AVATAR

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AVATAR (with variations for IMAX and 3-D and crediting it to James Cameron). James Cameron, dir., script, producer (1 of 7), editor (1 of 3) — "auteur." USA/UK: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 2009 (see IMDb for complexities of production and distribution).

Significant here not for its technological innovations in movie-making but for its recycling familiar motifs in its story-telling. At the core of the film is the idea of the avatar: in this case a grown humanoid body a human «inhabits» remotely while in a device like an old MRI machine, for a central image of a human inside a cybernetic device getting great freedom of movement — the human protagonist is crippled and can't use his legs — in an alternative world, like cyberspace, only very real and biologically lush. See for a dialog with earlier films and fiction, including Anne McCaffrey's "Brain and Brawn" stories, the cowboy Western and "Conquest of the [US] West" films — usually, Indian killing (Dances with Wolves (1990) / A Man Called Horse (1970) — SciFi B movies, at least one more respectable SF film, and Vietnam movies such as Apocalypse Now! (1979), and maybe in fiction Ursula K. Le Guin's The Word for World Is Forest (1972) and "Vaster than Empires and More Slow" (1971). Note especially JC and Gale Anne Hurd's ALIENS (1986). In AVATAR we see again "The [greedy, nefarious] Company," served by a somewhat more independent Colonial Marines, and an ethnized character with WASPish name and attitudes: Giovanni Ribisi's Parker Selfridge in AVATAR corresponding to Paul Reiser's Carter Burke in ALIENS. And we see again Marines with machines against alien locals, but with major differences. In AVATAR the resident aliens are indigenous and highly organic, in touch with a beneficent Nature (as a goddess associated with their moon-world, called by the Terrans, "Pandora" ["All-Giver"]) — as opposed to the Aliens of ALIENS as invaders themselves and a disturbing mixture of organic and mechanical, representing small "n" nature as really, really dangerous. In ALIENS, the final climax scene has heroic female human Ripley fighting the Alien Queen aided by the cybernetic exoskeleton of a Power Loader: a working stiff's device used by Marine grunts. AVATAR flips this in a climax that features heroic native female, Neytiri, nearly naked and armed only with low-tech weapons — riding a previously rampaging beast — going against relatively villainous Colonel Miles Quaritch, threatening the protagonists in a device that's like a multiple cross of Ripley's Power Loader, R. A. Heinlein's and Joe Haldeman's power suits, Haldeman's "soldier boys" and "robot jox" — and their high-tech relatives. Note also gigantic, remote-operated bulldozers smashing trees, and helicopter-like airships taking out the home tree of the featured native tribe. The ultimate goal of the imperialism and attempted ecocide, of displacing the natives onto a Trail of Tears: the mineral wealth of "unobtainium" (a serious joke), which can stand in for the mineral wealth of one's choice (gold, uranium, oil, diamonds). The Terrans are called "Sky People" by the Pandoran natives (the Na'vi), people who live lightly on the land and are in contact with three of the four ancient elements — fire is more a Terran thing — but very much including their earth; so CAUTION: the film is participating in a lot of cultural and political battles, including less obvious ones like Father Sky vs. Mother Earth.

Also, sort of caution: assorted people on the web, and Don Riggs on the ListServ of the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts (iafa-l@lists.iafa.org) have suggested that AVATAR is very close to Poul Anderson's 1957 short story "Call Me Joe".[1] [2] For a final note of caution: Andrew Gordon and Hernan Vera argue for AVATAR as a White racist messiah fantasy, "Dances with Aliens".[3] See also David Broder's "The Messiah Complex," New York Times 7 Jan. 2010.[4] For issues of religion and technology in AVATAR, see Beth Davies-Stofka, "Avatar: Eternal Life?".[5]


5. DRAMA, RDE, 18-19, 31/XII/09, 5/I/10