• This Movie Made How Much?

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    WBN intern Brett is back, writing about what she knows best–Hollywood. Below is Part I of a two-parter on the absurdities of Avatar.


    I believe that nothing, not even the recent publicity of The Jersey Shore, marks the decline of Western civilization more than the success of the world’s biggest blockbuster movie, James Cameron’s Avatar. I mean yeah, so the special effects were kind of cool and all, but honestly, the story to this movie was like a poorly constructed lesson in race relations designed for five year olds. How this movie managed to rake in the amount of money it did baffles me to this day. Let’s face it folks—the script was nowhere near Terminator 2 or Titanic caliber. Cameron can obviously write a great movie when he needs to, but Avatar is not one of those movies. Why? Don’t get me started.

    Too late, I’m already revved up.

    My main issue with Avatar is the fact that without the whole revolutionary technology thing (which looked strikingly similar to plain ol’ CGI), the movie depended heavily on clichéd, highly romanticized visions of indigenous life. Midway through the movie I was half-expecting Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) to break out into a choreographed wheelchair number or for Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) to start singing to her pet raccoon (note: I was highly disappointed; I might have been satisfied with a Kevin Costner cameo though). Since its release, there have been increasing reports of audience members connecting so deeply with Cameron’s indigenous nirvana that they have begun experiencing the post-Avatar blues. There are actual message boards reading, “Ways to cope with the depression of the dream of Pandora being intangible.” I mean, okay, so I may have experienced this with The X-Files universe in eighth grade, but I was promptly put on anti-depressants. Though the floating and completely illogical mountains of Pandora were cool, would you really want to live in a place where the natives hate you and all the animals try to kill you?

    My other problem with Avatar is that it’s really just one big (albeit pretty) overgeneralization of race relations, corporate consumerism, white capitalism and exploitation. Though Cameron so obviously tries to identify with the primitive other, in doing so he seems to do the exact opposite. By idealizing the native Smurfs (I refuse to call them by their actual name, the Na’vi, and will refer to them purely as the Smurfs for this essay) and villainizing the Western world, Cameron falls victim to the same prey of so many generic Hollywood movies. As humans, it is much easier to classify the world in terms of good versus evil, “them“ versus “us”–we thrive on this kind of order. Oftentimes this is harmless, but most of the time in Hollywood it just leads to racial stereotyping (i.e. the token black guy/Will Smith). In Cameron’s film, it is mostly the latter. He relies on Western ideals of Native Americans to portray his own indigenous Smurfs. They lack technology, follow a very paganistic religion, barter, paint their skin, wear skimpy (yet fashionable!) outfits, believe in superstition, braid their hair and ride horses (well in this case, their equivalent– the flying pteradactyl). Did I mention they sing songs too?! Okay, not really, but they do chant to a giant “Tree of Life” because apparently Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas was too busy for the part. Though Cameron does try to flesh out the Smurfs by inserting a few scenes of them mercy killing a triceratops and bartering their women to the white man, he seems to go out of his way to incorporate any and all clichés of Native Americans he learned in third grade.

    Some would reason this idealization of indigenous culture stems from what is otherwise known as white guilt. Basically, because we cracker jacks screwed over a lot of colored people a long (and not so long) time ago we feel we must correct the injustices of the past by portraying “the others (no, not the Others who know what the numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42  mean, the sociological others)” as a nancy-pancy group of peace-loving, nature-worshipping, peyote smoking hippies and the white man as Satan incarnate. In the movie, Giovanni Ribisi portrays a corporate tycoon obsessed with obtaining a mineral called what else, unobtainium. Earth basically didn’t listen to Al Gore and is running out of natural resources, so they send their military to invade Narnia–sorry, Pandora–and kill all of the Smurfs and Smurfettes (who refer to the white man as, feel free to gag me anytime now, the “Sky People”). Of course the earthlings don’t really give a fuck that there is a giant tree who is, um, God (or some version of it named Ai’wa) because they just want to blow crap up and make corporate profits. Apparently all humans are like this and their inevitable extinction on earth will be due to the fact that they didn’t strip naked and run around the forest talking to their animal friends. Even though the Smurfs are cool enough to connect with God (and have sex) by plugging their hair into crap, their social system is still very inequitable and stratified (I guess Ai’wa/God is a man).

    (To be continued)


    As a contributing member of both The New Movement Improv Theater and the Austin Screenwriters Group, an immense fondness for and love of pop culture starting from an unhealthy age has equipped Brett Fowler with the skills necessary to avoid facing reality. One day she hopes to finally end her six-year-long “journey of self-discovery” at the University of Texas at Ausin and funnel her liberal arts degree into a screenwriting career, or at the very least, gainful unemployment.

    In her spare time (when not making preparations for the inevitable zombie apocalypse), Brett enjoys volunteering at the local animal shelter, watching marathons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Battlestar Galactica, and, of course, writing.

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    David Kassin Fried

    When I tell people why Avatar sucked, I can do it one word: unobtanium. That’s the substance the earth people were after.

    Seriously, Academy? You’re gonna nominate “unobtanium” for an Oscar? You’ve gotta be kidding me.

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