The Magazine


Another spectacle hits an iceberg and sinks.

Dec 28, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 15 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
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Directed by James Cameron

Avatar, we are told, does things with cameras and computers and actors that have never been done before. Its painstaking combination of real-life action and animation has, we are told, taken cinema to a new level. It cost anywhere from $328 million to $500 million, we are told, and took four years to make. It is a breakthrough, we are told, the boldest step into the future of filmmaking, an unparalleled achievement.

What they didn't tell us is that Avatar is blitheringly stupid; indeed, it's among the dumbest movies I've ever seen. Avatar is an undigested mass of clichés nearly three hours in length taken directly from the revisionist westerns of the 1960s-the ones in which the Indians became the good guys and the Americans the bad guys. Only here the West is a planet called Pandora, the time is the 22nd century rather than the 19th, and the Indians have blue skin and tails, and are 10 feet tall.

An American soldier named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is sent to make friends with the blue people. To effect this, scientists download his consciousness into a 10-foot-tall blue body. Jake discovers that the natives are wonderful in every possible way. They are so green it's too bad their skin has to be blue. They're hunters and they kill animals, but after they do so, they cry and say it's sad. Which only demonstrates their superiority. Plus they have (I'm not kidding) fiber-optic cables coming out of their patooties that allow them to plug into animals and control them. Now, that just seems wrong-I mean, why should they get to control the pterodactyls? Why don't the pterodactyls control them? This kind of biped-centrism is just another form of imperialist racism, in my opinion.

Like the Keebler elves, the Blue People all live in a big tree together and they go to church at another big tree, under which (we learn) lives Mother Earth, only since it isn't earth, she isn't called Mother Earth, but the Great Mother or something like that. Meanwhile, back among the humans at their base camp, there's a big fight. The scruffy scientists, led by Sigourney Weaver, want to learn, learn, learn about the wonders of the planet and the people and Mother Earth and the big tree and the pterodactyls.
But the scientists work for an evil corporation (natch) and the evil corporation is only there because it wants-you can write the rest; but I will, just for the sake of expedience-to exploit the planet's natural resources. In particular, it wants to exploit a mineral called (again no kidding) unobtainium. And it turns out there's a big deposit of unobtainium under the Keebler Elf Tree. They want the elves to move.

Getting them to move is Jake Sully's job. And he does earn their trust, even though the leader of their tribe says, "His alien scent offends my nose!" (The line is translated from their nonexistent language with subtitles that are designed to look like the men's room signs at an Indian casino.) The Blue People, in particular the contemptuous and lovely Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), show him their wondrous ways. But before he can discuss hiring Allied Van Lines with them, the Evil Corporation intervenes.

It is run by an evil Yuppie, and the Yuppie's security is provided by an evil Marine. And for no good reason other than to get the movie into its second act, they decide to stage a military attack on the Elf Tree, thus blowing the zillions of dollars they sank into the project of making Jake Sully into a Blue Person rather than waiting a couple of weeks.

Oy, the suffering that ensues, all for some lousy unobtainium! Oy, the destruction! You can hear writer-director James Cameron weeping over his special-effects computer as the bad humans he created commit this terrible atrocity against the Blue People who don't exist. As for me, I was reminded of Oscar Wilde's immortal crack about Charles Dickens's tears as he killed off the child heroine of his Old Curiosity Shop: "It would take a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing."

The only salvation for Pandora lies with our man Jake Sully turning into the leader of the blue-skinned people, rallying them to the cause of protecting their planet against the Evil Corporation. This, too, is unacceptably paternalistic, in my view; after all, why should giant blue people have to learn these things from a shrimpy white guy who doesn't even have a tail or built-in Skype?