Article Round-Up: Thought-Provoking Writing About Avatar

I don't know if you've noticed, but we here at /Film have been covering James Cameron's Avatar pretty extensively. An event movie this interesting only comes around once in awhile, so it's been a blast to participate in the public discussion. You can read my review, Brendon's review, Russ's review, Hunter's review, see Brendon's interview with Jon Landau, listen/read my interview with James Cameron, listen to our podcast review, or just hit this link to read all our coverage.

With Hollywood and the trades virtually shutting down for the holidays, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the interesting, entertaining, and/or thought-provoking writing about Avatar around the internet. Hit the jump for some of my favorite pieces. Assume most of the following articles have spoilers. Head to the comments or e-mail me at slashfilmcast(AT)gmail(DOT)com to add your own.

Title: When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like Avatar?Author: Annalee NewitzSite/Outlet: io9Brief Thoughts: A well-argued piece about the deployment of race in Avatar. You may not agree, but it's certainly thought-provoking and well-written enough to be worth a look. We discuss this piece with Newitz in this week's /Filmcast: After Dark.Excerpt:

Whites need to stop remaking the white guilt story, which is a sneaky way of turning every story about people of color into a story about being white. Speaking as a white person, I don't need to hear more about my own racial experience. I'd like to watch some movies about people of color (ahem, aliens), from the perspective of that group, without injecting a random white (erm, human) character to explain everything to me. Science fiction is exciting because it promises to show the world and the universe from perspectives radically unlike what we've seen before. But until white people stop making movies like Avatar, I fear that I'm doomed to see the same old story again and again.

Title: The Tempest in My HometreeAuthor: Devin FaraciSite/Outlet: CHUDBrief Thoughts: In this grab bag editorial, Faraci tries to contextualize some of Avatar's achievements. I find myself more sympathetic to his arguments than my /Film colleagues.Excerpt:

Even setting aside my personal problems with the designs of the creatures in Avatar I didn't find any of them all that groundbreaking. Critics have said that the world of Pandora is unlike anything you've ever seen and I have to wonder how much science fiction or fantasy they've consumed in their lives, as the world of Pandora is an awful lot like what I've seen. Plenty of times. That's setting aside the fact that the animals on Pandora are just slightly weirded up analogues to real (or familiar mythological) animals on Earth – space horses, space wolves, space dragons. I thought the ice planet monster in Star Trek was more unique in design than anything in Avatar, and all the direhorses and viperwolves and whatever else could have easily been part of the menagerie in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. I'm not saying that the FX work on these creatures was on par – in the intervening years FX has come a long, long way...[W]here's the stuff that's totally alien, that's like a totally new world we've never seen before? Hell, Pandora's one-climate ecosystem really reminds me of Star Wars, with its ice planets and desert planets and cloud planets. This is just a jungle planet.

Title: Avatar: The Most Expensive Piece of Anti-American Propaganda Ever MadeAuthor: Nile GardinerSite/Outlet: The TelegraphBrief Thoughts: Gardiner takes a stab at some of the more political elements of the movie (some of which were cringe-inducingly explicit, e.g. "Shock and awe!"). The idea that this film is propaganda – even unintentionally – strikes me as pretty silly, but it is worth thinking about who Cameron expects us to side with, and how he creates that expectation on the screen.Excerpt:

In many respects, Avatar is a highly manipulative film. When I saw the movie last night in a packed theatre, I was disturbed by the cheering from the audience towards the end when the humans – US soldiers fighting on behalf of an American corporation – were being wiped out by the Na'vi. Washington is one of the most liberal cities in America and you come to expect almost anything here – but still the roars of approval which greeted the on-screen killing of US military personnel were a shock to the system, especially at a time when the United States is engaged in a major war in Afghanistan.

Title: Cameron is Recrowned King of the WorldAuthor: Roger EbertSite/Outlet: Roger Ebert's JournalBrief Thoughts: Ebert reflects on the hype, and on Cameron's achievement with the film's 3-D effects.Excerpt:

Those towering blue Na'vi with their long tails look peculiar at first, but it's strange how quickly they grow on us. You don't whip up aliens like that with a sketch pad. It takes trial runs and countless hours of testing. And Cameron was equal to the test. He also overcame the bane of 3-D, which is dimness. His Dolby 3-D seems noticeably brighter. His use of 3-D is restrained; he doesn't poke his picture in our eyes, and his editing makes sense of things, unlike Michael Bay's mixmaster approach.

Title: The Science Behind James Cameron's AvatarAuthor: Adam HadhazySite/Outlet: Popular MechanicsBrief Thoughts: A look at how close we are today to the science we see in Avatar. The geek in me loves this stuff.Excerpt:

For decades, the U.S. military has been looking into powered exoskeleton suits that could let soldiers lug around heavy equipment—as well as bigger guns—while aiding in rescue work, construction and injury rehabilitation. The Army's research and development branch, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) issued various grants since 2000 under its Exoskeletons for Human Performance Augmentation program, including funding for the Raytheon Sarcos team. Their machine, called XOS, weighs 150 pounds and fits around the wearer's arms, legs and back. This aluminum robot's hydraulics allow the wearer to lift 200 pounds hundreds of times without tiring, yet the XOS suit remains nimble enough to allow the man-cum-machine to climb stairs or kick a soccer ball.

Title: Please Mount My Hot Blue AlienAuthor: Mark MorfordSite/Outlet: SFGateBrief Thoughts: Hilarious.Excerpt:

Let's just say it outright: This is a movie about alien porn. It's about the great, timeless, hypererotic white man fantasy of the Other. Inhabiting it, having sex with it, becoming it, moving inside it, running and leaping and fighting and taking spectacular risks just before falling into a bed of florid vines with your significant — and incredibly hot — alien companion to fondle her tail as the planet smiles in happy bioluminescent munificence all around you.

Have any other articles you think should go on this list? E-mail me at slashfilmcast(AT)gmail(DOT)com and if I like it, I'll add it in.

Update: Here are a few more articles. Thanks to the people who sent these in!Title: Next-Generation 3-D Medium of Avatar Underscores Its MessageAuthor: Adam CohenSite/Outlet: NYTimesBrief Thoughts: A really great argument about how Avatar's use of 3-D is intricately tied in with its plot and themes.Excerpt:

Underlying the political message is the running theme of the importance of seeing clearly. "Avatar" opens with the hero's eye snapping open. The movie's title comes from a bit of visual deception. The mining company has developed avatars — part-human, part-Na'Vi bodies — that allow its employees to appear more like the natives and help them in winning the Na'Vis' trust...The ability to see Pandora's natives for who they are is the movie's moral touchstone.

Title: The Use of Archetype in Avatar Versus Star WarsAuthor: Ray DeRousseSite/Outlet: SammyrayBrief Thoughts: DeRousse compares Star Wars and Avatar, and how they both employ Joseph Campbell's archetypal elements [Handy chart included!]. Avatar does not fare well.Excerpt:

The very principles used by Lucas to give his simple space opera drama, tension, and emotional lift are the very ones missing from Avatar, and it ultimately shows in the lifelessness onscreen. Very little that occurs in Avatar feels impactful or important, despite the constant exposition about the meaning of life. The characters in Avatar, though loosely designed around the same template as those in Star Wars, never achieve any measurable connection to the audience the way the primary characters in Star Wars do. This is primarily due to Cameron's failure to provide the necessary archetypes, or to give the audience identifiable markers for each archetype so that they will resonate subconsciously.