Oversized Smurfs and Bomb Squads

So I might be a tad late commenting on the two main Oscar nominees, but who cares. So Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron used to be married and now they both have movies nominated for 9 Oscars.

Cameron has always been a specialist of the big brainless money-churning blockbuster. He’s brought us such visionary films as Terminator 2, Titanic and True Lies. He even wrote Rambo. And now comes Avatar. The first reason I hate Avatar is the slew of 3D films it has spawned. Now every studio thinks they can make a billion dollars by making us wear stupid glasses and get slightly queasy at the sight of various objects coming our way in a darkened room. At least they’re not the silly red and green glasses of my childhood, which made you look like a genetic reject.

So here we sit, faced with the awfully named Pandora, a rainforest on acid inhabited by a race of annoyingly and relentlessly new-age oversized Smurfs. Its basically a John Smith meets Pocahontas story set in an improbably elaborate environment some 150 years in the future. You’d think that 150 years from now people would have stopped using unmistakably Bush-era terms like shock-and-awe and vilifying big heartless corporations. To be fair to Cameron, the movie took years to elaborate, and much of those years (8 to be specific) were spent under the mind-numbing gung-ho attitude of the Bush neocons. And the film has been met by conservatives in the US with much ire. All the quacks from Glenn Beck to Rush Limbaugh have taken to calling Cameron a tree-hugging, America-hating, Marx-loving, sandal-wearing commie. That’s the kind of treatment usually reserved for the latest outings by Michael Moore or Oliver Stone. The right-wing hatred of the film is probably the only thing it has going for it in my view.

Don’t get me wrong, the experience is entirely immersive. The vistas on Pandora are absolutely breathtaking, especially in 3D. You kind of come out wishing you could book a holiday on one of the floating mountains. The film is also a new benchmark with regards to technology in movie making. However, I was consistently annoyed by the pseudo-religious mumbo jumbo and caricature Marine oafs and corporate whores. I mean, surely audiences in 2010 are capable of accepting more subtlety from their blockbusters than this. You just need to look at franchises like the Bourne Identity to see how subtle yet entertaining popcorn movies can be. A Slate review of the film notes that the original Sanskrit meaning of “avatar”—the bodily form taken by a deity descending to earth—is also suggested in this movie’s quasi-religious cosmology. But so what? Superficial depth of analysis is far worse than a deeply superficial story.

The Hurt Locker on the other hand, is what movie screens were made for. It deals in a more direct and less insulting fashion with the implications of warfare in far-flung places. The film starts in the summer of 2004, where Sergeant J.T. Sanborn and Specialist Owen Eldridge of Bravo Company are at the volatile center of the war, part of a small counterforce specifically trained to handle Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), that account for more than half of American hostile deaths and have killed thousands of Iraqis. It’s a high-pressure, high-stakes assignment which becomes glaringly apparent when they lose their team leader during a mission. The gleefully reckless Staff Sergeant William James (an amazing Jeremy Renner) takes over, much to the dismay of the rest of the team. Throughout the film we slowly realize that James is a hybrid of a swaggering cowboy, a highly professional solider and a real human being.

Its impossibly tense from the get-go and the film basically swings back and forth from ultimate boredom to impossibly dangerous situations. A perfect representation of time spent in the war theatre. The depiction of Iraq in 2003 is spot on, and as someone who lives in the Middle East I can safely say that the cinematography captures the feeling of sweat and claustrophobia and dust hanging in the air perfectly. The acting is spot on by every member of the cast, even the 10 year old Iraqi bootleg DVD salesman at Camp Victory. There isn’t a boring minute throughout, yet the film is rife with contemplations on the nature and legitimacy of war. It examines war as a drug, evident in Jeremy Renner’s free-wheeling adrenaline junkie character who is itching to be sent back on a second tour. The Hurt Locker opens with a quote from War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, a 2002 book by war correspondent and journalist Chris Hedges: “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.”

The Oscars have long been a pointless exercise in futility, both as a telecast and as a benchmark by which to judge the year’s films. They are highly political, and no one really cares about them anymore beyond figuring out “who” Beyonce is wearing this year. “Academy Award Winner” is a nice title to blurt out before someone’s name in a trailer, but many of the worlds greatest actors and directors were never recognized with a statuette. So, what I’m trying to say is let’s not pay too much attention to who wins how many trophies on the night itself. If you have to choose between watching Avatar and The Hurt Locker, watch the latter. You’ll have more fun and come out of it having learnt something real and honest about human nature.

4 Responses to “Oversized Smurfs and Bomb Squads”

  1. Caroline
    February 28, 2010 at 8:36 am #

    I agree with you about the crazy 3D fashion going on now but even James Cameron disagrees with it (http://www.excessif.com/cinema/actu-cinema/news/james-cameron-explique-comment-doit-marcher-la-3d-5703513-760.html). The problem is that 3D movies have had so much success that every producing company wants their movies changed to 3D which is ridiculous!

    However about the movie Avatar, the “caricature Marine oafs and corporate whores” are a portrayal of the human race nowadays (mostly politicians and CEOs) and their thirst for anything worth money. The moral behind the movie is that we have lost our connection to nature because we are blinded by our needs. Through Jake Sully, we see a transition, first using fire to see the way to then letting nature show you the way. And then we have the typical “corporate whores”, as you call them, who would do anything for their “unobtainium”, which is somewhat synonymous to Americans ravaging cities just to get to their black gold. In conclusion, I don’t find Avatar to be superficial but rather a fanciful portrayal of what we’ve become.

    On another note, I haven’t had a chance to watch Hurt Locker yet but I’ve pushed it to the top of my list. Thanks for the recommendation :)


    P.S: I like the way you express yourself

  2. Nasri Atallah
    February 28, 2010 at 11:53 am #

    Hi Caroline,
    I agree that the story is a legitimate one, I just don’t like the tone in which it’s told. Believe me, I’m a hippy at heart and hate the Enrons and Halliburtons of this world as much as the next tree-hugger. You just reminded me about unobtainium, what a crap name for an unobtainable resource! It never ceases to amaze me that when filmmakers have such free reign in their creative process they choose facile nomenclatures and concepts. I think that’s what irks me about the film.
    PS: Thank you :)

  3. Tarek
    March 1, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    *takes personal offense from bashing of avatar….
    *decides not to comment…

  4. Nasri Atallah
    March 1, 2010 at 4:03 pm #

    Tarek – By the way, my first reaction was to say I loved it. Then I realized I was just saying that to shield myself from the mockery of my friends. I stick by my position lol

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