Avatar at Home
Thoughts on Hollywood’s Best Seller
Although Avatar can never be as impressive on small screens as in theaters, and many 3D fans will never fully accept it in 2D, the Oscar-winner has been released for home viewing in the popular package of the moment—a set containing both a Blu-ray disc and a DVD. Even scaled down, Avatar’s virtues remain apparent.
Director James Cameron was always keen to push the limits of technology in films such as The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss and Titanic. Remarkable about Avatar as a technical achievement is the range of emotion expressed through the computer simulations of the blue-skinned, snub-nosed Na’vi, the natives of Cameron’s fantasy planet, Pandora. They are as fully alive as any of Avatar’s human characters. The film moves at a brisk, engaging clip for the most part, and not only in the impressive chase and combat scenes. Unfortunately, Cameron adds many unnecessary minutes to the running time by showing off his technology through a leisurely tour of Pandora’s flora and fauna in a sequence at the two-thirds mark. It’s the movie’s slowest and weakest stretch.
Cameron is also a storyteller who entertains audiences by coaxing them to the edge of their seats. He usually butters his popcorn movies with an idea or two. As several right-wing pundits have noticed, Avatar is subversive to the smug, unreflective patriotism considered normative in the U.S. since Reagan. Avatar has been interpreted as Dancing with Wolves in space and even as a fantasy on America’s loss in Vietnam. In part, it’s an allegory of the Bush years, especially the privatization of war and the pernicious influence of titanic corporations calling government policy and profiting from the results. Avatar essentially depicts Haliburton on another planet, squeezing the natives to exploit natural resources. The hardboiled, film noir style voiceovers by the protagonist, ex-Marine Jake Sullivan (Sam Worthington), strongly implies that flag-waving is wrong in wars fought for greed. Pandora is a panoramic setting for the Na’vi, a culture closely linked to nature and pitted against corporate raiders willing to level the land and slaughter its inhabitants on behalf of shareholders. Avatar poses an interesting alliance of the mystic and the scientific versus the corporate and the militaristic. As the highest grossing movie in history, it signals a shift in consciousness overlooked by a news media fixated on the bellicose ranting of the Tea Party.