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Avatar – Mollifying our collective guilt

Scene from Avatar

I was on my way to pick up some medicines at the drug store when I ran into the premiere of Avatar at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Reviews are all over the place at this point about the movie. Variety’s Todd McCarthy gushes, “Cameron delivers again with a film of universal appeal that just about everyone who ever goes to the movies will need to see.” Given its Friday night box office receipts of $27 million, that is a good start. On the other hand, let’s look at the competition. Did you hear about the Morgans? Invictus, The Princess and the Frog…These movies are hardly even getting a pulse at the BO (Box Office, for those of you who aren’t movie industry insiders.)

While I’ve only seen the preview when I went to see the fabulous Men Who Stare at Goats (starring George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey) I did hear the reactions of the audience when they saw aforementioned preview. It garnered more scoffing chortles than when I sang “I Fall to Pieces” at a karaoke bar. Well, let’s watch the trailer and then we can talk a bit more.

What I take away from this three minute clip is this. It’s an obvious anti-war message, but couched inside, like so many Hollywood movies, is White man’s guilt over pillaging and plundering planet Earth, not planet Pandora. Feeling guilty is one thing, but taking action is another. Originally the talk of the town was that the budget of this movie would exceed $300 million. As usual all the early buzz was hype. The budget was only in excess of $200 million, to me that means up to $299,999,999 and 99¢. If guilty Whitey spent that money on scholarships, community development projects and the like, it would go a bit further than this movie in undoing the harm of our current sociopathic capitalist system. While this movie champions compassion over self-interest, and naturalism over industrialism, it is a paradox in itself with its use of high-tech gadgetry to achieve special effects. (More on special effects later.) Sure it gave low paying jobs to ticket takers and concession stands. Maybe it advanced optical sciences in some way beyond my comprehension, but on the whole, from a job creation standpoint at least, the movie flops. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most of the jobs created by the movie industry are low-paying service positions, such as ushers, ticket-takers, janitors and concession stand operators.

Before I forget, let me just talk about the problem I have with special effects. There was a time when special effects were used to enhance a movie, The Exorcist for example. When little Regan’s head started twisting around and around, I just about bit my nails to the bone! Within that same golden era of movie making (the Seventies, that is) another movie came out, Star Wars. Please don’t misunderstand me. I loved Star Wars when it came out. I saw it three times. Little did I know that the use of special effects would become the end-all of 9 out of 10 movies. I just pulled that statistic out of my fertile imagination, but I’m sure I’m not too far off the mark. Special effects have come to replace plotlines, direction, cinematography, and plain old good acting, as the benchmark for a fine movie. (I’m including wild makeup under special effects, à la Freddy Kruger.) Compare a movie from the 70’s with its remake in the zeros and see how much of a role special effects have taken over. I dare ya! Special effects may wow you while you’re sitting in your seat, but if you went to the movies for a good story, you will leave that theater with a hollow feeling.

Now before I let you go, I want you to see how the movie industry treats the regular joe on the street when he’s on his way to the drug store to pick up his medicines.

Well, I hope that James Cameron feels better about himself and the rape and pillage of planet Earth. One last clip. I nearly died when I heard the soundtrack. This video is called “Save the Planet – Watch This!”  It’s a scream.



About Russell Smith

I was born at the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. I find inspiration in the lives of so many people from Joan of Arc to Oscar Wilde. While my primary avocation is photography, I also enjoy philosophy, theology and most of all, history. My beloved wife, Robin Anne Smith, who passed away in 2013 is also an inspiration to me. My beloved partner, Dana is also a great support and inspiration to me. I'd be remiss if I did not mention my cats: Natasha, Maxwell, Tigger and Nigel.

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