The Unbiased Eye

A scientist's commentary on events and culture

Why Would Anyone Steal This Movie?

with 2 comments

I was stunned last week to read that Avatar is he most pirated movie of all time.

It was illegally downloaded 21 million times, according to figures from a web site called TorrentFreak, which keeps tabs on the bit torrent marketplace. The story was all over the place, but not always attributed to the shadowy source. (That’s the news business for you.)

That factoid immediately made me wonder about how many legitimate dollars Avatar took in for the studios and the glitzy director Avatar James Cameron, who is finely tuned to the worst of our culture. That figure was even more distressing. Wikipedia puts Avatar as the top-grossing movie all-time at $2.8 billion.

I didn’t see Avatar in the theaters because I never go to the theaters anymore. They’re too expensive, too cold, too loud, and they smell bad. Probably worst of all, everyone feels free to yammer away on cell phones and talk out loud to the screen.

Once it was out on DVD, I caught up to it and saw it on a big screen TV in a small room in which I have control over the volume. I didn’t like it. It was very long and boring without surprise. The television is not a 3-D device, so that it’s possible I missed something. I don’t think so. Once in an electronics store, I stood in front of a 3-D television for 10 or 15 minutes. The salesman thought I was transfixed. I was searching and searching but found nothing better than in the other televisions in the show room except the price.

One of the most curious things about Avatar was the fuss that surrounded it after it came out. Nearly every conceivable opinion was verbalized somewhere. Some of them were bizarre.

The weirdest one was from Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. She called it “an Emersonian exploration of the invisible world of the spirit filled with Cameronian rock ’em, sock ’em pulpy action. Created to conquer hearts, minds, history books and box-office records, the movie — one of the most expensive in history, the jungle drums thump — is glorious and goofy and blissfully deranged.”

Emersonian, indeed. Times movie reviews sound like prep work for either a career in academia — like Dargis here — or for a career in television — as in A.O. Scott’s lines aimed straight for the eye of the camera.

The more interesting reviews were political, ranging from perceptions of a racist subtext, as here in the Telegraph in the U.K., to evidence of Hollywood’s moral decline into pantheism from the New York Times’s resident conservative, Ross Douthat to the paranoid view on the web site of David Duke, emblem of the modern day Klan, in a review by Hank Wolf: “Ironically, Avatar was criticized as being racist by the media — not because of its clandestine negative portrayal or European civilization, but because the hero was White! Apparently having a White hero is beginning to be a little too much to handle anymore, even if the character is portrayed as hero for betraying his own people.”

In the more techie realms, an equally furious debate raged over whether or not 3-D is a scam or not and whether or not 3-D is the future.

Sigh. All I saw was an overly long, rather boring shoot’em up.

You, too, may marvel at all this fuss over a cartoon. And it is something between a comic and a video game. The most accurate description I’ve seen was in the Huffington Post. I thought of this as I Pocahontas watched the movie, and then found that someone beat me to the punch in the article called, “Avatar = Pocahontas In Space”. (True to form, the HuffPo was only pointing to other places on the Web.)

As I thought about the movie’s gross revenue and about the piracy, I realized that Avatar is saying something. It’s not original; it’s been going on for years.

Our view of what we may find in space have flipped completely since the days of Flash Gordon and the evil emperor Ming. In the paranoid 1950s, the malevolent aliens were attacking the earth frequently, but luckily they were always thwarted by handsome, square-jawed white men. In the 1960s, tide started to turn and space became mysterious and philosophical, as in 2001. The movie versions of Solaris about the manipulative oceans of a far off planet was derived from an excellent novel written in the early 1960s by Stanislaw Lem.

Slowly the sense of wonder after Close Encounters of the Third Kind gave way to a more sinister view, only now the villains are usually us. Maybe Star Wars was a bridge. Space became a steamy, greasy place where human prisoners are warehoused, or greedy, destructive colonialists were exploiting other planets. The only thing new about Avatar was its huge expense and its literal-minded portrayal of nasty colonials and innocent natives.

If you want to see something thoughtful about that conflict, try a good movie, Black Robe, which is worth 30 or 40 Avatars. But then it will never be popular because it doesn’t divide the world into good guys and bad guys.

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Written by theunbiasedeye

October 16, 2011 at 4:35 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I like Avatar, but it’s definitely not one of my top movies. While it’s very well made, it’s SO predictable. You know the ending since the beginning, pretty much. Your blog is very interesting!!

    On life and stuff

    October 17, 2011 at 2:47 pm

  2. John Kurman

    November 1, 2011 at 3:01 pm


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