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According to Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi),
“This is why we’re here; because this little gray rock sells for twenty million a kilo.”
In essence that’s actually not too far from the truth for it could be suggested that it’s not really merit that has made Avatar the biggest grossing film of all time but rather the hoopla surrounding the film and the history of Cameron as a filmmaker. His films have their admirers but Titanic, True Lies, The Terminator, The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and now Avatar all point to a director of ideas rather than sheer skill or ability. History may say that he is a major filmmaker but even with the truckload of Oscars and gazillions in cash one surely must look at the product and judge it for it what it is and in Avatar’s case, as with his other films, there’s not much there beyond some pretty mind-blowing images.
Sheer size does not a great film make and whilst it may blind some to the minutiae of the piece most will surely be able to acknowledge that nothing in Avatar is new and as entertaining as it may be it is as about original as the formula followed on television shopping networks or on news broadcasts. All begin with a bang to grab you in and then slowly reveal each new part slightly less important than the first. The thing with Avatar though is that even with a formulaic structure it couldn’t find anything new to say within that structure. The NPR raised interesting questions about the films from which it is suggested to have borrowed i.e. Pocahontas, The Last Of The Mohicans, WALL-E, Dances With Wolves and Lawrence Of Arabia. Ulaby and Chace in their article go on to point out that once again the inherent colonialist fantasy of white films about the invasion of minorities brings nothing more than a pat on the back to make us all feel okay. And whilst the film is an entertainment this cannot surely be excused for the inherent racism that is evident within Avatar.
Look beyond the fact that he bludgeons white Capitalism with as blunt an axe as he can, he finds a saviour for the minority in the world of those very same white Capitalists who masquerades and then learns from the minority in question. It’s always going to be a problem when a film about the bringing of trauma upon a minority is made by someone who belongs to that very majority who is bringing the trauma which is unfortunate because as much as the minority is born into their situation so too are those who form part of the majority. What causes the main problem, however, is the sheer arrogance and sense of self-righteousness Cameron manages to inject into his world of Pandora.
This isn’t a film that should be remembered for Cameron but rather his money which has managed to obviously bring some of the most talented technical staff in the business to the fore. Avatar is a technical marvel as the images that present themselves are beyond extraordinary but they’re failed by nearly everything else on show. Beyond Zoe Saldana, who is quite extraordinary as Neytiri, the cast on the whole sits firmly in the realm of bland bordering downright bad, with both Worthington and an overwrought Lang embarrassingly awful as the main protagonists representing the worlds of good and evil.
How people are falling for this film beyond its roots in pure entertainment is beyond this viewer but perhaps if they’re interested in truly looking at the effect of Capitalism, environmental degradation, colonisation and cultural putrefaction they should look beyond the world of Hollywood and let their eyes, ears and minds wander beyond the words of a visually talented hack. Avatar isn’t the dawn of a new age; it’s merely a borrowing of many, many things that have come before.