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The worlds of science fiction and fantasy provide a fine medium for sharing a message about today's world. Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling realized this fact when his famous television series first aired half a century ago. By transporting the audience to a clearly fictional world the ills of reality can be explained through metaphor to a mesmerized, interested audience. While other shows of the era, such as Leave it to Beaver or I Love Lucy, presented an idealized version of America, Serling presented then progressive views on social issues through fantastic stories concerning aliens, time travel, foreboding storms and supernatural events-- but he wasn't the first to do so. Space aliens often are the center of political allegory. H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds (and all of its adaptations), the recent District 9 and Cameron's Avatar are just a few of many notable examples. Avatar is by far the most visually stunning of any of the aforementioned works but is also the most blatant. So blatant, in fact, it defeats the purpose of allegory-- annoyingly subtracting from the quality of the film as a whole.

Much fuss was made concerning the break-through, mega-expensive technology that made Avatar possible. I did not view the film in IMAX 3D but did see the 3D version in a digital projection equipped theater. It's wonderous. Beautiful and unashamed eye candy. Alien botany, biology and landscape come alive in rich color and are believable. The film will lead you towards floating mountains, epic battles between beast and machine, breath-taking jungles and star-scapes. And it's all a joy. There was never a moment where something looked strangely computer-aided or "fake." Computer graphics intensive movies often have trouble with the eyes. Characters may appear to be staring off into the distance or not really focusing on any particular object thereby breaking the illusion for the viewer instantly. This does not take place. Consider the Na'vi, the indigenous population of the planet Pandora where the film takes place, the antithesis of the non-humans in District 9.

They are tall, Amazonian, almost angelic-looking blue jungle-dwellers. As the main character Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) begins to use his avatar, a surrogate body nearly that allows a human to take the form of a Na'vi, an interesting fact occurs. The bone structure in the faces of indigenous is distinctly Afro-inspired while Sully and his comrades walk around as tall, blue people with faces that look far more distinctly European. Also, their deity is known as Eywa. If you mix up the two syllables you get something close to "Yahweh." If all of the allegory was that subtle, I may have dismissed even the most disagreeable message but sadly that is the most subtle Cameron cares to be in this film. It's not the message I take offense to-- it's how upfront the movie is about said message.

Here's the story (sans spoilers) in a few lines:
A corporation is mining a hyper-rare and valuable metal on a planet known as Pandora. Avatar's, biological surrogates, are utilized as diplomatic tools to help learn about the indigenous population and hopefully negotiate the terms of the natives' relocation away from the site of a large reservoir. In lieu of his twin brother's death, handicapped marine Jake Sully steps into his brother's Avatar to fulfill his mission. Oh, and he meets a girl Na'vi he takes an interest in, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana).

Colonel Miles Quaritch probably should've just been christened "Colonel George W. Bush." He uses phrases such as "fight terror with terror" and "pre-emptive attack is our only hope." It's that bad. Another thing: the mineral this inter-planetary mega-corporation is mining on Pandora (the source of conflict with the Na'Vi) is called unatanium. The film may be glossed over with a shiny coat of outstanding visual effects but it reeks of pathetic fallacies in nearly ever minute of the nearly three-hour adventure. District-9 was far superior in covering topics of corporatalism mixed with military presence while War of the Worlds presented the downfalls of European colonialism in a satisfactory, instead of preachy, manner. It's not impossible and Cameron can do better than this. His own Titanic brought complaints of American excess and brash self-importance to the screen while leaving the soap-box at the side-lines. Avatar should've been able to do the same. Sadly, Avatar's visual prowess will be equaled an excelled in the future leaving it a movie that will hold a place in history only as visual nostalgia because its story fails to deliver because of these mistakes.

Here's something redeeming: some of the characters are genuinely fit their roles. When Sulley and his comrades, such as cigarette-smoking scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), are in danger I found myself gripping my arm-rests and muttering to myself hoping they wouldn't die. Similarly, the villains are satisfying. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) is somewhat obnoxious but it just made me dislike the character even more than I think was intended and the head of the company was disgusting in his reasoning and actions-- although he isn't a totally flat character, he shows signs of remorse for his dark deeds later in the film.

Should you see Avatar--if you haven't already? My answer is not unless you have a gift card your very anxious to spend, a coupon that provides a decent discount or can simply get in for free (legally, no sneaking in the theater!). Its visual style is not enough to justify spending an excess of ten-dollars, more for 3D tickets, per admission. In a rather short time, it will meet its cinematic match or superior and, perhaps, that will bring a story that lives the metaphorical picket-fence protesting signs out.

Join the Discussion

This article has 13 comments. Post your own now!

BorderlineGenius777 said...
Jul. 1, 2011 at 12:08 am
half a century ago, and the Twilight Zone is still the greatest show ever.
Concerned Citizen said...
May 11, 2010 at 10:13 am
So if anything is anti-american you just hate it? Jesus. I can't wait until you actually start digging into movies with more deeply held metaphors. You're gonna be maaaaaaaaad.
freetyme This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
May 23, 2010 at 8:14 am
It wasn't the sentiment I found annoying but rather the blatant, uncreative way it was presented.
freetyme This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 19, 2010 at 7:24 pm
Always proofread, kids.
I just noticed I used the wrong "your" (instead of "you're") in my article.
My apologies.
Kicking himself,
AnneOnnimous replied...
Jan. 20, 2010 at 5:35 pm
the storyline wasn't that bad. It is sad that some people thought the movie was boring: the whole time the audience was supposed to be thinking about community, war, the value of nature: deep things. If you didn't like it then that suggests you don't want to be thinking about those things and don't care about them, and didn't care about the incredible visuals. it is very sad that we have so many people like that in this world.
freetyme This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 20, 2010 at 8:38 pm
I personally believe these "deep things" have been addressed better in other movies that I mention in the review.
Also, eye candy is great but it does not a perfect movie make.
glandularis said...
Jan. 19, 2010 at 6:56 pm
you could've written this whole review in 3 sentences: good 3D. obvious parallel to america. other movies did it better.
Alexsayshi replied...
Jan. 19, 2010 at 7:18 pm
I think that JRR Tolkien could've written the Lord of the Rings in 3 sentences instead of 3 books too.
Frodo has the ring (it is a very evil ring from the past)., Frodo goes on a journey with friends and fights battles, runs away a lot., Frodo and friends destroy the ring and goes back home.
Any good essay can be boiled down to one main argument and the evidence used to support it. It being able to being boiled down into parts doesn't make it bad.
What makes the 3D go... (more »)
glandularis replied...
Jan. 20, 2010 at 5:56 pm
your writing style and immediate hostility, so called "alexsayshi", reminds me an awful lot like .................... wait for the suspense to build ...................... freetyme himself. I cannot believe you used a pseudonym to comment on your own article refuting someone else's comment. At least have the decency to take some constructive criticism, or at the very least use your own name! If hearing one comment out of many that the review was much more breathy than needed hurts... (more »)
freetyme This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 20, 2010 at 8:37 pm
I could also suggest you are "AnneOnnimous" because you both like to use colons and begin with a shorter length sentence. But I won't. Who am I kidding? You caught me. Good job! My friend told me about your comment while talking to me on the phone. We started joking about it modeled after our habit of having "five minutes of rage" in which we rant to each other. Thus the comment was born. I wasn't about to give him my password so I scribed to him what to say. He cr... (more »)
Headshot M. said...
Jan. 18, 2010 at 4:16 am
Me soooo wanna swear. but me can't. This is such a............... wait for the suspense to's building..........................the suspense that is..........................................................and...................................................... it is so strange. I know. Not much suspense but OH WELL. It is such a weird as review. WE NEED MORE PLOT!!!!!
xAllegria said...
Jan. 16, 2010 at 10:34 pm
I agree the parallel between America and the plot is just too obvious. It sort of spoiled it, that and the clichéd scenario.
However, I agree that the characters are very distinct and their personalities really stick out. You find yourself on the 'good guys' side without much trouble.
Oh, and another thing. The millions of dollars spent on the movie went all into the effects and they forgot to look into the science. I mean, there's no oxygen on Pandora, right? S... (more »)
sleeplessdreamer said...
Jan. 16, 2010 at 8:29 pm
Couldn't agree more. It was so anti-America it made me want to puke, but, like you said, the 3D was beautiful and realistic. I never like a film that makes me feel dirty because I'm an American. The FBI should have Cameron on the watch list after this film.
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