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David Hines [userpic]

AVATAR: a memo (mild spoilers)

December 18th, 2009 (01:35 pm)


FROM: David Hines
TO: the interstellar corporation from AVATAR
RE: your stupidity

Hey, guys --

Lemme see if I've got this straight.

You're on Pandora to collect a mineral called unobtanium. There is a huge concentration of unobtanium underneath the nearby native village. You want the unobtanium, the natives don't want to move, and so you take direct action, which, as always and everywhere, means "killing people and taking their stuff." Am I right about this? OK, good.

The movie I saw about you doesn't actually tell us what unobtanium is good for, but it does show us a sample of unobtanium on a character's desk, and based on that scene I think I can make a pretty good guess. The unobtanium is levitating a few inches above some kind of self-contained powered base. When taken away from this base, it doesn't levitate on its own. Obvious inference: that device on the desk creates an electromagnetic field, and unobtanium is a room-temperature superconductor.

Here's the thing: unless you're more interested in being evil, rather than ruthless, you're not necessarily in the business of oppressing natives. You're in the business of getting unobtanium. Right?

Well, I am totally not a geologist or a physicist or anything like that, but we are told several times in the movie that there are strong fields of whooziwhatsis on Pandora that screw up your instrument readings and various aspects of your technology, and we see that these fields are strongest in the Hallelujah Mountains, which are great big levitating rocks.

...yes. That's right; you are on this planet to collect an extremely valuable element that levitates when exposed to a presumably magnetic field, and your planet has great big levitating rocks in an area characterized by strong presumably magnetic fields.

Might I suggest that if you're having so many problems with the natives, you might want to ignore their goddamn village and check out THE GIANT FUCKING FLOATING MOUNTAINS, because you can bet your ass they are chock full of unobtanium.

If you aren't mining the Hallelujah Mountains, you are stupid.

This is not your fault, I know. You have to be stupid. Because if you're not stupid, there's no way you're wasting time with the blue kittycat people when you could literally be plucking unobtanium from the sky. But you're in a lefty self-hate movie, so it's not enough for you to be ruthless and amoral; you have to be out and out evil, to the point of killing people when it makes no business sense to do so. I get that. I do. I'm sick of it, sure -- just once, man, I would love to see a movie where a guy embeds in another culture and, while he comes away respecting them, still feels more comfortable and happier in his own -- but hey, that's the genre.

If it's any consolation, you guys aren't alone. When the hero -- who's never seen or heard of the Hallelujah Mountains -- finally sees them, he doesn't do what any other human being would do and ask, "So, how come those fucking mountains are floating, then?"

Anyway, best of luck with your endeavors, but I'm telling you, forget the Smurfs. Check out the floating rocks. I don't know how you guys wound up being there however long and never thought about them.

I don't know how James Cameron had them on the screen for a good chunk of a three-hour movie and expected *me* not to think about them, either.


David Hines


Posted by: Vvalkyri (vvalkyri)
Posted at: December 18th, 2009 07:17 pm (UTC)


Posted by: rodlox (rodlox)
Posted at: December 18th, 2009 09:01 pm (UTC)
going to hug

its possible that the mountains use a form of unobtanium that is useless for industrial use.
(sort of like how pencil lead can't be used to tip drills, or how zebras can't be domesticated)

I suspect my beef will be with how the Na'vi are the only tetrapods on a planet full of hexapods.

Posted by: silk_noir (silk_noir)
Posted at: December 19th, 2009 04:37 pm (UTC)


I am a bad lefty because I am more interested in the flora and fauna and how they work and don't work than I am in the race/colonial issues.

Posted by: rodlox (rodlox)
Posted at: December 19th, 2009 09:51 pm (UTC)

Posted by: holyschist (holyschist)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2009 01:55 am (UTC)

Posted by: •• the years oƒ living ∂angerously happy •• (nightengale)
Posted at: December 18th, 2009 11:10 pm (UTC)
Oi oi oi.

I need to show this to my friend who's batshit about the movie and says it's her new favorite movie EVER. I mean, she began explaining it to me (cause I never manage to actually pay attention to advertisements, movie or otherwise, so I really did need the tutorial) like so:

"So, the military goes to this other planet, and they find something important where all the alien people live, but the alien people don't want to move so they have to figure out how to get rid of them."

And she lost me right about at "military," but then again at "don't want to move," because really, there NEVER is another result to "don't want to move" in Hollywood, unless of course the ones who don't want to move are the white/male/American ones. >_>


Anyway, I want to hang a big neon arrow pointing at the mountains and just leave it at that.

Posted by: A large duck (burger_eater)
Posted at: December 18th, 2009 11:16 pm (UTC)

I've been waiting to reach your post on my flist to ask, but what does "lefty self-hate" mean in this context?

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: December 19th, 2009 01:48 am (UTC)
oh john ringo no

"The deep-seated conviction that concerns, views, needs, and actions of non-Western civilizations and cultures are valid and have moral weight, while the concerns, views, needs, and actions of Western civilization and culture are suspect at best and reprehensible at worst." (Not that there needs to be a non-Western component to the story; there are plenty of lefty self-hate stories that focus on the lousiness of Western institutions in general.)

I'm certainly not opposed to regarding ourselves critically, but I think self-hate can also have a toxic effect on the body politic and the culture, and the tendency of filmmakers, in particular, to indulge in it is really discomfiting. (Peter Berg, for example, who directed THE KINGDOM, took careful steps to sucker-punch the audience with an attempt at moral equivalency; he was reportedly stunned and appalled when audience members at a preview *applauded* the killing of the movie's terrorists, because he'd wanted to make a "cycle of violence" commentary.)

The other problem with AVATAR is not just that it is a lefty self-hate movie -- Stephen King's "The Mist," which I mentioned in the John Ringo review, is a lefty self-hate story at its core, but it's one of the great modern horror stories. AVATAR, by contrast, is so strident a lefty self-hate story that it keeps indulging in lefty self-hate stuff *even when that runs counter to the universe it sets up.*

My favorite example of this is one scene where Col. Quaritch, the military heavy, is laying out the strategy for fighting the hero and his Na'vi army. Quaritch bellows that he will "fight terror with terror." My reaction: er, *what* terror?! The natives have big arrows which are remarkably ineffective against bigger machines. Are they launching raids? Are they killing people? Are there cultural differences that escalate to brutality? No, of course not, because in Cameron's movie the Na'vi are wholly innocent souls who frolic in the forest reading trails and shit; they don't do shit to anybody, they get shit done to them, because Cameron is so dedicated to them being noble savages and perfect victims. But he's so devoted to putting lefty self-hate stuff in there he has Quaritch use "anti-terror" rhetoric anyway, because Cameron wants to Make a Special Comment about fighting terrorism, even though it bears no relation whatsoever to what he's shown us.

I think lefty reaction to this movie will be really interesting: I can see a lot of folks on my flist going nuts for the storyline, but feeling skeevy over, say, the diversity issues.

Posted by: A large duck (burger_eater)
Posted at: December 19th, 2009 03:29 am (UTC)

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: December 19th, 2009 03:44 am (UTC)

Posted by: A large duck (burger_eater)
Posted at: December 20th, 2009 07:04 am (UTC)

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: December 20th, 2009 04:38 pm (UTC)

Posted by: A large duck (burger_eater)
Posted at: December 20th, 2009 08:01 pm (UTC)

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: December 20th, 2009 09:20 pm (UTC)

Posted by: A large duck (burger_eater)
Posted at: December 21st, 2009 12:02 am (UTC)

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: December 21st, 2009 05:02 pm (UTC)

Posted by: A large duck (burger_eater)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2009 02:51 pm (UTC)

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: December 22nd, 2009 08:25 pm (UTC)

Posted by: A large duck (burger_eater)
Posted at: December 23rd, 2009 07:47 pm (UTC)

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: December 28th, 2009 12:14 am (UTC)

Posted by: Amberley (amberley)
Posted at: December 19th, 2009 06:00 am (UTC)
Corporate Synergy

Good question, but how would the Raining Death and Destruction From the Skies division of InterstellarCo meet its profit goals if Mining division just grabbed the free floating Unob and didn't need to bring in the DeathRaining hardware?

Not that I've seen the movie yet, although I was thinking about it, even though it seems too long at 2:40.

I'd love to see a movie made of Eric Frank Russell's classic "And Then There Were None", but that wouldn't cost $400 million, so it seems unlikely to happen.

Posted by: rodlox (rodlox)
Posted at: December 19th, 2009 09:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Corporate Synergy
going to hug

maybe the free-floating stuff isn't usable. (horses and zebras are capable of the same things, but zebras can't be harnessed)

Posted by: silk_noir (silk_noir)
Posted at: December 19th, 2009 04:33 pm (UTC)


I love the movie.

But you're not wrong.

Yeah, I kinda went "Wha?" at the fighting terror with terror, but I ratoinalized with the acceptance that it was over-the-top whip-em-up nonsense that was intended to hit the amygdala, not the forebrain.

I also found it a little... less believable that Heroine Trudy (whom I loved, don't get me wrong) was the only dissenter.

Posted by: Pope Buck I (popebuck1)
Posted at: December 19th, 2009 04:52 pm (UTC)

Hey, James Cameron is a visionary technical director and special F/X genius, light years ahead of his contemporaries.

But no one has EVER accused him of being a great screenwriter.

Posted by: Vinzenz Stemberg (erlkonigvinz)
Posted at: December 20th, 2009 06:43 am (UTC)

You know what? I believe I have seen this entire plotline before. Not the "don't want to move" part, I mean the ENTIRE GODDAMN THING.........


Granted, because its supposed to be an interactive medium it sucked, but contrary to what the review says, when both halves are joined its quite decent. Like a poor man's Orson Scott Card. And then Cameron took this exact plot and dumbed it down for the tweenybopper generation. The frightening thing is he considers that monstrosity that resulted his opus. Kiss yo career goodbye jackoff!

Posted by: vito excalibur (vito_excalibur)
Posted at: December 27th, 2009 04:14 pm (UTC)

just once, man, I would love to see a movie where a guy embeds in another culture and, while he comes away respecting them, still feels more comfortable and happier in his own


Posted by: opportunity refund (beaq)
Posted at: December 28th, 2009 07:34 am (UTC)

I'm not sure I agree that disdain for the people who seem to embody the perceived flaws of the Wrong aspects of our common culture, and a sense that the Wrong has more or less overwhelmed the Good and Right in America is an exclusively leftist failing. Nor is ascribing simplistic childishness to less-powerful groups of people. It might be more lefty to believe that the value of the poor little magic people is in their hearts rather than in their mines, but the fantasy is still all about how worthy and special we (people like us) are. Our fantasy films are about breaking away from what we perceive as corruption in our cultures, setting up a More Pure version of the world we already value. And most of them are profoundly insulting to the groups of people we stereotype. This movie indulges in a lefty brand of stereotyping, but I don't see how this smug fake-humility can be characterized as self-hate.

Posted by: Purple Vengeance Version (dr_memory)
Posted at: December 28th, 2009 08:30 am (UTC)

So apparently...


In the original scripts for Avatar, the unobtanium was a room-temp superconductor, and in fact it was all concentrated in... the mountains. No nonsense about it all being buried under the Na'vi village: the Company was interested in the Na'vi (and funding the Avatar program) because they wanted to convice/coerce them into being the native mining workforce.

I'd really love to know how much cocaine, alcohol or blunt-force trauma to the forehead was involved in convincing Cameron that the version he ended up filming was the better one.

Posted by: Myranda Sarro (nagaina_ryuuoh)
Posted at: December 31st, 2009 07:47 pm (UTC)

I suspect that it wasn't so much the "better" one as "the one that 20th Century Fox film executives will be willing to let leave development." See: the forced excision of every scene that explained what the hell was going on from the theatrical print of The Abyss.

Posted by: telepresence (telepresence)
Posted at: January 1st, 2010 04:33 pm (UTC)

1. The movie does state outright that the natives consider the floating mountain area sacred. So if the Company had gone after them they would have had problems similar to the Home Tree situation anyway.

2. I also wonder what the costs of collecting the stuff would be compared to other areas. Digging the stuff out of the ground is probably simpler than trying to... I dunno, make flying mining machines and climbing harnesses for any human workers needed in the area or trying to pull the rocks down to the ground or... it just seems more complicated logistically. Not to mention all this equipment is going to be glitching constantly due to the location.

Posted by: Niall Harrison (coalescent)
Posted at: January 4th, 2010 09:24 pm (UTC)

You've probably seen this by now, but in case not: good call on the mountains.

Posted by: Niall Harrison (coalescent)
Posted at: January 4th, 2010 09:24 pm (UTC)

Note to self: read comment thread before posting.

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