Saturday, January 2, 2010



This is an interlude in my series on "Economics in the Church since Smith," but it is timely and so I decided to break up my series to offer my comments on the film, Avatar. I don't have a lot to say that others have not said, but maybe one or two new comments.

First, let me say that I enjoyed the film very much. It was entertaining, it was a generally good story, a little predictable, perhaps, and even more so for those who have followed Cameron over the years (and who has not?). Most of the characters were compelling, though not all of them, and the film kept me interested the whole way through. So, I enjoyed the film, and I feel the need to say that first, because next I am going to offer some criticism.

The movie was clearly political, far more political than Cameron's earlier films. Not only is that clear from the film itself, but Cameron himself has said so on more than one occasion. It is anti-human, or at least, anti-most humans. The little bit at the end that says, in effect, the Navi decided to allow a few aliens to remain on their planet is a punctuation to that. But the film is filled with anti-most-humans sentiment throughout. Of course, what it is against is about as interesting and surprising as the fact that the Canadian-born producer will make money on this venture. It is anti-military, anti-non-green, anti-American (at least Bush and Reagan's America), and anti-Custer.

And I have to say, that is fine with me. Film makers have the freedom to promote whatever agenda they might have in their films, and we, the movie-going public, can buy it or not--literally or figuratively. The problem with the film for me was that the people Cameron likes are portrayed in a sensitive, sympathetic, and realistic manner, but the ones he does not like in the film are, generally, not portrayed in this manner. Colonel Quaritch is the best example. Cameron clearly wants us to hate him, and we do. All of us hate him. But that is just the problem. No one is that monochromatic. I lined up and waited for two hours the night Star Wars debuted. We hated Darth Vader, but we sensed that there was another part of his story that we did not yet know about. So, we could hate him, but in a way kind of "bracket" that hate. No one can bracket their hate toward the Colonel. He's just a bad guy. The same is true, but to a lesser degree of Parker Selfridge, the "head" of the project. Sully, Neytiri, and Dr. Grace, on the other hand, are complex individuals with mixed emotions, conflicting commitments, and polychromatic personalities. I think Cameron could have done a better job depicting the Colonel and Parker. But maybe he could not bring himself to believe that such persons really are more subtle than he thinks they are. Maybe Cameron should live in the real world for awhile and have lunch with some real military people and even play cards with a few Republicans.

Some have noted that this film is similar to Dances with Wolves. I see the similarity, but I don't care about that. If someone came up with a completely new genre it would probably be a bad film. Someone once said there are only 17 Country and Western songs out there, and that the really creative person is the one who finds a way to repeat one of those songs in a new and fresh way. I agree with that.

Oh, and by the way, the ending leaves everything wide open for a sequel. What? A sequel to a James Cameron film? No one would ever expect that!

I liked the film. I will probably watch it again. But I am not going to drink the KoolAid.

Chad Owen Brand


  1. ** There are light spoilers in here. **

    Excellent! Almost my sentiments exactly, though I might have a slightly different angle on the propaganda. A Rabbi friend of mine pointed out that he loved the movie but couldn't accept Cameron's response to foreign aggression of prayer + violence. In the context of the film, self-defense appeared a necessity if the Navi wanted to save their home at all, but it still is an interesting "solution" to the threat.

    I absolutely loved the film, though. I was blown away, and that's partly b/c I read reviews poo-pooing the characterization, CGI, and propaganda (from some conservative bloggers) to such an extent that I wasn't expecting much more than eye candy. I was pleasantly surprised that most of these claims were exaggerated and the movie rocked. The 3D was simply brilliant and allowed for some very cool effects with reflections / jet fumes... not to mention the scenery and combat.

    Someone else blogged about the predictability of the very end, for example, where a human becomes Navi (a la Costner -> Indian), but I actually found that I wanting nothing other to happen than what actually did. That, to me, speaks of good story telling. : D

  2. Just checking back in after reading your Brown piece to say I took my wife to see the movie in 3D and she loved it. It was just as good for me the second time around, too. : )