Why NOT to see “AVATAR”

If you haven’t heard about this little movie called “Avatar”, let me break it down for you: A bunch of Earthicans invade a planet to mine a mineral called unobtanium (not kidding), but the locals (10-foot-tall, blue, stupid-looking creatures called the Na’vi) don’t cotton onto that scheme and, led by a traitorous human soldier, decide to fight off the Halliburton-like advances of the evil humans with a combination of twigs, berries and pterodactyls.

So should you see it? No. No, you shouldn’t. Ignore the fact that the James Cameron-directed movie has made, as of March, eleventeen gajillion dollars at the box office, and believe me when I tell you it blows. And here are two annoying reasons why:

It’s two-and-a-half hours of topical grandstanding disguised as an action film.When “Avatar” lost out to the vastly superior “The Hurt Locker” for Best Picture at last month’s Academy Awards, it was hailed as a victory for critics because “Avatar”, despite its ticket receipts, sucked, while “The Hurt Locker” was awesome. Call it validation for a group of writers who essentially don’t matter anymore. (Get bent, Twitter.)

But the disturbing trend isn’t the low standards of the general public; it’s the fact that “Avatar” was nominated for anything important at all. It’s the same thing as if O.J. Simpson were nominated for the Supreme Court, or if Barack Obama were to win a Nobel Peace Prize. The fact is, “Avatar” received its plaudits because of its eco-friendly and anti-Iraq War themes — sensibilities shared by many Academy voters.

Since most people are eco-friendly and anti-Iraq War at this point, you probably don’t want to get beat over the head by following messages:

A) We are all part of the great circle of life, don’t drill for   oil, Republicans are mean,
B) The Iraq War is wrong
C) The Iraq War, while costly and ill-advised, is also quite wrong
D) We shouldn’t occuppy Iraq

Isn’t that called preaching to the choir? Essentially, you and your children paid good money on tickets so that Cameron was able to assuage his white, upper-class American guilt with such a gift to humanity. If that wasn’t irritating enough, “Avatar” is released on DVD and Blu-ray on Earth Day.

It’s racist. Ironically, Cameron’s white guilt doesn’t extend to indigenous peoples. “Avatar” (ripping off “Dances with Wolves”, “Pocahontas” and “The Last Samurai”) weaves the tale of a white guy (played by charisma- poor Sam Worthington) who decides to take a stand and aid the backward, naive and technologically retarded native species whose resource, which they don’t even use, is being threatened by the black- hearted hordes of Americans headed their way.

The good white guy (using, as the movie’s title suggests, an “Avatar” that makes him one of them, sort of) warns the Na’vi of their imminent doom if they don’t take action. The good white guy is the first of them in eons to be able to ride a certain terrifying winged creature. The good white guy is the first to be outraged when the bad white guys begin stripping the land. And the good white guy leads the cowardly aliens in battle. Don’t worry, you dumb natives — Anglo-Saxons are always standing by to lift you out of the gutter.

It’s typical of the intellectual elite to want to save the poor, the downtrodden and the oppressed, and that’s always because of hubris — the elite, after all, know better than the victims of social and political ills do. But “Avatar” is so trite, so casually offensive, that it becomes increasingly apparent while you watch that there isn’t anybody smart behind the curtain. My rule is that every movie is worth watching, but if you’re on the fence about seeing “Avatar” for the first (or even the second) time, consider saving your money for less pretentious fair.


“COMMANDO” (1985)

Things that would have made “Avatar” better: the protagonist kneeling down to hand-feed a curious deer, daughter at his side, during the opening credits; the protagonist scalping an enemy with a well-thrown saw blade; the protagonist entering an army surplus store, finding a hidden button that by all accounts shouldn’t be there and gathering up an arsenal of weapons (including an RPG) from the secret stockroom before blowing up a bunch of cops with it.

Oh, “Commando” has all those things, you say? Then it must be a better movie.

“Commando” is one of those glorious ‘80s action films that understands how stupid it is, yet doesn’t give a crap. The nice thing about many Arnold Schwarzenegger movies was that he always had a thick Austrian accent, but it didn’t require explanation. (There’s just no possible way to explain it away, other than “I’m from Austria,” which was only ever attempted in “Kindergarten Cop” and this film.) The accent was the first sign you weren’t required to think too hard about things.

The plot, in a nutshell: Retired soldier John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) is warned by his ex-special forces commander that a rogue compatriot named Bennett might be knocking on his door soon, and indeed such an event occurs mere seconds after the commander leaves. When Matrix’s daughter, played by a prepubescent Alyssa Milano, is taken by the evil mercs  (to blackmail him into killing a foreign dictator so that another dictator, played by Dan Hedaya, can rise to power), Matrix snaps into action, mass-murdering hundreds upon hundreds of men to save his spawn from certain doom.

Is it as bad as it sounds? Of course not — it’s much better. Here’s some dialogue-based proof:
Matrix (after snapping an enemy’s neck on a commercial flight, then hiding the body under a hat and blanket): “Don’t disturb my friend. He’s dead tired.” Matrix (holding an enemy over a cliff by his leg): “Remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last?” Sully: “That’s right, Matrix, you did!”
Matrix: “I lied.” (Matrix drops a dummy that looks vaguely like Sully down Mulholland Drive.)
Matrix (after somehow skewering his mortal enemy with a thrown PVC pipe, causing hot, vaporized water to shoot from the opening): “Let off some steam, Bennett.”

I could burn through several hundred thousand words describing how incredible this movie is, but I can’t, since I wasted so many denouncing “Avatar” for some reason. Just do yourself a favor and watch “Commando” before you die. That way the minister presiding over your funeral doesn’t have to sound regretful.





About Zack Newkirk


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