3 reasons why Avatar is maybe the worst movie I’ve seen in my life

Posted by invernessfallsJanuary 14, 2010 - 2:21pm

Ed. note: SPOILERS riddle this write up so if you want to remain surprised when you actually see Avatar, you probably shouldn’t read this. But it’s pretty damn entertaining…

3) 3D ain’t all it’s cracked up to be, and it’s expensive.

2) You may have heard something from a friend about how Avatar is essentially a rehashing of movies like Dances With Wolves or Pocahontas. This is true in at least one important sense — all these films are centered around the relationship of a white male to a community of racialized Others. In all cases, this character rises to a position of political prominence after initially being rejected by this community of Others, which is problematic for me in a few senses. On the one hand, this kind of narrative implicitly suggests the necessity of a white male conduit to defend the otherwise hopeless/helpless community of Others. Annalee Newitz of io9.com puts it pretty well — “A white guy manages to get himself accepted into a closed society of people of color and eventually becomes its most awesome member…Think of it this way. Avatar is a fantasy about ceasing to be white, giving up the old human meatsack to join the blue people, but never losing white privilege.” In Avatar, putting Jake Sully again in this position means denying that same position of power and leadership to any of the Na’vi characters.

So there’s that. There’s also the characterization of the Na’vi, who (again as Newitz notes) aren’t too far removed from traditional images of Native Americans. They’re fierce, tribal, possess a certain amount of inscrutability for their audience and have a mystical connection to nature. And if that’s not enough, motherfuckers also speak with subtitles in Papyrus, the perennial font of all things exotic (see this and this and this and this). So even while paying lip-service to the culture of the Na’vi (and other native peoples), Avatar still manages to reinscribe the bodies of the natives with the same old stereotypes. And it’s actually worse than that, because by framing the relationship between the characters as one that is between species, Avatar literally de-humanizes the Na’vi.

But wait, there’s more! Embedded in the narrative following Jake Sully’s ascent to power is the great American myth of total assimilation. It goes something like this: when racial minorities in a community buy into the ideologies and behaviors of the dominant population, they can rise to prominence and become important figures for the community socially, politically, sexually, etc. etc. This would be a pretty good story, except for the fact that:

• the cost of assimilation is the forfeiture of any previous identity. At the end of Avatar, Jake Sully gives up his human body to join the Na’vi forever. Lucky for him, this is a choice that most people of color in the West have never really had.

• it’s not actually true. Unlike Jake, people of color in the West do not have the option of giving up their racialized bodies for white ones. It also ignores the fact that the hundreds of years of assimilation-ist rhetoric in the US has not benefitted anybody except those whose bodies were already white.

1) at 162 minutes, it’s just way too long. And way too boring.

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(Ed. Note: We’re always on the look out for new contributors here on Dumb Drum and in the future we hope to bring you more guest writers so if you’re interested in participating, feel free to drop me an email at brodiemash@gmail.com and we’ll try to get you on in the future!)

 
 

35 Comments

  • Michael says:

    Summed it up way better than I ever could. But I wanted to add something of why this movie pisses me off as much as it does. I was listening to the radio late last night when I heard a story of how people are committing suicide because they realize they will never be able to go to a place like Pandora (the fictional moon in Avatar) and are so depressed with their life here that they off themselves. Fucking pathetic if you ask me. It's a damn movie.

  • adam says:

    Great review! One might right a similar criticism of the sexism implicit in the film as well.

    Of course, most films these days could be seriously beat down for their racism or sexism. Welcome to twenty-ten y'all; the future is now!

  • adam says:

    Damn it. One might write, not right. *forehead smack

  • Hawk says:

    I saw the movie in 3D and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now, before you go assuming I am some mainstream-loving teenager who has no taste and doesn’t understand film, hear me out.

    I can criticize every movie I’ve ever seen. I have NEVER seen a perfect film. That said, I know how to enjoy something -for what it is-

    Avatar was a cinematic Experience. The storyline was traditional and unoriginal (note: just because something has been done thousands of times, doesn’t make it bad). The story contained many predictable elements and didn’t leave one guessing too much as to what was going to happen, but the mechanics still function – they are proven archetypes and story pieces, maybe you should let them do their job without feeling like you are weak if you let them ‘work’ on you.

    Take this for example. We’ve all heard the story over and over of the familiar pain and events people encounter when a family pet dies. But just because you’ve heard it all before doesn’t mean it stops affecting you emotionally. You still feel a fresh sympathy for every new ‘character’ in your life who tells you their story (fido got old, got cancer, had to be put down). Extend this ‘fresh sympathy’ to your movie going attitude and I *guarantee* you will enjoy yourself more, and you won’t be wasting as much of your money, (unless, of course, you are intentionally buying yourself the right to complain). =)

    Moving on to the real content of this debate – I find the points in this review waaaaaaaaay overly-critical.

    The message and intent of this film could hardly be more crystal clear, but let me remind you of the overwhelmingly simple messages:
    1. Respect other cultures and *personally embrace* them.
    2. Protect and Nurture your planet, it’s the only one you have.
    3. Avoid War, Seek Peace.
    4. Disabled people can have a significant positive impact in(a) the world.
    5. Racial-allegiance should not stop you from doing what you think is right. Don’t follow blindly.

    With maybe the exception of point 4 and 5 (which is just a counter observation to the review) Messages 1-3 are so obvious that I think a preschool child would walk away with them seared 3Dimensionally into their grey matter.

    The accusations of racism and white supremacy are just absurd. I feel like such a negative perspective would only be fueled by a need to ‘stand-out’ against the backdrop of the virtually universal love/praise for this film.

    Being overly critical of every film because you want to look like a film buff to your friends, ultimately just makes people not want to talk to you about movies. If they do, it’s likely that they too want to appear elite and what do you end up with? A bunch of ‘film connoisseurs’ being negative about a movie thats *sole purpose* was to give you a good-fucking-time. Are we that unappreciative?

    Avatar was written to be an immersive experience that shows off IMAX 3D technology, presents stunning visual stimulation, all wound together with a *decent* plot. It’s not meant to stimulate your intellectuality, it’s meant to impress you emotionally and aesthetically on a primitive level, at which I think it succeeds superbly.

    Why not let your guard down for a minute and enjoy yourself? Do you seriously think Cameron is trying to weave in a subliminally racist and hateful through-line? I think he’s a fine director, but that might be giving him a little too much credit. =)

    I suggest that you watch movies like a child. You’ll be happier, and the world will be a more positive place.

    • 4. Disabled people can have a significant positive impact in(a) the world.

      Should read "Disabled people can have a significant positive impact in(a) the world. Once they are given a new body and are no longer disabled."

      Since Jake Sully in his wheelchair didn't do much of anything other than get himself into the pod to get new legs.

  • adam says:

    "just because something has been done thousands of times, doesn't make it bad"

    No, it makes it unoriginal, derivative, and lots of other pejorative words typically associated with bad.

    "they are proven archetypes and story pieces"

    They are proven to feed an audience that hasn't typically been fed anything else and therefore is socialized to understand that this is what makes a good film when it reality, it is just want makes for good revenue.

    Comparing a repetitive plot device with the death of a family pet was probably not the best metaphor you could have gone with there. I don't particularly look forward to the death of any of my pets.

    "With maybe the exception of point 4 and 5 (which is just a counter observation to the review) Messages 1-3 are so obvious that I think a preschool child would walk away with them seared 3Dimensionally into their grey matter."

    Unfortunately, they would also walk away with the sub-conscious points made in this review as well as the idea that women can never be or shouldn't be in positions of absolute or even significant power. The subtle undertones are the dangerous ones because if no one speaks up, they get missed despite the fact that they still permeate the mind of the viewer.

    "Being overly critical of every film because you want to look like a film buff to your friends, ultimately just makes people not want to talk to you about movies."

    Assuming the motives of people you don't know makes people think you're an asshole.

    "It's not meant to stimulate your intellectuality, it's meant to impress you emotionally and aesthetically on a primitive level"

    Yeah, because we need to do more tapping into people's primal emotions without engaging thought. That sounds like a brilliant fucking idea. Did you see the coverage of the summer town hall meetings on health care?

    "Do you seriously think Cameron is trying to weave in a subliminally racist and hateful through-line?"

    Do I think he's trying? No. Do I think all humans at some level hold racist and hateful thoughts that sometimes shine through? Yes. Do I think mainstream film studios are more interested in their bottom line than curtailing the perpetuation of societal and cultural stereotypes? Yes.

    "I suggest that you watch movies like a child. You'll be happier, and the world will be a more positive place."

    I suggest you turn your brain on.

    There, I heard you out.

  • Hawk says:

    Let’s settle down here. I apologize about my comments assuming your motives. That was not a reasonable statement for me to make. However, my intent behind that comment still holds true. I don't know your connection to this site, but if you want to encourage people to participate, it might be wise to encourage positive discussion rather than elitism, which is what I personally felt when reading your initial post.

    "pejorative words typically associated with bad."
    I don't see any substantial reason why this must be so. Why is originality the holy grail? Perhaps a good message should be instead – as this seems to be largely your complaint with this film. Let's imagine we somehow came up with a *perfect message*, it would be unoriginal the second time it was used, but wouldn't you want to keep trying to use it because of the value of the message?

  • Hawk says:

    So you didn't like my metaphor? The power of the story of losing a loved one seems to always affect us, no matter how similar the circumstances are. My point is – why focus so heavily on originality? Understand that I agree whole heartedly that originality generally makes for a more enjoyable film, but does it always have to be original? Is any idea actually 100% original? Should it really keep us from enjoying/experiencing a film?

    Cultural and societal stereotypes: The human brain functions as a very powerful categorizer. We will never destroy stereotypes unless we change the way our brains work. Stereotypes aren't always bad, they are actually kind of a form of biological statistics. When you see 100 people with a purple necklace, and every one of them punches you, would it be illogical to be cautious about the 101st purple necklace wearer – or is it illogical to avoid stereotypes and risk being punched again? I think negative use of stereotypes is the problem, not stereotypes themselves. Customs and Traditions are stereotypical in nature, because they are common among all who participate in them.

  • Hawk says:

    I guess this is simply a case of you seeing the glass as half-empty, and me seeing it as half-full. You mention a lot of subtle messages your observed, but I saw something quite different. I guess this is part of the beauty of art.

    “idea that women can never be or shouldn't be in positions of absolute or even significant power”
    I saw something completely different in regards to femininity. I saw the movie as a testament to how masculinity (the current reality of humanity) causes destruction, while all of the female characters are generally the ones who are saving lives, making the correct, logical choices, and so on. Think about it. The main scientist is a woman who is right about everything and clearly a "good-guy". The main Na’vi woman is a powerful warrior and is the one who is responsible for Jake becoming who he is. The fighter pilot female is the one who breaks ranks based on what she felt was right and later breaks them out, providing the team the opportunity to save the day, etc.
    All of the male characters might be in power, but I saw the film as stating that men are savage, greedy, and violent creatures.

  • Hawk says:

    Furthermore, I particularly enjoyed the fact that there were women warriors in this movie. I felt that this was a positive feminist point to make – that women are just as physically capable as their male counterparts, and infact, the female Na’vi warrior is the one who ultimately defeats the main antagonist. She saves Jake Sully, she is stronger than him, and she trains him.

    Again, I guess it's the half-empty vs half-full deal. Is either perspective "better"? I don't know.

    I think if we want to discuss film, or any artistic media, we need to remain objective and open to each other’s thoughts. What we interpret is going to vary wildly. The best we can do is exchange interpretations professionally in hopes that we might shed light on a piece of art in a way that will help the other grow. That said, I apologize for the handful of statements I made that were less than professional. Perhaps we can move forward with less tension?

  • bradley says:

    uhhhhh. its just a movie guys.

    • adam says:

      Classic. Thanks for your condescension too.

    • bradley says:

      You're welcome Adam. but I do not think Avatar will hold any position in the annals of film excellence. I could be wrong, but I just don't see the film as deserving of such vitriolic discussion. IMO, of course.

    • adam says:

      Ah, but just because a movie is shitty doesn't mean it can't spawn interesting conversation.

      Believe me, my tone will be different should the conversation continue since Hawk has apologized for previous tone.

      The interesting thing here is that I think we're all on board with the fact that the movie had positive messages. Good. Great. But the net value of those messages is reduced by the negative stereotypes reinforced throughout the film (whether or not the makers intended for them to be there). That in turn takes the discussion to a much broader place to discuss things. What should be the future of film-making regarding the incorporation of societal stereotypes.

      Hawk seems to think that since it's always been that way, there's not much reason to change now. It's established and it makes money and we get gut reactions. Look how much Sandra Bullock made recounting the true story of a white women rescuing a black football player. I'm sure plenty of people cried through and at the end of that film. Life imitates art, or is it the other way?

    • adam says:

      One of the things I'm learning as I write trivia for our pub quiz is the realization of how ensconced I am in a particular tract of culture, for me: male, white, middle class. So you see questions about cable television, about certain sports, about particular pop culture. You can bet there is a lot of stuff that I unintentionally leave out or just plain don't know about.

      On that same line of thinking, you can bet that a male, white, movie director is going to have certain world views that will most definitely be different than a female, black, movie director (for example). It's totally plausible that the writer's, director's, whoever's privilege and intrinsic sexism or racism or fat hatred or whatever could bubble up to the surface in the process of making a movie.

  • brodiemash says:

    I like the blue things and how they were all tall and the 'splosions! Boom, boom!! Also, Michelle Rodriguez needs an Oscar nod for her tour de force performance!

    • Michael says:

      Is it wrong that throughout the whole movie I kept hoping to see the blue chick's nipples? Imagine how big those thing would have been in IMAX?

  • adam says:

    I used the tone I did in my response because your first comment was rife with condescension. I'm only a reader and was only responding to your comment. I did not write the review above.

    The problem I see with your ideas about film and art are that when innovation is lacking, you're still going to buy into it, almost merely because it's there. That's great for you if the film tapped into your emotions. What I saw in this film was the same standard tropes with a veneer of something akin to progressive ideas, sold with the hype of an improved viewing technology.

    Since we're talking about the female characters, you should also mention that the writers killed two of them and still made the third subservient to all the males within the Na'vi and to Jake Sully. She saved his life, cool. Almost everything else she did was a direct result of an order (she had to train Sully per her father, he commanded her and the others in the final battle) Imagine the difference had the main protagonist been female; had the movie starred Jane Sully.

    As someone who escaped fundamentalist religion more or less intact, you're going to have a very hard time convincing me of the merits of tradition. Marriage has traditionally been between men and women. Traditionally, blacks were slaves. Traditionally, women couldn't vote or weren't counted as full people. Traditionally, drawing and quartering was a valid way of punishing someone. Traditionally, humans thought the world was flat. Great, we've had lots of traditions. That they exist does not automatically validate them.

    "All of the male characters might be in power, but I saw the film as stating that men are savage, greedy, and violent creatures.:"

    Why all of the sudden, after all your half-glass-full talk are you willing to admit that you took something from the film that had a negative connotation? That's some very specific picking and choosing.

    • adam says:

      And, regarding the relationship between Neytiri and Jake, it was pretty much a version of one of the standard rom-com plot lines. Two people meet, they don't really like each other at first but through some outside circumstance are forced to be together and suddenly fall in love. That's a terrible feminist message.

  • Hawk says:

    I agreed that this movie can be interpreted as half-empty. It depends on the viewer. I just prefer the positive side, personally. But I do like to make sure that when a post is made that is awfully critical, that someone points out the good. Thats all. And I know that you did not write the review. =)

    To everyone else, Adam and I are now having a professional discussion – stop telling us "it's just a movie". What's the point of this site if movies are not supposed to be discussed?!

  • Hawk says:

    To Adam: I guess the things you see as anti-feminist, tie closely to other things that I see as pro-feminist. You are right that there is a net value to consider. I just think that the negative aspects don’t outweigh the positives (and I did see a few negs that we haven’t spoken about – such as the fact that for aliens, the Na'vi are much too humanoid, they could have at least had six limbs like the other animals- but thats me being nitpicky). And yes, you mentioned that if it works and makes money, blah blah – well yeah, thats just how it's going to be, economically speaking. We won't be able to have the technology we do unless we invest, and investing takes capital. It should just be scene (pun intended) as a necessary mechanism of the film industry to progress to the point where lower budgets can achieve satisfactory levels of production. Just think of how all films benefit when new technology is pioneered (even by not-so-great films.)

    • Hawk says:

      I am in no way a tranditionalist. I absolutely loathe “just doing things just because that’s how it’s always been done”. Everything must be logical to me. I meant to point out that there are some things that the human brain ‘traditionally’ responds to, and we are trapped with these ‘proven’ story mechanisms, simply because our brains don’t respond as well to others… For example, have you ever seen a movie that didn’t have a conflict? I haven't (but I'd be very happy to hear if you have, honestly). If I am correct in that virtually every story/movie/tale involves a conflict, then this is one of those ‘traditional’ elements I mentioned that just work and we basically have to use them as the foundation for every film, or it just doesn’t ‘work’. I was using the word traditional in a that sense. Perhaps I could have been more clear.

  • Hawk says:

    How is two strangers falling in love after a period of hating each other anti-feminist? It’s pretty asexually biased to me, unless there’s more to it than just that. Would I have liked the film more if women were seen as absolute equals, even superior to the males? Absolutely. Though, I think that the world described in this film IS more progressive than reality as we know it, that being said, it's a step in the right direction, even if we'd prefer it to be a leap. As long as it’s slightly more progressive than reality, I think it’s at least helping to get the ball rolling in that direction. What do you think?

    Your points are well taken, Adam. I agree that they are entirely legitimate things to bring up. But as you said, even if innovation is lacking, I will attempt to buy into it because I paid a hefty $$$ to watch it, and want to get the most out of the experience, and I like to think that a film has no real inherent emotional value; everyone gets from it what they put into it, they see what they want to see. So, I try to see the positive so that I can experience more positive.

  • Hawk says:

    I'm going to try to keep my responses to one reply from now on… hahaha

  • brodiemash says:

    Just to chime in, I find both points very interesting. You take a movie like this, with so much widespread influence & hype and it's easy to see the beast turn into something it was originally meant to. Was Cameron intentionally trying to create a piece of art that enrages people & spreads negativity? Doubtful but that's not to say that not exactly what's gonna happen in the end. Then at that time, one has to question at what point did Cameron realize that his play to revolutionize film ended up doing something much more sinister. Personally, I thought the movie was pretty cool but not something that has kept me thinking long after leaving the theater & that's what I find makes a great movie!

    And props to invernessfalls for a thought & discussion provoking write-up!

    • Hawk says:

      Agreed.

      I'd like to add that by bashing Avatar, you are un-American, because with our economy doing so poorly, we should be promoting the hell out of any American export. =)

      Kidding of course.

  • bee says:

    first off my tired, ill keep it short for right now and maybe comeback a full force attack

    HOW DARE YOU SHIT ON DANCES WITH WOLVES, ONE OF THE BEST MOVIES EVER AND AT 236 MINUTES LONG, IM SORRY THESE LONG MOVIES DONT GET STRATIGHT TO THE MONEY SHOT WITHIN YOUR ATTENTION SPAN. OMG, YOUR SAYING THAT THIS IS THE WORST MOVIE EVER!?! I CALL BULLSHIT!! NEVER IN YOUR LIFE HAVE YOU EVER SAID, OMG, THIS MOVIE IS SO BAD/STUPID/OUTRAGEOUS/NOT FUNNY/LAME….. THAT I CANNOT WATCH IT ANY FURTHER, NEVER IN YOUR LIFE!?!? YOU SIR ARE A LIAR. THE FACT THAT YOU PUT THIS MOVIE ON YOUR WORST MOVIE EVER LIST, MAKES ME THINK LESS OF YOU. btw somestimes when i get off of work, i get edgy and this is the short verison of my reply

  • Hawk says:

    Whoa settle down there, Mr.
    AVATAR is clearly one of those films that gets people riled up one way or another, but no need to go ballistic. =)

    Be calm, there will be a sequel. Until then, be one with Eywa.

    • bertrand ellis says:

      JFC… If there is a sequel I will go to Pandora and offer myself as a sacrifice to prevent my eyes from seeong this burdensome, overweight piece of Cameron-crap.

  • bee says:

    talk of rasicts themes well check this out, white man turns into ailen and saves them, and that movie is……….District 9, anybody get into an uproar about that movie…….no.

  • recovering says:

    Hey, let's get to the real problem with the movie…..we all wish we had a tail.

  • my dentist installed a veneer on my front tooth and it looks better than ever",`

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