Paradise on Pandora   4 comments

It is amazing what movie makers can do now. Last Friday I went to the alien planet of Pandora, and lived the life of an arboreal savage in a world of extreme beauty and peril. Watching Jake Sully go alien, I could only marvel at the beauty and complexity of Pandora. Ah, to be young and strong and physically perfect living on another world–heck I’d be just as happy to be young and strong and physcially perfect on Earth.

James Cameron’s Avatar is a movie of transcendent beauty. It’s all computer generated effects, but there has never been such a gorgeous jungle planet. I want to go there. It doesn’t seem right that the atmosphere is poisonous to human beings. It’s a wonderful move. I give it five stars. Everyone should go see it.

But, like all science fiction and fantasy movies, check  your brain at the door.  Man has gone to the stars in slower than light ships–not much slower because they reach another star in a little over six years.  And they got lucky–real lucky. They found an earthlike planet with intelligent life. They also found a new mineral–unobtanium with anti-gravity powers. Stop right there! Unobtanium–give me a break! Is there an element in the whole periodic table with such a stupid name? No. If someone discovers a new mineral, they name it after themselves. Maybe this was discovered by a guy named Unobtan, but I doubt it.

The world is named Pandora.

If there’s one thing the critics don’t like about Avatar, it’s the story line of greedy Americans raping the planet for this mythical metal. Everything is driven by the quest for profit. The natives are sitting on top of the world’s biggest deposit of unobtanium–the natives have to go. If they won’t go peacefully, they’ll be forced to move, or killed. The military men in the Earth force would actually prefer the latter. What good is a fighting man if he doesn’t get to fight?

Now, the truth is that American buisness is greedy, and the profiteers will do whatever it takes to get those resources, make their money, but it isn’t just America that will do that. Every industrialized nation on Earth is like that. Making a profit is human nature.

However, the unobtanium was scattered all over the planet. They didn’t have to attack the Na’vi. If the movie didn’t call for an exciting battle between the forces of nature, and the ultra-mechanized might of Earth, then I don’t think the conflict would have happened. The payoff didn’t justify the risk.

So, let’s talk about some subtext that the critics are never going to get around to mentioning. That subtext is heroic humanity, brilliant humanity, compassionate humanity. Pandora is in orbit around Alpha Centauri. In this movie, we are the ones who figure out how to travel to the stars. We create the technology that gets us there. We are the ones who open communciations with the natives of Pandora, learning their language and teaching them ours. We are the ones who create Pandoran bodies that Earth humans can occupy. These are magnificent achievements. Humans are smart–very very smart.

Pandora is a strange and deadly world in alien space. Yet Men go there and set up a colony and start studying the place. Faced with the Unknown–faced with incredible dangers from flora, fauna, and atmosphere, Men (and Women) conquer it all, and go bravely into the most incredible situations. Fear of the unknown is a big fear. It hasn’t stopped Us in the past, and according to Cameron, it won’t stop Us in the future. In fact, Humanity loves the Unknown. We thrive on it. When the big showdown comes, the humans don’t show any less courage than the Na’vi in combat. Not a single coward is shown on either side. Moreover, the scientists who want to study and learn from the Na’vi risk their lives on the planet’s surface in pseudo-native bodies. The point of all this is: humans are courageous. Even the worst badguy, the ultimate military man, faced with giants beasts and savage men, and knowing that he’s going to die, never gives up, fights to the last. And bravest of all is Jake Scully–he overcomes his own body, the prejudices of both Earthmen and Na’vi, and the incredible challenges of the planet itself to become the leader of the resistance.  As a human being, he transcends his background and saves the Na’vi from his own kind.

Humans transcend mere biology. It is a human being who makes the leap that bridges the two worlds–not a Na’vi. Even when Cameron is showing how pure and brave the Na’vi are, it is ultimately a story of human superiority. If the human scientists and our hero hadn’t been brave and compassionate, the Na’vi would have been wiped out.

So, people may read this as another movie about bad civilization and good primitiveness, but it isn’t. It’s about following your heart and doing what you think is right. And if you do that, then you’ll probably get killed doing it.

But, do it anyway. Cameron says follow your heart, and rejoice in your Humanity, because with all Our faults, We are still Lords of Creation, Masters of the Universe. And no one lives forever.


Posted December 29, 2009 by atroll in Uncategorized

4 responses to “Paradise on Pandora

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  1. Wonderfully stated.
    –I, too, loved it.

    Beautiful in the extreme.

  2. You are giving Cameron way too much credit. Your brilliant and optimistic self can manufacture something positive out of this anti-capitalist, anti-industry, anti-military, pro-stone-age cartoon.

    This is yet another Hollywood film about how everything we do is wrong, and someone else is doing it better, and only the genius filmmakers and actors can see this truth.

    You clearly write that the story foundation is stupid (unobtainium), the story writing is stupid (senseless, pointless attack). I will add that the graphics are not convincing, which is a high bar, but one the film sets for itself. I will also add that the conclusion is stupid. The Gordon Gecko Army could have popped the crust off Pandora and just scooped up the ore at their convenience. Surely they can defeat blue guys with arrows?

    You are too forgiving, if such a thing is possible. I will always admire your positive outlook, but it is without support in this particular film.

  3. Unobtanium is, of course, a sci-fi “insider” joke. Elements with “magical” properties are grouped together under the term “Unobtanium”. I am not sure about Avatar, but then I haven’t seen it. Sounds like your average “go for the visuals” hollywood flick, really. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

  4. best movie sens back to the future

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