Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The Week Of Trying To Say Anything In The Least Bit Interesting About Avatar, Day 4: Avatar, or On Making A Statement
Avatar is a movie about Westerners going to a place where there are lots of native people and fucking their shit up for oil/land/gold/etc. You think I am being lazy by just saying the white people are after whatever, but Cameron actually never really clarifies this himself, using a common sci-fi shorthand for "I will give this thing a name at a later date", so what do you want me to do?
Anyway at one point Stephen Lang's character (who is basically the exact opposite of Stephen Lang's character in The Men Who Stare at Goats, and yet looks exactly the same, as he is also played by Stephen Lang, which I actually found consistently interesting within the context of the movie, such is the dearth of intentionally interesting content within the context of Avatar) is giving a speech to his goons about what stupid tree-dwelling backward-ass idiots they are about to wipe the floor with. Everyone laughs when Stephen Lang characterises these people as having ridiculous boogedy-boo cosmic spiritual notions they cling to! Everyone cheers when Stephen Lang proposes a military attack that will teach these primitive forest-people the meaning of Western military might!
Avatar was filmed largely in Wellington, and the extras casting was mainly done in Wellington. The extras casting was mainly tasked with filling the brief of "really tough looking dudes". In New Zealand this basically amounts to filling a room with Maori folks.
Now, I'm not saying it is bad to ask people to re-enact in a science-fiction setting the exact attitude of the dudes who fucked shit up for their ancestors. That is the last thing I am saying. I am often frustrated when people act like you should have some sort of problem with pretending to espouse an attitude you disagree with, for the purposes of dramatising a narrative that explicitly decries that attitude and the people that hold it.
Nobody ever says to the actresses on The L Word, "you should not say those terrible things about lesbians and/or women", because most of the actresses on The L Word are themselves lesbians and/or women, and it's understood that they are intentionally playing out a dramatic narrative that will ultimately be sympathetic to views they hold in real life. But there is a corollary to this. Wwhen Brendan Fraser plays an idiot, people don't say "there is that nice man from Gods and Monsters saying something interesting about the perception of intelligence in our society"; they say, "what an idiot".
Avatar marks the first time James Cameron has explicitly tried to talk about race (which is impressive, as he made a movie about an Austrian ubermensch beating the shit out of every Arab in the world except Art Malik). His statements about race are basically very juvenile and well-meaning if painfully ill-thought-out, and as such they make you feel a bit ill, but then so do the unreal blue gumby-cat-men lolloping about the place. And it's about time James Cameron made a juvenile and well-meaning if painfully ill-thought-out movie about race, because Titanic was a desperately juvenile and well-meaning if painfully ill-thought-out movie about class, and he has this common theme running through his movies of "chicks kick ass, as long as they are basically dudes with titties for Michael Beihn to fondle" (which, obviously, is a fairly juvenile and well-meaning if painfully ill-thought-out position to take re: gender). Basically in the Brendan Fraser analogy, James Cameron is Encino Man.
It is things like this that remind me that James Cameron has always been an adorable dolt.