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Avatar (****)
directed by James Cameron
written by James Cameron
Principal Cast
Sam Worthington -- Jake Sully
Zoe Saldana -- Neytiri
Sigourney Weaver -- Dr. Grace Augustine
Stephen Lang -- Colonel Miles Quaritch
Michelle Rodriguez -- Trudy Chacon
Giovanni Ribisi -- Parker Selfridge
Joel David Moore -- Norm Spellman
CCH Pounder -- Moat
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

You've seen Avatar. You liked it a lot. Did you love it?

Avatar is the first real science fiction movie in a long time that is not part of a franchise. It's an action adventure movie from one of our best action directors -- only Lucas and Spielberg are better. It is the first movie to show us the complexity of life on an alien world. Not only that, it is well on its way to becoming one of the top box office films of all time.

I had more fun with Sherlock Holmes. Why didn't I love Avatar, the way I loved Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark?

One problem is the music. Movies aren't all that far from grand opera, and all of my favorite films have memorable theme music. Dum, da da da dum dum. The music in Avatar is plaintive and forgettable.

A more serious problem is that the aliens are so transparently American Indians. There is no frisson, no sense of otherness. The story is essentially Broken Arrow. Jimmy Stewart, the White hero, falls in love with the beautiful Indian maid, daughter of the chief. Whites are greedy. Indians are spiritual and at one with nature. They thank the animal for its life as they slit its throat. They tame wild steeds and ride like the wind. They are betrayed by the wicked White man.

The aliens, the Na'vi, are not even modeled on real American Indians, who were as diverse and complex as people of any other race. Indians covered the entire human spectrum, from peaceful to warlike, from honest to crooked, from smart to stupid, from brave to cowardly, from kind to cruel, with most somewhere in between. The Na'vi are Hollywood Indians.

Life in a state of nature is harsh and narrow and does not usually bring out the best in people. The mysticism of the native, on closer examination, is superstition, often destructive and cruel. The natural world of the native, on closer examination, is a constant struggle for survival, and many Indian tribes did their best to slaughter other tribes and all the animals they could kill. They drove entire buffalo herds off cliffs, even when they could only eat one or two of the carcasses before they rotted. There is no reason to think that the Na'vi, driven by evolution, would be any nicer.

The world of Avatar is the world of romantic fiction, in which nature is good and civilization corrupt. In the real world, civilization is a good thing. As I write this, it is cold and wet outside, and I'm very glad I have a warm home and books to read.

Avatar might have been a better movie if we saw the ignorance, superstition, disease, poverty, and dirt of life in a state of nature. Then the choice by the hero to betray and kill his comrades in arms might have been more difficult.

But what the movie really needed was a greater sense of the alien, of beings who, in the words of John W. Campbell, Jr., think as well as man, but do not think like man.

Copyright © 2010 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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