy Saving the Native Peoples. But the Na'vi did a damn good job of fighting for themselves. Sully just had an advantage in that he knew the military players, their mindset, training, and weapons capability: so he was in a position to think ahead of them and use their own against them.

Instead of "racefail" one could also see it as "Don't be such an arrogant superior arse, White Dude: other cultures can actually be better than yours. And hey: stop comparing -- it's ALL good. 'Because Allah loves variety.'" (My fav Morgan Freeman quote from Robin Hood Prince of Thieves.)

(BTW, I didn't get to see the end of the movie: just at the climatic battle scene the screen started stuttering, and they couldn't fix it. So will have to go elsewhere to see what the hell happens in the end.)

*(I didn't while watching, I was too distracted by the oooooh shinnnney! But now that you mention them, they're pretty damn obvious! :-) )


Edited at 2009-12-21 09:15 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-12-21 11:31 pm (UTC)
But that is always the point of these tales. If the Noble Savage was easily eradicated, there would never be a reason for the White Man to come among them - no one makes movies about a plague that wipes out 90% of the native populous. It's the combination of Noble Savage Wisdom (and overconfidence, since the Noble Savage does not understand the Overwhelming Forces they are up against) and the White Man Savvy that *all* these movies fetishize.

Say what you will about the Ewoks, at least they were the ones saving whitey's butt in Return of the Jedi.
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[User Picture]From: lishablog
2009-12-22 11:44 pm (UTC)
but, wait... it's not that the Na'vi are over confident. I think that they just can't comprehend that someone would even TRY to destroy their home. This sort of thing happens in real life, and not just to Noble Savages. A lot of evil happens when good people are blind sided by the fact that they couldn't conceive of the nasty things that some people will gladly do.

Also, while your criticisms of the way the battle scenes were handled are totally right on (yeah, I was also thinking, 'Why the hell are you coming head on?!"), I disagree that this white man has come in and saved the day for everyone. He's a catalyst, sure, and he's our main character so we pay the most attention to him (narrative imperative) but, he's just a leader. He's leading within the context of the culture and community that he's become a part of.

He's not saving them as a missionary. He's leading the group as a convert and an immigrant. There's a HUGE difference.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-12-23 06:36 pm (UTC)
Yes, but that's how these Noble Savage tales work.

And it does ignore the fact that if Earth decides to come back with space-to-planet groundpounding technology, the Na'Vi are still toast.
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[User Picture]From: peterchayward
2009-12-26 08:38 am (UTC)
He does want to do two sequels.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-12-26 01:46 pm (UTC)
Possibly good.

Possibly Matrix: Reloaded.
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[User Picture]From: peterchayward
2009-12-26 01:51 pm (UTC)
Oh, I wasn't commenting on the possible quality of the sequels, just pointing out the "but what if the humans come bacK!?!?" question that I've seen a dozen or so times.

I think Avatar told a complete story (something rare these days) but I also think it left room for sequels to be made organically, instead of being forced.
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[User Picture]From: docstrange
2009-12-21 09:59 pm (UTC)
With you 100%.

(Unobtainium's supposed value is in what they say it is: room temp superconductor... so there's its no-need-to-mention-it value.)

Anyhow, a story about a drive for a resource so valuable, the story essentially reduces it to allegory ... and a plot so hackneyed it could use Hamburger Helper to lend interest. Yeah.

SIGH.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-12-21 11:36 pm (UTC)
But doggone, weren't it purty?

o_O
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[User Picture]From: lishablog
2009-12-22 11:37 pm (UTC)
OK, so I hear all of your criticisms about this movie, but I have a very different take on the story.

http://lishablog.livejournal.com/157203.html

For those that aren't my friends here, I put it up at http://www.alwayssababa.com/avatar-race-and-immigration too.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2009-12-23 06:34 pm (UTC)
It's another way of looking at it, yes.
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[User Picture]From: spydielives
2009-12-24 10:09 pm (UTC)
I had refrained from writing about the movie because I couldn't figure out where the disconnect was... I heard "beautiful" and "race:fail" but not much else, when the movie *I* saw was about the connections / by birth / by nature / by choice to our family / community / peers / inner and outer worlds.

Your analogy was right on point... I still get asked, 17 years later, "why?" and my only answer will be "because it felt right for me."

Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: lishablog
2009-12-24 10:17 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad that this resonated with you, too. :)
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