Let me start this post by saying that I actually enjoyed Avatar quite a bit. It’s dumb and kinda hack, but it’s also a lot of fun and looks gorgeous. It’s like the golden retriever of movies. But I thought both of these articles were incredibly well-written criticisms the many many problems with the movie, like how its characters are ridiculously shallow, or how it’s basically a white man’s race fantasy. And like this problem:
They are effing blue cat people.
Click to read on, it’s interesting stuff. (Spoilers ahead)
Sam Strange over at Chud writes reviews of movies as if he were the filmmaker defending his own movie, so his Avatar review is hilarious. Listen to him describe the complexity of these characters:
Look, I realize these lines are pretty broadly drawn. The problem is that good writing costs money. We have this down to a science, now. Every dimension of pathos a character exhibits will cost you $25 million in ticket sales. Normally, you try to spend this on one or two 3-D characters, with everyone else in the film getting the 1-D treatment: naggy wives, jealous little brothers, evil lawyers, strict judges, noble teachers, etc. But now we’re spending Dimension money on images, too. As a result, your 3-D characters have to be knocked down to 2-D if you want to make money. But because this movie is 3-D out the ass, I had to go 1-D across the board. Sorry. Economically, the more visually complex the characters, the more their souls look like crayon smiley faces.
Annalee Newitz at io9 has harsher words for Avatar. She points out that the movie hardly needed the Jake Sully character at all, and it would have been just as good of a movie if a Na’vi had decided to take on the humans, rather than a human in Na’vi clothing. But nope, we needed to see a “normal” person inhabiting a “native” person’s body in order to connect. Annalee breaks down both Avatar and District 9 thusly (I added the italics):
Think of it this way. Avatar is a fantasy about ceasing to be white, giving up the old human meatsack to join the blue people, but never losing white privilege. Jake never really knows what it’s like to be a Na’vi because he always has the option to switch back into human mode. Interestingly, Wikus in District 9 learns a very different lesson. He’s becoming alien and he can’t go back. He has no other choice but to live in the slums and eat catfood. And guess what? He really hates it. He helps his alien buddy to escape Earth solely because he’s hoping the guy will come back in a few years with a “cure” for his alienness. When whites fantasize about becoming other races, it’s only fun if they can blithely ignore the fundamental experience of being an oppressed racial group. Which is that you are oppressed, and nobody will let you be a leader of anything.
It’s a big dumb fun action movie, but lest we never forget, these movies all have the same pattern of a white man being accepted by native folk, becoming their leader, and fighting their own people to help the natives. Because the only way to really help racism is to take over the natives…for their own good. To the movie theater!