[ExI] Avatar: misanthropy in three dimensions

Emlyn emlynoregan at gmail.com
Sat Jan 9 20:51:17 UTC 2010

2010/1/10 Max More <max at maxmore.com>:
> Avatar: misanthropy in three dimensions
> http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/earticle/7895/
> -- Comments from anyone who has seen the movie? (I haven't yet.)
> Max

Slight spoilers ahead, although spoilers don't really matter with
regard to this movie.

First, see the movie, in 3D. Disregard all the reviews, and just go
see it. When people say "the effects are great", they are seriously
underselling. What makes Avatar such a monumental achievement is the
animated fantasy world (Pandora), which outstrips anything we've seen
before in terms of sheer visual lushness, creativity, imagination,
beauty. Clearly, it's the best work of the best people using the best
technology money can buy. The story could have been about how great it
was to club baby seals, and everyone would still rave about it. See
it, and be proud to live in 2010.

(A slight amendment to this; my wife was unimpressed with it. She's
not really a visual person, she's primarily aural mode. There's
nothing in this movie for aural people)

Regarding the story, you really can't read as much into it as this
reviewer. It's skeletal. I think really there's so much meat on the
bones of the setting, the visual environment, that they just couldn't
afford to also tell a sophisticated story; you'd just not be able to
take it in. Also, it's a movie designed for mass appeal, so the story
is intentionally dumbed down. Even so, it's too much for some people;
a friend was telling me that he sat in front of a woman who kept going
"who's that, why are they doing that?" all the way through; she
couldn't understand the correspondence between the humans and their

The genre is fantasy action movie. It's got a science fiction setting,
including elements with amazing potential, and mostly wastes all of
that. As an action movie, it needs that coarse "here's the hero,
here's the problem, here's the point of no return, now let's fight".
The plot itself, as many have said, is Pocahontas / Dances with Wolves
/ The Last Samurai, etc, except that the native people win in the end.
In fact, I'd say the biggest foil to that reviewer's complaint about
the misanthropy is that you can't really believe the ending, because
we know from our history that it just doesn't work that way - I
imagined them being nuked from orbit 5 minutes after the end of the

The misanthropy charge generally; it misses the point. In all the
films that the reviewer mentions (and films like it), the point is not
that humans are bad, and  other stuff is good. It's more that the
class of things we think of as people is larger than just those who
look like and are encultured like us. To get that point across, the
story tellers juxtapose people unlike us, with people like us, making
the former the good guys and the latter the bad guys, to say to us
that we should judge people by their behaviour, not by their tribal
affiliations. It's a very straightforward left-oriented message (vs
the right's intuitions about kinship, duty, loyalty, which are all
about in-group).

But generally it's a bit embarrassing to be overly offended or
enthused by this story. It's just not got enough substance for that.
Complain about the lack of sophistication (Movie in 3D, story in 2D),
but the politics? Really?


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