Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What the fuss?

My bloghounds may be wondering why I didn't write a review of James Cameron's ballyhooed blockbuster Avatar. Truth be told, I wasn't as blown away by the movie as most people were (including the two I saw it with, who liked it so much they went to see it a second time, in 3D). I was very impressed with the stunning visuals of course, and I give props to Cameron for producing such a spectacle of a film, combining state-of-the-art digital effects and cinematography to create a thoroughly believable and beautiful world of blue-skinned humanoids and alien flora and fauna. However, as a writer, I tend to put more weight in the narrative elements over the visual elements, and Avatar simply did not have a compelling, original enough plot (Disney's Pocahontas, anyone?) for me to take it seriously. The screenplay, penned by Cameron himself, was weak, and a lot of lines came off as lame, doing a disservice to what is an otherwise well-made movie. Which is not to say I did not enjoy it-- I did. Though the story was disappointing, the artistry more than compensated for it, and I do believe with Avatar, Cameron has taken movie-making standards up to an entirely new level, which is an awesome achievement in itself.

All that said, I find all the flak Avatar's been getting kind of ridiculous. In spite of breaking box office records and receiving critical acclaim, Cameron's opus has come under fire for different reasons. Some critics claim it's "racist", American conservatives bash it for being "anti-military", and now the Vatican is criticizing Avatar for leaning towards what the Pope calls "neo-paganism". I do see how the movie can be viewed as having racist undertones, or conveying anti-war sentiments, or even-- for the sake of humoring the old dudes who run the Catholic Church-- promoting nature as "a divinity to worship". But all this backlash just makes me think, "jeez, lighten up fellas!" These same critics blasting Avatar are the kind of nitpickers who could find politically incorrect details in children's nursery rhymes or in the nutritional content table on the back of a cereal box. In these supposedly enlightened times we live in, no one can say or write or do anything without running the risk of being labeled offensive in some way. If you don't support the war on terror, you're being unpatriotic.
If you eat veal, you condone cruelty to animals. If you wear Nikes, you're funding child labor in some Third World Asian nation. If you refuse to let your date pay for her dinner, you're sexist. If you were rooting for Kris Allen over Adam Lambert during last season's American Idol, you're homophobic.

Even if James Cameron had purposely set out to make a racist, anti-imperialist, anti-military, neo-pagan movie (just like he had set out to make a blatantly anti-iceberg movie when he filmed Titanic), let's not lose sight of the fact that IT'S A MOVIE. Not everyone who watches it would be so stupid or overly sensitive as to mistake it for propaganda or a frickin' documentary. Of course there are exaggerations and caricatures. Of course certain liberties are taken. Of course there's a "message". But really, how many idiots stepped out of an IMAX theater brainwashed by Avatar into devoting their lives to save the Amazon rainforests? Stripped of its bad dialogue, high-flying action sequences, hunky leading man (P.S. I love you Sam Worthington), and
ultra-fancy special effects, Avatar is merely James Cameron's idea of a good movie that would make millions. Let's save the intellectual and political debates for issues pertaining to the real, not the reel, world, shall we?


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