I’ve been hearing quite a bit about how the story for the new film Avatar is “anti-American” or “anti-military” or whatever. I don’t really get it. I saw the movie, the images were fantastic, especially in 3D. The climactic battle sequences with rocket guns leaving 3D trails of smoke and futuristic helicopters duking it out with giant alien birds were probably the best battle sequences I’ve ever seen in cinema. The story, however, was (like Star Wars) pretty basic. Not that that’s bad, it could’ve been much much worse. It’s probably good that it was basic; makes it that much more accessible, which it almost has to be when you’re spending a bazillion dollars on the special effects.
Unlike Star Wars, though, Avatar does not take place a long time ago in another galaxy far far away, but in our future with our very own great great grandchildren (or whatever, I didn’t do the math) in our galaxy. So I guess some people are thinking “Wait a minute, are you saying that’s that what we’re gonna be like? Evil industrial money-hungry warmongers who don’t mind killing other beings who are as conscious as we are? How dare you!” Now, that could very well be exactly what Cameron is trying to say, but at no point in the movie did a character look at the camera and say “You better watch out and not end up like this, America!” so I can’t respond as if one did.
And if you do sense an anti-American theme, what about the Americans that end up being the heroes? The theme would obviously have to be that indigenous people are too stupid and weak and distrusting to save themselves and must depend on external help, and American people provide such help! American people are actually so much help that a race of thousands can be saved with just the help of three or four (short and less symmetrical) Americans! This is a message to the world! We are America; we are powerful enough to crush you, and benevolent enough to stop ourselves.
But I can’t buy any of it. Everybody agrees that war is bad. What we argue about morally and politically is the nature of its necessity. Similarly, no human is going to prefer living in a flat grey cold metal room when the beauty and wonder of Pandora is just outside the window, especially when the Na’vi (the indigenous aliens of Pandora which are conveniently quite human-like but just a bit more visually interesting) seem to stay very clean, well-fed and sheltered, out of danger, and have no waste management problems. The only reason we humans would prefer a less beautifully green living atmosphere is to make the aforementioned aspects of life more practical. A toilet may not be the most beautiful thing in the world, but it’s extremely practical. Most humans would probably want to stop being humans and become Avatars, as the main characters in the film do.
Here on Earth, you’re perfectly free to live as naturally as you want, so why don’t people who claim to want it actually pursue it? Because they don’t really want it. They want to keep using their toilets and air conditioning and email, and then complain about the evils of industry. Meanwhile, beautiful green nature will freeze you and burn you and starve you and get you dirty everywhere. Woohoo. (But not Pandora!)
I digress. In Avatar, the differences between good and evil are pretty easy to recognize. The story might’ve been more powerful (to some audiences) if the differences were more ambiguous, but that would’ve also made it more challenging, and thus more risky business-wise. If you find it anti-American, I guess it’s because you feel the film is negatively stereotyping Americans. But in the film, you really only see the Americans that are part of the story’s conflict, so you’d have to be assuming an awful lot about the Americans in that future that are not part of the battle and/or that are still on Earth. Kinda seems like you’re doing most of the stereotyping yourself.
(Also, I don’t recall America ever invading any country as different and beautiful and wondrous as Pandora, so I don’t see any important similarities between the Pandora invasion and any real-world historic or current invasions. If Cameron wanted to make a statement that such beauty and wonder are inherit in any culture we invade but are in the eyes of the beholder, he wouldn’t need many special effects for that. And he wouldn’t make as much money. And I think others have already tried.)