I went to see James Cameron’s movie Avatar last night.
It is everything I said it would be. It is courageous greenies in touch with nature, beating back the greedy Tasmanian loggers. It is Dances With Wolves with blue indians instead of red.
It is so PC that if its head were any further up its backside it would fall over.
But the strange thing is, it doesn’t fall over.
A film should never be dismissed simply because you read in it a political message you don’t like.
This does not apply to a deliberate piece of propaganda for something evil, like Dr Goebbels’ productions, or something plain stupid, like Thelma and Louise, or something libellous, like Baz Luhrmann’s Australia.
No artistic or entertainment value can redeem a movie (or book, or other work of art) which is bad because of bad intent.
But the expression of differing political perspectives in film or other media is a good thing, and there can be films which are genuinely good, even if the message is wrong.
Avatar’s central theme is that private enterprise is BAD, and that military power which supports private enterprise is even BADDER. Between them they destroy things and will wreck the world, and what will we do then?
That is wrong. Capitalism and free trade have done more than any other politico-economic system to lift ordinary people out of poverty, to encourage the exchange of ideas, to make medical and educational facilities available to ordinary people.
Societies which are wealthy can set aside large areas of forest or mountains or reefs as reserves. Poorer countries do not have that luxury.
Despite the clumsy naivety of its political message, Avatar is a good film.
It is not all good, of course, even after you discount the preaching.
There are a few wooden moments.
But this is Hollywood. Anything less than ten embarrassing dialogue blunders, or clunky plot errors, or distracting continuity mistakes, is a strong pass.
Much of the scenery looks like it was lifted from World of Warcraft – from the Night Elves and their world tree, to the floating mountains, to the bio-luminesence of Zangarmarsh.
The story is an amalgam of great sci-fi novels – Herbert’s Dune, McCaffrey’s Pern novels, Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest, Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.
But you can’t play ‘spot the cliche’ or ‘spot the ripoff’ with Avatar as you can with Australia.
Taken as a whole, the film is original and engaging.
The story is simple, and is told without any artificial attempts to make it ‘deeper.’ You never find yourself thinking ‘What the hell is going on now?’ Every scene meshes with the next in well paced succession.
Character development is well done – vastly better than in the deeply disappointing recent Jim Carrey version of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, for example.
In Avatar, you see and understand each step of Jakes’ journey to understanding the value of the Navi and their links to the ecology of Pandora. You cannot help cheering him on when he realises his loyalties have changed, and begins to act on his new convictions.
You may be thinking, as I was much of the time, that the story is a crock of doodoo. But suspension of belief is a necessary part of enjoying fiction in any form, and Pandora is a perfectly consistent world, and believable on its own terms.
Pandora is, without question, the most detailed and perfectly realised alien world ever attempted. It works because so much care has been taken with even the most minor details of sound and visual effects. It is difficult to overstate just how good the visuals in this film are.
This is true not just of individual effects, machines and creatures, but of how different parts of the world interact with each other to form a convincing whole.
But the special effects, powerful as they are, are not what drives the film.
From begining to end, Avatar is driven by the character of Jake Sully, his growing understanding of himself, the new world around him, and ultimately, what really matters and what he needs to do.
The film’s politics are a major flaw.
Nonetheless, James Cameron deserves recognition not only for great effects, but for a solid story, solidly directed. This is a film worth seeing.