Random Musings: Dec. 23, 2009

      I went to a midnight showing of Avatar Dec. 18 and enjoyed it. I didn’t know the film would be in 3-D, so that was a bonus.

     Overall, I liked it, but it seemed too stark in delineating good (the native Na’vi, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), and her science team) and evil (the corporation seeking to exploit natural resources on the moon where the Na’vi live, and displace the indigenous population in the process). And why does the corporation want the McGuffin that happens to be deposited in huge quantities below the land where the Na’vi live? To make a profit. Plain and simple.

     Yes, I believe there’s some very brief discussion of it being important in helping to solve an energy crisis, but more emphasis is put on profit.

     Paraplegic ex-marine Sully volunteers to take his dead brother’s place in the Avatar Program. In addition to working for Augustine, he soon finds himself also secretly reporting to Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who wants Sully to contact the natives via the Avatar Program, gain their trust and convince them to relocate. Or if he can’t do that, at least learn information of military value so Quaritch can launch a successful attack. If he agrees, Quaritch promises, Sully will receive the presumably highly expensive operation(s) necessary to restore his legs to full use.

     The Avatar Program allows a person’s consciousness to remotely animate a specially grown body that looks Na’vi, but also contains human DNA, so that he can interact with the Na’vi, as well as breathe the otherwise toxic atmosphere. In Sully’s case, he was also able to “walk” again while in his Avatar body.

     During his months with the Na’vi, Sully takes a page from Lt. John Dunbar in Dances With Wolves and ends up becoming assimilated into their culture and ultimately choosing to defend their way of life against Col. Quaritch and the corporation. An attitude shared by Augustine’s team and at least one member of the military, Trudy Chacon (Michelle Rodriquez).

     Despite initially contacting the Na’vi under false pretenses, Sully is unquestionably one of the good guys (as are and his allies), while Quaritch and the corporation are the bad guys. But consider this: What if this stuff the corporation sought was desperately needed to save lives back on Earth? Say it contains the necessary ingredients to generate a cure for a pandemic that threatens to annihilate the human species? And say also that military actions taken by Quaritch are done reluctantly, and because he feels he has no choice, not (as was the case in the film) because he doesn’t give a damn about those (apparently) less powerful than him?

     Sure, there are people like that in real life (known as “bullies”), so it’s not as if a character like Col. Quaritch is completely unrealistic. Even so, imagine how much better the story would have been if pretty much everyone had been acting with the best of intentions. The Na’vi are protecting their home, their way of life, and perhaps their very existence; and the humans are desperate to save their own species as well. In such a scenario- coupled with roadblocks caused by cultural differences and communication difficulties- we’d wonder whether some mutual understanding could be reached before it was too late. In that case, we wouldn’t simply have a situation where Sully’s primary motivation for trying to gain the trust of the Na’vi is so he can regain the use of his legs, but because he’s a skilled negotiator and people person sent in with honorable intentions.

     And if  the material the humans sought was needed for emergency medicinal purposes, we might have seen debates among the Na’vi as to whether they should help these strange aliens from Earth. These debates might have centered around initial misunderstandings, and the question of whether they could be cleared up before it was too late.

     In the film as shown, however, the corporation and the military only pay lip service to any attempts at communication with the Na’vi. Because, again, they want to exploit a natural resource for mainly monetary gain. Why would the Na’vi want to help them in that case?

     At the very least, if Col. Quaritch must be a recalcitrant a——- then the film should have let his boss, Carter Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), and/or others representing the corporation be more reasonable. Or vice versa. Which might be even more interesting. In many ways, as depicted in the film, Quaritch is a straw-man character, set up to be hated and despised, so audiences would presumably enjoy his eventual comeuppance.

     For the most part, Avatar is a good film, but as has often been said, science fiction is the literature of ideas. Instead of giving us a stark good vs. evil situation of corporate greed going up against an indigenous population for the sake of a few bucks, a storyline where all parties are endeavoring to save lives (and preserve cultures) would have given audiences food for thought.


Copyright 2009 Patrick Keating


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