James Cameron's latest cinematic offering, "Avatar," is an achievement in computer-generated animation. But story wise, the movie was a tour de force of clichés.
It was like going on a date with Carrie Prejean - all looks and no substance.
"Avatar" is basically "Dances With Wolves" 150 years into the future and on another planet. It's the tired premise of the Euro-white world coming into contact with an alien culture, with the intent of destroying it out of greed and domination. Out of this emerges the paradox of the lone white individual sent in to gather intel on the aliens, only to become sympathetic and eventually become one of them.
This is "Avatar" in a nutshell; nothing new or groundbreaking except for the special effects, which themselves were worth the admission price. The story takes place in the world of Pandora, where the inhabitants - called the Na'vi - dwell in a Garden of Eden-like lush paradise. The planet is dominated by Earth and the inhabitants sit on a gold mine of a substance called "Unobtainium.' Crippled Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is sent on a special mission to accompany hippie scientist Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver.)
Since the planet is toxic to humans, they can travel only through their "avatars" - bodies of Na'vi produced from a hybrid of human and Na'vi DNA - which come alive and are operated by the user via remote control.
During a scientific expedition, Sully gets separated, comes into contact with the Na'vi after being saved from attack by the beautiful Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), falls in love with her, becomes part of her tribe, learns its ways and in the climactic ending, turns against his kind and fights for the Na'vi against the forces of American aggression in the form of Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) who epitomizes all that's Aryan and genocidal.
And so on and so forth, etc., ad nauseum.
The central theme is therefore that of the transformative white man, and the setting is very obviously influenced by the 2003 invasion/occupation of Iraq, with references to "shock and awe" and "preemptive ztrike." "Unobtainium" was a clear reference to oil and resource control was crucial to the racist thinking underlying the war on the Na'vi.
As a white liberal fantasy, it's hemmed in by the limitations of its white liberalism. The movie comes from the white point of view and is concerned with white redemption while overly romanticizing the natives, who resemble Native Americans who inhabit a jungle setting that's evocative of Vietnam.
The contradictions within liberalism are all the more apparent given director Cameron's association with the Israeli host of "The Naked Archeologist," Simcha Jacobovici. Cameron helped produce a documentary called "The Exodus Decoded" where Jacobovici tried to prove the Biblical Exodus was an historic event, even though he isn't a trained archeologist.
The 2006 film - shown on the History Channel to this day - has been attacked by a number of scholars, including some Israelis, and has a decidedly pro-Zionist slant, since Biblical archeology is devoted to proving the Bible as historically true. An ironic hobby for the director of a movie decrying colonialism in Iraq to be supportive of it in Palestine - hence the moral and practical limits of liberalism - kind of like Prejean's topless photos and private videos in stark contrast to her conservative Christian values on the other hand.
"Avatar" is entertaining and does have a decent message, even if expressed in an unimaginative and unoriginal way. Not bad for Cameron's first film in a dozen years, but - like George Lucas in Star Wars I-III - his best work may be behind him.