By Jim Smith
They say that capitalism will sell anything – even ideas or arms designed to bring it down – as long as it makes someone a profit. Capitalism’s interest in making a buck was confirmed with the release of Avatar, a profoundly anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist film. Some say as much as half a billion dollars was sunk into making the film and promoting it.
Avatar is a “breakthrough” film in a number of ways. Technically, it is a cut above anything else. It creates an imaginary planet, and makes it believable. It is the Star Wars of the twenty tens. It creates a new industry for 3D films and 3D TVs. The technology has been around a long time but has never had a film worth seeing for reasons other than the special effects.
Politically, Avatar is a breakthrough film because it is the first major film in at least 10 years to be anti-military and to support those who the Bush administration would call terrorists. Of course, this criticism could not take place in the here and now, no matter what those who think this is a free country say. It had to take place in the future and in a different solar system. No matter. Not since Nov. 11, 2001, when Karl Rove laid down the law to Hollywood moguls that they must fall in line with the war on terror has there been anything like Avatar, except for small budget films and subtle criticism.
Director James Cameron said filming could have begun ten years ago, but that he wanted to let technology catch up with his vision of the film. Just as plausible is that he and his backers did not believe this film could have been made under the Bush regime, nor could it have gotten the audience that is now flocking to it.
In Avatar, the Marines are actually ex-Marines (a distinction that could be missed by the average moviegoer) who work for a Blackwater-type mercenary group in service to a giant corporation that is strip mining the moon called Pandora. It is a scenario much like the theft of the Black Hills, sacred to the Sioux, or, more recently, the theft of oil from Iraqis. The worldwide petroleum corporations again have their talons on oil resources that had been nationalized by Iraq and were used to pay for free college education, health care and other benefits.
A couple of the Marines in Avatar reminisce about their battles in Venezuela. “That was quite a fight,” or words to that effect, says one. Venezuela’s president, of course, is Hugo Chavez, who is the leader of the anti-imperialist movement in Latin America. Marines are currently in the neighboring country of Colombia attempting to destroy the jungle-dwelling insurgents of that country. The U.S. in currently planning seven new military bases in that country.
This is not a depressing film, even though Marines are merrily bombing and shooting the indigneous Na’vi humanoids. Not only are some of the scientists on the Na’vi’s side, particularly Dr. Grace Augustine, played by Sigourney Weaver who is Avatar’s only well-known star. In addition, several of the mercenaries go over to the Na’vi’s side, including Sam Worthington, who plays the pivotal role of wheelchair-bound Jake Sully. A Latina helicopter gunship pilot, Trudy Chacon (Michelle Rodriguez) also breaks ranks with her commanding officer. What will the troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Columbia think about this?
Avatar is clearly the brainchild of Canadian director and writer James Cameron, who studied at Roger Corman’s studio in Venice and co-founded the visual effects company Digital Domain, which is located at 300 Rose Avenue. He went on to direct a number of successful feature films, including Titanic, The Terminator and Aliens, among others. Cameron has acknowledged that the film, Dances with Wolves, bears a parallel to Avatar, since they are both films about the destruction of indigenous peoples by the U.S.
Cameron’s creation of a non-industrial, but wise society among the Na’vi is a remarkable achievement. At one stroke he creates sympathy for a “primitive” and alien people and a strong sense of environmental protection.
My only reservation about Avatar while watching it was thinking about all the action toys that would be created and sold (Capitalism wins again). Can a jungle theme park at Disney World be far behind? And if you were worried, two sequels are already planned. This is indeed the Star Wars of the 2010s.
Go see it, and act accordingly.