Sat through all 2 hours and 40 minutes of “Avatar” the other day and was initially struck by the same attributes the critics are praising. It’s a wonderful combination of amazing hi-tech visuals coupled with an entertaining story. It wasn’t until I was driving home that it hit me. James Cameron has done much more than make a movie that entertains by setting a new standard for marrying live actors with animation. He’s put together a film that teaches, much like the movies I saw as a kid in the 50’s and 60’s.
The motion pictures of my youth, starring Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Audie Murphy and the rest carried a message. It was always pretty much the same. Given half a chance and a lot of courage, good, will triumph over evil. Gene, never drew his gun without good reason. He and his contemporary good guy heroes pulled their weapons only after being threatened and never because of hubris, avarice or any other generally disgusting human trait. They drew their weapons only to defend themselves or others, and even then, only when justice absolutely demanded the use of deadly force.
They were on the side of right, fighting bad guys who often represented greedy people out to impose their will through the use of violence because, well, somebody had to do the right thing. The strong were supposed to look out for the weak, not take advantage of them. Our heroes up there on the big screen were the good guys. They exemplified the American way. Parents could give their kids money to go to the movies knowing their youngsters would be entertained and get a lesson in decency all in the same package. Right was might, not the other way around. You didn’t do something just because you could, you did it because it was the right thing to do.
I was also reminded of Robert Mitchum portraying Brigadier General Norman Cota, a fearless giant of a man walking the sands of Normandy in “The Longest Day.” Nazi bullets whizzed by his head as he barked out to his men who had taken cover, “There are only two types of people that are going to stay on this beach, those already dead and those who are yet to die.” Taking heart from his display of courage, his men grabbed their weapons, got back up, and got back into the fight. A fight the good guys would eventually win.
Thousands would die in World War II, but America and its allies would save the world from the Nazi threat. We were the good guys, and that’s what we did. And this wasn’t fiction. This had all actually happened. Our troops were out to do the right thing come hell or high water and they were our real life heroes. They had walked the walk. Many had died with their boots on and a gun in their hands to preserve the America we were all continuing to enjoy. They did it not because there would be economic payback. They did it because they were confronted by an overwhelming evil and it was the right thing to do. They did it because it was their duty. And we learned about it from the movies.
All of it tied into Avatar for me as I was driving home. Like the cowboy films of the 50’s, it’s a classic struggle of good vs. evil. It’s also a love story. It’s also about the equality of male and female. Equality between those with physical disabilities and those who are not physically disabled. The top scientist in the movie is a woman. The movie’s protagonist is a paraplegic. Cameron’s got a lot going on here.
The struggle between good an evil is represented by a multi-planetary corporation backed by a mercenary army of former soldiers, out to steal the mineral rights of a people who want the invaders to go away and leave them alone. Sound vaguely familiar? But the filmmaker goes way beyond corporate greed driven lust for profit and the obvious parallel between the minerals on a distant moon named “Pandora” and oil lying beneath the sands of the Middle East.
The native humanoid creatures on this moon aren’t just living there. The entire moon is connected by one big nervous system. The humanoids, the plants, the trees, the animals. It’s all one big interconnected organic system with a culture the corporate invaders can’t understand and don’t really care to. Not when there’s money to be made by stealing the wealth that lies beneath the ground. Better to blow them all away in the cause of short-term profits than to try and understand the wonders of their moon (opening Pandora’s box) that could turn out to be far more valuable over the long haul. Kinda like the short term profits vs. the long term problems of…global warming?
And so the evil mercenaries backed by corporate sponsorship go on the attack with helicopter gunships in the air and robotic armor on the ground. The Avatar people, armed only with bows and arrows don’t have a chance. Or do they? Will the might of the mercenary army driven by corporate greed overcome right, or will a hero come along to lead the fight to prove that right makes might?
Maybe I just long for the simpler movies of days gone by, before they turned Batman into a psychotic. Or perhaps James Cameron has gone beyond the norm and there’s a lot more to this film than is generally being recognized. Avatar’s numbers at the box office would seem to indicated the American people approve. Even if this film is a tad on the long side and I wish they could have taken the cigarette out of Sigourney Weaver’s mouth. I think Gene and Roy would have approved. Not of the cigarette, but of pretty much everything else.
Happy trails to you….