If only American Indians had giant reptile bird - like creatures they could have ridden into battle against the U.S. Cavalry when they were under attack. The creatures figure prominently in James Cameron’s new 3-D movie Avatar, as does a native tribe that resembles American Indians, the Na’vi.
If only American Indians had giant reptile bird - like creatures they could have ridden into battle against the U.S. Cavalry when they were under attack. The creatures figure prominently in James Cameron’s new 3-D movie Avatar, as does a native tribe that resembles American Indians, the Na’vi. It’s the story of an ex-Marine who is given the task of assimilating into the alien world of the 10-feet tall blue aliens on Pandora, a planet in an alien star system. Pandora is valuable because it has a rare but energy efficient fuel commodity - unobtanium. Unfortunately, large deposits of the valuable ore are located beneath the Na’vi lands and their giant Tree of Souls.
Though a paraplegic, Jake Sulley (Sam Worthington), volunteers for the ‘Avatar’ program, which transports his mind into the body of a Na’vi through an experimental project. Through Sulley, we are introduced to the exotic Na'vi habitat. The head of the program, Dr. Grace (Sigourney Weaver), would like Sulley to slowly learn the native language and culture of the Na’vi. But Sulley’s gruff Marine boss, Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang), is more interested in obtaining access to the ore than saving the Na’vi. The military, represented by the Marines, are willing to do whatever it takes to remove the Na’vi from their native lands, even if it means removing them by force.
What is striking about the Na’vi is how closely they resemble the American Indian, with their face painting for battle and minimal clothing. The Na’vi are skilled hunters with great athletic ability, using bow and arrow to kill menacing creatures in their jungle. They also worship Eywa, the great mother, who possesses the life energy of Pandora. The Na’vis gather at the Tree of Souls, the giant "mother of all" trees, for a “worship service” that includes praying to Eywa. While Sulley may be a low-key Marine on the military base, his character as a Na’vi becomes almost childlike, offering immature quips on his first encounter with an attractive Na’vi female, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). Cameron seems to have been unable to reconcile Sulley’s character as a Marine with his new persona as a Na’vi; as a Na’vi he resembles Johnny Quest.
Cameron’s bent against the modern military is given away in the first few minutes of the film, when a Marine makes a disparaging remark about Sulley’s obvious handicap as he exits a transport plane in a wheelchair at the Marine base. The remaining movie, while demonstrating exceptional 3-D animation, portrays a seemingly ruthless side of the U.S. military. Cameron spent more than ten years working on the script, treatment and production of Avatar, which is a scary thought. Evidently Cameron thought that the 3-D effects will distract audiences from his anti-military theme. Were the theme not so obvious, one could describe Avatar as wonderful or fantastic. As it is, the film insults the intelligence of the viewer, as though Cameron knows something about American history that we don’t.
The treatment of the Indians in this country may well be one of the most well documented events in our nation’s history. Scores of books and documentaries have described the American Indians and there tragic demise in this country. But do people really go to see a movie like Avatar to have a director preach to them about the supposed evils of the American military? Avatar has been compared by at least one reviewer with Gone With the Wind, Spartacus and Gladiator. If Avatar is anything, it is a B-movie with ground-breaking 3-D animation and a clichéd plot treatment. Cameron had his pick of antagonists to provoke the Na’vi in their beautiful and exotic environment. He chose a military air base with giant hovering gun ships. That says a lot about him and his view of the American public.
© 2010 Larry Ingram
Based in St Louis,
Larry Ingram writes about the news media, movies and culture, as well as on topics like race, privilege, Christianity, religious expression and tolerance.
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