Friday, January 29, 2010

Avatar (2009)

— SPOILER ALERT — I intend to discuss the ending and certain key elements of the movie while I explore what I believe they imply.

The movie is excellent and gets 5 full and unabashed smilies. So go see it and then see if you agree with my somewhat grim assessment….

AGAIN — SPOILERS AHEAD — do not read this if you haven’t seen the movie….





Ok, then I will assume that if you are reading this that you have seen the movie and still have some curiosity about what I have to say. First, a rave — probably identical to nearly every other rave that floats on the internet ethers — the movie is gorgeous! The sound/ music is compelling, not too loud or brash — try listening to Batman or Transformers without ear plugs! The villain menaces wonderfully. And the setups for future events telegraph nicely.

Well, I guess that last one may not exactly be a total positive. Toward the end when Ripley, er, whatever Sigourney Weaver’s character is called, has her not exactly successful encounter with the Tree of Souls it’s pretty obvious that Our Noble Hero (hereafter known as ONH-Big Blue) will have his hour in the spaghetti pot. And even before that when the Pretty Young Blue Thing shows ONH-Big Blue the skull of a Big Nasty Flying Thingee and reports that her Great-Great, et-cetera Grand father had tamed one…. Well, it seemed pretty obvious that ONH-Big Blue would have to duplicate the effort.

But the setups work (despite my somewhat sarcastic remarks) in that when the obvious does play out it’s actually pretty nifty and not overdone (thank you very much).

No, my concern for the movie has to do with the Glorious Noble Savage Living in Paradise theme. Or, as I prefer to think of it: Custer’s Last Stand from the winner’s perspective. That’s (part of) the premise. But the victory against presidential hopeful George C was the last victory and Wounded Knee followed (oops!).

But let’s go back further. The movie has a direct parallel to even earlier events and people.

In the late 1700s/ early 1800s the scourge of the west (by which I mean western Ohio) was a fellow named Simon Girty. He, not unlike ONH-Big Blue, had joined with the native peoples against his anglo ancestry. The story is actually pretty complex and involves Simon spending most of his childhood among the Seneca peoples and then deciding to stay loyal to the British king during the American War of Independence. Since he had first joined with the colonials in revolt he found his name associated with traitors (think Benedict Arnold).

Simon spent a good part of his life either living with or socializing with the native Americans (think a ‘bad’ version of Hawkeye of the Leatherstocking Tales), although his involvement in combat between native peoples and anglos seems to have been exaggerated.

But, anyway… back to ONH-Big Blue. He went native and definitely assisted in warfare against the ‘nasty’ human invaders - the Sky People. And we cheer him on. Whoopee! Knock another of them there sky machines out of the air….

And the good guys won…. Indeed we see the corporate drones and their (surviving) mercenaries shuffling in humiliation onto transporters back to… well wherever they came from (Earth is described as a destroyed wreck, so I wonder if that’s their home base). And the natives go back to singing and swaying in the Mamma Tree place. And everybody (who wasn’t slaughtered in the earlier battle) lives happily ever after….

Or do they?

Early on the mineral sought by the corporates was valued at about a million dollars a pound. I might have suggested verisimilitude and have said a million euros or, more likely, a million yuan, but let’s not quibble. Whatever the value it’s enough to have an army of mercenaries complete with gunships, helicopters (or whatever they were), transporters and nifty big mean walking armor monster thingees. And then there were the REALLY BIG machines they used to dig dirt and whack trees. Lots of stuff that must have cost a few yuan!

And despite all this expense it’s safe to assume the enterprise of mining this place still made a profit, since we hear the magic phrase ‘quarterly profits’ at least once.

Ok, now think back to Simon Girty and his native friends…. They did pretty well for a while, but eventually Civilization Through Superior Firepower won out over the Noble Savage.

And, hmm, now that I think about it, howcum the Sky People hadn’t already just exterminated the indigenous people with disease? We Americans did it with gifts of blankets taken from smallpox victims beds beginning back in the 1600s, so why not just use that universal expedient. It’s simple. It works - and in people with no immunity it REALLY works (if memory serves, the native population of North America was estimated to be about 25 million in 1491 and less than 6 million by about 1700 - give or take about 50% because I’m too lazy to look things up, but you get the drift….). And most important it has deniability - first give everyone a fatal disease and then send doctors to treat them (not cure them, of course, that would be crazy, but, yea, treat them….).

So, now back to our beautiful blue folk….

Wanna put odds on how the sequel spins out? Not the gazillion dollar one Jim Cameron may (or may not) have in mind, but the one that tells what actually happened to the poor bastards.

A million yuan a pound is a lot of temptation to come back for a visit. And this time bring some SERIOUS firepower!

I’m just sayin.’

5 Smilies out of 5.

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