One of the best movies to come out this year, and perhaps the last decade in my view is James Cameron’s Avatar. Some folks have seen it in 2-D, others 3-D, and even others IMAX. Without a doubt, it is a sci-fi fantasy spectacle widely deserving it’s running time (a little over three hours) and all the hype leading up to it. Cameron’s first feature film since Titanic is a must see, even for the curious. Because of the different formats, I’ll even go far to say it is worthy of multiple viewings before it hits DVD and Blu-Ray. Folks, don’t procrastinate and wait for Blu-Ray. If you wait, you’ll kick yourself. It is not a perfect film, no film really is. But it is a visual feast of sight and sound; I also think the characters are fully fleshed out and the story really good, in spite of the influences of past movies.

Sam Worthington shows why Hollywood is tailoring him into leading man status; hard to think that the first time I saw the actor was mincemeat for a rabid giant crocodile in Rogue from a few years ago. (I actually liked that film, don’t let my side comment fool you). But last summer 2009 he stole Terminator 4 away from Christian Bale; in 2010 he’s the lead in the remake of 1981’s Clash Of The Titans. Titans, of course, considers stories and liberties taken with Greek mythology and fable. I know that’s what it is and where it comes from: myth and fiction. As a Christian, that sort of thing does not offend me. I know what is fiction, and what is truth. To me, the Bible is the truth. It is also true that every Christian’s walk with God is different. I’m far from perfect. But when I see a film like Avatar I know it’s science fiction.

So imagine my surprise when a small handful of reviewers critique Avatar, don’t like it all that much, and think it’s a slow moving piece of great visual effects yet chock full of New Age mumbo jumbo with strong far left undercurrents. I agree to disagree for the most part, but I found something even more disturbing than anything that the film itself can throw at the viewer, good or bad.

The attacks on these reviewers

All films are subjective. Some films are even open for various interpretation. Unless it is extremely obvious like Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain or Vincent Ward’s What Dreams May Come where the New Age hokum is in high gear, hard to follow and spoon feeding you, sometimes it isn’t always so clear. Still, it does not take away from the fact that these reviewers screened the film and gave the film an opinion, be it right or wrong. If we film geekers are to stick the rule of subjective thought, then we can’t really single these reviewers out. That’s even more dumb.

Well, I take that back. I’m not that surprised from a knee jerk reaction. It’s an invitation for the anonymous internet masses to put the smack down on “the conservatives” or “the faithful” in general. Like flies to a trashcan, they they are. Granted, there are a small handful of religious folk who mean well, but go above and beyond leaps and bounds. While I won’t endorse these reviews, I won’t jump on that bandwagon and attack them for seeing and reviewing a film. Regardless of what they saw, think they saw, or are simply off the chart. That is their opinion. They didn’t like something, they expressed what they didn’t like. It’s as simple as that.
Why call them out, especially if they in the minority?

Pointless. It should be said that not one of the “negative right wing” reviews dismiss the film’s tech in FX wonders. Not one.

Okay…so what about the charges? I’ll start with Big Hollywood’s Frank DeMartini:where he writes:

“It is blatant anti-military and less blatant anti-American. Without giving away too much of the plot, the bad guys in the movie are the United States Marines. They are sent to the planet of Pandora to destroy the opposition to the New World Order’s acquisition of its substitute for oil which just happens to be located on Pandora.”

It is clear in the film that the movie never states that the human military force were all former Marines. Only a handful of them were, including the hero. It is clearly established that some private corporation has hired them mercenaries. There are no patches or flags to imply that all the human soldiers are American; many of them appear to be multi-ethnic from different backgrounds. Also, there is nothing about a “New World Order” in the film itself. Let me put it this way: if there were, why bother having the scientists conduct studies and attempt to “negotiate” and/or learn from the Navi? Why bother? Why give a character a deadline at all? Either everyone’s playing ball or they are not.

Again, this is just an interpetation of the film, or an element of it. Do I think Cameron needs to “apologize”? I’m curious, did the filmmakers behind “Battle For Terra” or “District 9” apologize to anyone yet? In fact, if you REALLY want an anti-human/anti-military theme, (and a New Agey one too), Terra’s got your number. There have also been other films with these themes, most notably “The Last Samurai” and “Dances With Wolves”. Both films have a protagonist who learn things about another culture and the supposed ‘enemy’, when in these films, the ‘enemy’ is actually their former military allies. I never viewed the films as anti-American; I cannot make the charge that the filmmakers are all far left. Consider the charge against Cameron. Was The Abyss anti-military? Did all the Navy SEALS snap in that film? How about the poor guys on the doomed sub in that film’s opening scene? Were the Marines in Aliens bad guys? Were they all gung ho bloodthirsty animals? So, all of a sudden, Cameron’s a left wing loon?
Now, different folks can get that left winger feel from the movie if they want to. Did anyone feel that way when the Ewoks went up against The Empire in Return Of The Jedi? Let me put it another way. If there was a sci-fi film that served as a metaphor for the American Revolution, would you know it? Would that be considered left or right? In essence, that’s the same thing, isn’t it? A superior armed force oppressing a group of people until they rebel, stand up and fight? Former British soldiers or those who fought alongside the British joining up with the American colonies? That’s food for thought. Yes, maybe that’s a stretch. Or is it?

Now let’s look at Moviegoods:

“AVATAR has an abhorrent New Age, pagan, anti-capitalist worldview that promotes goddess worship and the destruction of the human race.”

Where does the destruction of the human race come in? I didn’t quite get that. As for the New Age charge, I can see where that comes into play. But way I viewed it is that:

    * This was an alien culture who did not know God. There was some reference to a character, one of the scientists, attempting to make a “school” and it didn’t work out, the Navi tribe vetoing the idea. It should be pointed out that while the school may not have been for religious purposes (never says) it is clear that there is indeed a metaphor for how the colonials wanted to “educate” Native Americans back in the 1800’s. In addition, the notion of ‘relocation’ of a people for land value cannot be ignored. But, if a culture does not know God, does that mean they never will?

    *I also think there’s something of an eco-commentary here as well. I consider the Green scare extreme, but at the same time, saving rainforests and sparing wildlife is not a right or left issue. I’m of the mind that, hey, even if you think Al Gore is full of hooey, that doesn’t mean you leave the light on when you leave the room, know what I mean? I hate litterbugs as much as the next guy. But standing up for eco systems does not automatically mean one is into paganism or wicca. I’m not suggesting there isn’t people like that. I know there are. I’m just saying there’s nothing anti-God about saving the rainforest. Now, since this is a science fiction fantasy movie, could we turn the tables here? The giant tree that the Navi live around leads up to the heavens. The merc ships tear down that home. The Navi then defend the land. They ride dragons, yes, and the hero rides a big Red Dragon (Eat your heart out, William Blake!) but it is clear that they live like eagles among rocky surfaces. The point I’m making here is that in being subjective, a person can step back and interpet a movie, and grab a bit here and a bit there. If you go looking for something, you may just find it, if it there or not. It is also around this time when I don’t want a filmmaker to say ‘this is what I meant here and there’ but rather, keep the film alive through debate and discovery. There are also those who will view the film as pure popcorn, a three hour escape from cold weather and nothing more.

    * While I do feel that some early language wasn’t entirely needed, and I will let alien CGI native nudity go (oddly, it takes three months for a human in his avatar to fall for a tall slender blue lady with a tail, so what do I know, hey different strokes for…different…folks…well, moving on…) I’m a bit surprised how the film got away with a PG-13 with all the mayhem that ensues in the last half of the film. True, it’s not as blood caked fruit smoothie as District 9 (which also shared like themes of oppression and a hero turning on his own), but still it must have went down to the wire with the ratings board. Hey, even 2008’s Prince Caspian had its fair share of warfare. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. I’m just making the observation. Which reminds me…Narnia was oppressed too and all the forest creatures came to the land’s defense too AND the “bad guys” who survived were banished from those magic lands, yes?

Now about the charge from Sam Adams and the AV Club:

“Cameron’s willingness to question the sacred trauma of 9/11 is audacious, and his ability to do so in a $300 million tentpole movie is nothing short of shocking”

Okay, I don’t get the 9/11 thing. A whole bunch of hi-tech future aircraft launch gas, fire, all sorts of stuff on a tree not two twin trees. One big tree that reaches the heavens, floating mountains which dwarf the aircraft by miles. The Navi run for survival when the tree comes crashing down. It falls down. It does not cascade into dust. Movies have stuff blow up all the time. Look at that junk called GI Joe: Rise Of Cobra last summer. (Better yet, don’t if you haven’t already) still…didn’t half of Paris get trashed? How about the idiotic 2012 where not only the whole world went to pot, but The Vatican bought it. The Jesus statue in Rio fell like a broken cracker. Roland freaking Emmerich blew up D.C. for the thousandth time. His characters in that film were a bunch of one dimensional nitwits at that. Where’s the ultra left in that shallow film? Heck, even I wanted every character to D-I-E in that film by the time they got on the rafts. Excuse my bloodlust.

I don’t honestly think for one minute the filmmakers behind 2012 or GI Joe had any agenda other than throwing up all sorts of eye popping mayhem at the viewer, numbing brain cells, and the forced consumption of soda pop. Avatar is a bit more ambitious, it has more story, richer characters and asks for subjective debate and thought. It is a big expensive three hour tour, and I think that is why it has gotten some of the negative attention to be sure. Or one can just leave the brain at the door and leave it at that. It’s all subjective.