[the palaverist]

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

[scattered thoughts about avatar]

Spoilers galore. If you haven't seen it yet, stop reading now.

So about those big ol' robot suits. Why would you have them carry guns and knives in artificial hands, so that they can be dropped or taken by an enemy? Wouldn't you just make the weaponry integral to the suit? The only reason to carry a weapon is because it's not already attached to you. It's not advantageous. Also, why would the suit fall down when the driver is killed? Makes no sense.

Overall, not enough backstory. Jake Sully's connection to his own life is so tenuous that there's really no question of loyalties. How could he side with an angry colonel, who himself has so little depth that he seems to have come out of Dr. Strangelove, but stripped of irony? The colonel offers him legs, but those can be obtained with money, we already know. There's just not enough there.

We also don't know enough about why the mining company wants the unobtainium, what it's used for, or who's backing them. Is this like the US trying to get heavy water in World War II? Is it like our current thirst for oil? Or is it Alcoa hitting on a copper mine? We know it's expensive, but not why, and it's a relevant point. Also relevant is the general attitude back on earth towards Pandora and Pandorans. Why? Because I'd like to know whether a defeat of this small, poorly armed security detail (seriously, no cruise missiles or drones?) will be Black Hawk Down, meaning a hasty retreat, or 9/11, meaning we come back in giant numbers and invade everything in sight.

Of course, what keeps it from being 9/11, or even Dances with Wolves, is the total lack of ambiguity. Because the mining company and its security force are largely men and all adults, there's no conflict of civilizations. Regardless of the moral right of European settlers to show up and settle on Native American lands, settle they did, and that turned fights with the natives into threats to home and family. Indeed, Native Americans killed and kidnapped whole families, women and children included. That's enough to motivate serious and even disproportionate reprisals, as was 9/11, and as is every terrorist attack on Israel.

There's no equivalent on Pandora. Why is the colonel so invested in the fight? There's no reason at all. He doesn't even have Jack D. Ripper's paranoia. Nothing. He just wants to go kill. His character, and the Marines who cheer with him, are an insult to actual Marines, who generally don't want to go blow up indigenous peoples for the enrichment of corporations (even if that turns out to be the gig sometimes). Marines, or the ones I've known anyway, want to fight to defend our country by attacking and destroying those who would attack and destroy us. It's not pretty, but it's purposeful. It can turn pretty blunt, like just wanting to kill the fuck out of Muslims, but that's because they're seen as a threat to our way of life. Without that threat, I just don't see the motivation.

So the Na'vi are spared the ambiguity of the Native Americans in Little Big Man or Dances with Wolves because they never encounter a child. And the Marines are given no chance for ambiguity. This same lack of ambiguity is acceptable when the enemy is presented as a kind of implacable evil, as in Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, but it falls apart when the enemy is human and identifiably ourselves.

Labels: ,


Blogger Shosh said...

So I saw Avatar again tonight, in IMAX. I considered your thoughts.

1. Robot suits with hands: The need for weapons is because the suit is designed to add power/strength to the user so they can navigate Pandora. Hands are needed for moving things. If you add extra arms with attached weaponry, you need to add controls, which are more difficult to use then the intuitive actions of your own limbs. However, I also do not know why the robot falls when the driver is killed.

2. True, not a lot of backstory. But when you see those very first seconds again, of Jake dreaming, you catch that his personality is that of low-level ambition but a desire to explore, to fly... to experience something great. Being a Marine gave him that experience, and it was something tangible and understandable. Hence the loyalty to another military type. Also, he is just a good soldier- likes to/knows how to follow orders from a superior.

3. All I could pick up about the unobtanium and its purpose on Earth is that humans had pretty much raped Earth of all its natural resources: "there is no green," and "the aiens returned to their dying planet." Unobtanium is (maybe?) the answer to Earth's declining environment and economy (which is also mentioned as failing).

4. True, not a lot of info about how Earthlings feel about Pandorans... general attitude seems to be that this operation uncovered an ugly situation and made it very very public. This should also rule out a return from the humans, because of the HUGE loss of life and loss of financial investment (which had been years in the making).

5. The colonel does seem cartoonish. I guess he is of the "never say die" kind. He simply sees everyone who is labeled as "enemy" as exactly that- and thus unworthy of life or compassion. He is also probably heftily rewarded. The military force on Pandora is not actual U.S. military- they are hired guns. They're kinda like the people who enlist because they are looking for a fight- not the thousands of people who serve our country for what they believe in and to support freedom. Also, the money issue again. This is an opportunity for a lot of lower income folk (see: most military members, even nowadays) to make a good chunk of money as their country's economy collapses. But I agree, this movie depicts military personnel poorly, but I think that is the (skewed) point.

6. Yes, the Na'vi are spared certain moral ambiguities. I kept wondering if all those Omatacaya (sp?) warriors ever battled with those other Na'vi tribes. But that would blur the lines of their innocent nature loving personas.

Anyway, I still enjoyed it, even the second time around.


12:57 AM  
Blogger [the palaverist] said...

Yes. Come to think of it, why were the Na'vi such warriors? Their innocent nature-loving ways seemed to involve an awful lot of glorification of killing.

And I don't agree with your theory about the robots and the weapons. It's just sloppy design. A small error by an operator leads to a lost weapon, whereas an integrated weapon could be activated by, say, making your hand into a pointy gun and saying 'Shoot'. (I work in interaction design. Can you tell?)

8:30 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Previous Posts

[vienna teng]
[scattered thoughts about precious]
[the plan, as it unfolds]
[memory, history, and the beatles]
[so what's this korean dance you're learning?]
[visiting my congressman]
[more dancing with the ajummas]
[more on japanese vs. korean coolness]
[make health care a movement]


New York Buddhist Gcal

Please Donate

[Seva Foundation]
[Médicins Sans Frontieres]


Robin's group blog.

Bits of Bliss
Things to be happy about. Add your own!

Blissfully Emparadoxed
T's personal blog.

Kate's l337 Journal
All you ever wanted to know about lung transplants and Star Wars.

La Roja Viaje
A blog about training ESL teachers in Kuwait.

Blog of journalist Miriam Joyce.

Pagan Mom
The trials and tribulations of raising Josh's Pagan godson.

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Polenbergs, ever.

She Changes Everything She Touches
Rebecca's personal blog.