Since it is the best 3D movie since 3D was invented and will probably go down in cinematic history alongside Citizen Kane, the paragon of cinematography in general, everyone is talking about Avatar. While I doubt – nay, know – my review won’t matter when that happens, why should I miss my chance to hop on the bandwagon?
Which bandwagon? Good question. There seem to be two when it comes to the movie Avatar. One is full of those afraid of missing an opportunity to be a canon-writer and those wishing to be the smartest guys in the room. You know, those who knew, despite all the brew ha ha, that it would amount to nothing after all.
Both points of view have their merits. As I’ve hinted, there’s no denying the technical wonder that is the world of Avatar. And anyone who has ever seen Dances with Wolves can’t deny the re-hashed storyline: a hero on a greedy mission from the conquering West falls in love with the simpler ways and beautiful land of the native people. This love is symbolized and sealed in a marriage, tears him in two when confronted with his origin but ultimately conquers all.
But wasn’t that a great story? How many times has Romeo and Juliet been re-hashed? Or The Merchant of Venice or The Taming of the Shrew? Those were great stories, too. So great, in fact, it’s difficult to not re-tell them. Just as in real-life stories, history tends to repeat itself. Art begets more art.
Yes, for art to be good art, it should have some element of originality. But it should also reveal a universal truth. Aye, there’s the rub. Some do not like the supposed truth in the story of the Sky People, an obvious stand-in for Westerners, not being able to see the forest for the ore. (Earth’s people are called Sky People by alien planet Pandora’s natives, the Na’vi; the humans from Earth are seeking a valuable metal lying under an ancient tree, in which the Na’vi live.)
This is partially James Cameron’s fault for trying too hard to make this moral hit home. It has been observed that the film could be a commentary on what the U.S. is doing in the Middle East. The ore, obviously, represents oil. The problem with this parallel is the forest of Pandora is nothing like the desert of the Middle East and the nature-loving Na’vi are nothing like our peers on the Eurasian continent. Movie viewers reject the message because it is false.
It would be more tragic if the U.S. government were using the military to aid contractors in the procurement of natural resources in a beautiful rain forest. It would be even more tragic if the rain forest were home to a unique indigenous people who lived in perfect balance with their environment and not only that but held sacred reverence regarding their home.
And that is the tragedy in this fantasy. And it is absolutely why it brought tears to my eyes several times. If you are able to look past the out of place political commentary (We have other movies to do that and do it better.) – which is easily done since Cameron does do storytelling very well by creating interesting characters, delving into their minds and motives, and using special effects not to dazzle but to draw the viewer in – and on its own merit, the story is fantastically tragic and moving.
Then again, I always did cry at that last scene in Dances with Wolves.