Results tagged “Significant Films of the 2000s”

Popsickle's 20 Greatest Films of the 2000s

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Contributors: Laura Culp, D. W. Hurt, Dempsey Kraft, Daniel J. Lay, Matthew D. Miller, Philip Tallman, and Emily Whelchel

The Popsickle team took a break from writing about the Significant Films of the 2000s to list what we thought were the twenty greatest films of the 2000s.

20. Taken

Taken

I view Taken as Finding Nemo for adults. It portrays the love of a father who will stop at nothing to have his child back. Liam Neeson is what truly makes the movie. He shows how talented he really is in this film. Along with his acting and fighting abilities, he shows that his voice is well trained. After watching the film, one can’t help but say “I will find you” in their best Liam Neeson-like voice. Most of all, the film does a great job of reminding everyone that human trafficking is real, and not everyone’s dad comes to save them. This movie is fictional, but what happens in this movie is not. When watching this film, don’t ever forget that fact. —P.T.

19. Finding Nemo

Finding Nemo

How far would you go to save someone you love? What would you fight to have a loved one back? One clown fish proved that he would do whatever it takes. In a humorous way, this film shows the love of a father. The main storyline of this film is so simplistic, yet it is a brilliant film. Additionally, it is treat for the eyes to watch the clown fish brave the colorful ocean. It is a beautiful sight. Anyone who has ever experienced the deep love of a father will be reminded of it while watching this entertaining movie. —P.T.

18. Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire has opened the eyes of many to the life of a “slumdog,” a person of lower caste living in India. Hope is found through the eyes of the meek Jamal Malik when he makes it onto an Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The film contains many scenes that can only create horror and anger as it reveals frightening truths about child slavery and other severe content, but the message shows without fail that love overcomes all trials and that is what attracts many to this powerful film. —E.W.

17. Up

Up

Pixar does what it does best, extolling the simple virtues in life against a backdrop of bright silliness. The real point of the story is the quiet, consistent people that love us and shape our lives and our duty to pass on that kind of kindness to others (even if they annoy us and disrupt our plans). Where this film really excels is telling the audience these things without ever saying a word. The montage sequences with only the score to guide the emotional rise and fall of the plot are stellar. —L.C.

16. Avatar

Avatar

Avatar debuted when three-hour movies had become the norm—some carry an air of being an epic, some just drag out. However, Avatar stands out, because it is an original story. It’s not a reboot, adaptation, or part of an existing franchise. Avatar also sums up the spirit of the decade. It shows our growing interest in environmental concern. It reflects vulnerability to terrorism. The destruction of the Hometree carries the imagery we saw almost a decade earlier when the World Trade Towers came down. In a time when films are revisiting the nostalgia of the 70s, 80s and 90s, Avatar reminded us of what we saw in the first decade of the twenty-first century. —D.L.J.

15. Napoleon Dynamite

Napoleon Dynamite

Napoleon Dynamite created a sensation that even its creators did not expect. The awkward choices in music and dress for the actors only complimented the blundering main character. The world created felt retro and yet very close to home. But perhaps one of the greatest reasons for the film’s surprise success was its quotability. The ridiculousness of the dialogue is funny completely out of context and so has made its way onto t-shirts, bumper stickers, socks, and every young person’s lexicon of randomness. But perhaps more subtly, the film knew what it was. It did not take itself too seriously. It chose its pace intentionally, its color schemes carefully, and took someone who was completely inept and made them graceful. The viewer might not say it, but they wonder, “If Napoleon can get up and dance like that, why can’t I?” —D.W.H.

14. Gladiator

Gladiator

After a lengthy absence of appropriate Roman period films, Gladiator appears on the scene and does not disappoint. Ridley Scott’s film bears real pain, real heroism, and a strong sense of justice—all while appealing to the modern taste for action and blood. The film contains all-star acting (thank you Joaquin Phoenix and Russell Crowe), epic battle sequences, and the sense that cinema is still viable to communicate the deeper truths of life. —D.W.H.

13. The Incredibles

The Incredibles

Among a group of highly talented filmmakers (there are four Pixar films on this list!), writer-directory Brad Bird outshines the rest. In my opinion, the two films he wrote and directed, The Incredibles and Ratatouille, are the two best films Pixar has produced. The Incredibles was not only a fantastic animated film but a superb superhero film too. Although they had superpowers, both children and adults could relate to the troubles the characters experienced. —M.D.M.

12. Serenity

Serenity

About a decade ago there was a short-lived television series that got abysmal ratings, aired for only eleven non-consecutive episodes, and partook in improbable genre mixing (Chinese Western! In space!). This sounds like a lost piece of obscure trivia except for the fact that it went on to garner so much attention that Universal Studios made a feature film based on it. Why? Because it was that awesome. —L.C.

11. Identity

Identity

An updated and more labyrinthine take on the classic Agatha Christie Ten Little Indians structure. A film for those of us who lament that horror films have become gory and plotless things and wonder why we can’t have more Hitchcockesque suspense. The final twist is what most films fail in, but this one gets right. It makes perfect sense within the constraints of what we know about the characters and yet is still hard to see coming for first time viewers. —L.C.

10. Juno

Juno

Director Jason Reitman was just thirty years old when Juno, his second feature, came out. The young director, who now has three feature films in his filmography, has proven one of the freshest, most original talents working in Hollywood today. Hopefully he will become an auteur on the scale of Woody Allen in the decades to come. Juno was also the feature film debut of stripper-turned-screenwriter Diablo Cody. The story affirmed life and became a cultural phenomenon. —M.D.M.

9. Batman Begins

Batman Begins

Batman Begins brought much needed new life back to the Batman franchise. With its gritty real world take on Batman, it allowed us to believe in this superhero again. For so many years, Batman was portrayed as a cheesy colorful superhero. Batman Begins brought in the “dark side” of Batman and the insanity of the villains he faced. Batman is a hero of the night and a man without any real superpowers. He makes us believe that we might even be able to be a superhero some day. Batman Begins brings a whole new level of greatness when it shows us that a hero can be born out of the worst situations possible. Bruce Wayne was stuck in a prison when Henri Ducard sought him out to train him. We need to always be reminded that no matter how bad our situation may appear, God is always seeking us out to become his heroes on the earth. —D.K.

8. Spider-Man 1 and 2

Spider-Man

Spider-Man 1 and 2 relaunched superhero movies and did it in a way never done before. After an era where superhero movies were so far from the comics that even die-hard fans avoided them and so cheesy that the normal moviegoer couldn’t stand them, Spider-Man 1 and 2 reinvigorated the superhero movie industry. Full of action, good versus evil, and drama, these movies draw us all into them. One of the best things about these movies is that the heroes and villains are not one-dimensional. Peter Parker has to try to reconcile his feelings for Mary Jane while understanding the dangers she will face if he pursues her. Even Doctor Octopus ultimately wanted to help the world but fell victim to his ideals when they clearly would not help the greater good. These movies at the very least remind us to reevaluate what our priorities really are. Should we sacrifice everything we are and the people we love for the greater good, or should we seek what is best for others even to the point of laying down our lives? —D.K.

7. Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan's Labyrinth

Pan’s Labyrinth, like Stranger than Fiction, presents the viewer with a film where the lines between reality and fantasy blur. But the similarities end there. The strength of Pan’s Labyrinth comes in the contrasting worlds it presents. The violence and brutality of the Spanish Civil War strongly contrasts with the fairy tales of a young girl. Ultimately, the director uses the mixture of the real and the fantastic to dialogue with the audience. The film’s ending is either happy or tragic. The choice belongs to the viewer. —D.L.J.

6. WALL-E

WALL-E

WALL-E carries an underlying message of hope amidst devastation. The film begins with a desolate image of a lifeless earth that has been destroyed by waste that humans left behind. Throughout the film viewers actually find themselves becoming endeared to a rickety robot whose job is to attempt to clean up the abandoned garbage and make earth habitable once again. In a world where life or hope cannot seem to be found, WALL-E experiences new life and true love, and the hope that follows is what makes a beautiful film by Pixar. —E.W.

5. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean was based on a theme park ride. No one realized that the film would become such an obsession for viewers across the nation. Each of the characters are engaging and memorable even though most of them are swashbuckling, undead pirates. This film caters to a wide audience as it carries scenes of tender romance, action that keeps you on the edge of your seat, and a factor of genuine humor. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Pirates of the Caribbean is the sense of adventure and excitement its viewers feel long after they leave the theater. —E.W.

4. Stanger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction

The key quality that makes Stranger Than Fiction stand out among all the films of the past decade is its use of a frame narrative. Lots of great stories are framed narratives, that is, a story within a story. Heart of Darkness, The Princess Bride, Forrest Gump—none of these framed stories mix fiction and reality quite like Stranger than Fiction. But a framed narrative is only a gimmick without a strong story. The journey Will Ferrell’s character takes to discover his creator and then knowing his fate is in the hands of another mortal serves as a catalyst for many discussions on the nature of choice and free will. —D.L.J.

3. Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead introduced the filmmaking trio of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost to the big screen (previously the three had produced the great TV series Spaced). This zombie romantic comedy set the standard for horror comedy that decade. Zombieland, another zombie romantic comedy later in the decade, came closest but still paled in comparison to Shaun. —M.D.M.

2. The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

Sequels tend to be hit and miss. The Dark Knight is definitely a hit! Drawing much of its material from countless comics, this film brings Batman to life. Unlike the majority of superhero films, this film takes place in a realistic world where men can’t fly, bullets kill people, and sadistic criminals kill for no reason other than their twisted pleasure. The plot of the film is excellent, but the cast is what really sells the film. Of course, Health Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker was Oscar-worthy, but the supporting cast really brought the film together. The performances of Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine were superb. Overall the film presents itself to be not just an incredible comic book film but a great action/crime movie. A must see for all comic book readers. —P.T.

1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Lord of the Rings

These cinematic masterpieces directed by Peter Jackson and adapted from the books by J. R. R. Tolkein represent the most well-loved fantasy series in the world. What once was esoteric and vehemently discussed in bookstores and literature classes firmly rooted itself to the most mundane levels of popular culture. The films made huge advancements in digital effects technology and established a relentless design ethic to be challenged by few. Besides this the films earned an enormous sum of money, established acting careers for many, received a host international awards, and created a renewed interest in fantasy as a seductive, lucrative, and entertaining genre of film. —D.W.H.

Planet Earth, The Island of Life

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Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series, Significant Films of the 2000s, of articles about the cultural significance of films that were released between 2000 and 2009.

Planet Earth Still The Planet Earth documentary series was a massive undertaking. It was developed as a television program by the BBC Natural History Unit. Technically it’s not a film. But looking at the grandeur of the production—years of planning, incredible cinematography, worldwide locations, and international marketing—thrusts the series into the realm of films. My only complaint with the series is that while the filmmakers captured astonishing footage, the narrator mentions it too frequently. “This is the first time this has ever been captured on film” is a recurring line in the scripts.

But the footage is astonishing. Forty cameramen working over five years and across two hundred locations took some of the most beautiful nature footage of the decade.

The series first aired on the BBC in 2006. In 2007, a companion film, Earth, was released in theaters. Earth Day 2009 saw a re-release of Earth as part of Disney’s nature documentary program.

The Planet Earth box set is the scope of what I’ll be considering for this article. The set includes the eleven episodes of the series along with the three additional episodes of the companion series, Planet Earth: The Future. These two documentaries cover issues of saving wildlife, conserving the wilderness, and living sustainably. The DVDs also include an episode of Planet Earth: Diaries for each episode. Each of these ten-minute featurettes show how the crew was able to capture such remarkable footage.

Each episode is fifty minutes long totaling over nine hours of runtime for the series proper not including the length of Planet Earth: The Future or the Planet Earth: Diaries. The first documentary is an overview of the diversity of Earth titled “From Pole to Pole.” The rest of the series devotes an episode to the following ecosystems:

  • Mountains
  • Fresh Water
  • Caves
  • Deserts
  • Ice Worlds
  • Great Plains
  • Jungles
  • Shallow Seas
  • Seasonal Forests
  • Ocean Deep

Life Is the Key

Planet Earth Still The keyword for this series is life. The series exposes how the creatures of this planet are in a constant state of preserving their own life. Our planet receives energy from the sun. The plants take sunlight and convert it to a stored form of energy, and from there it spreads through the food chain. Whether it’s the Bactrian camel of the Gobi Desert or the spider crab along the ocean floor, all creatures in this series work to collect food without becoming food themselves.

No species is immortal. Life everywhere works to produce offspring to ensure their species continues. The Earth is the inheritance of our offspring. Considering these goals, we as humans are not so different from the plants and animals we share the Earth with.

What an Honor

As I watch this series, I can’t help but think of what an honor it is to see the breadth of creation in my living room. Being a person who grew up with television, I’ve had images from around the world beamed into my life since before I can remember. Seeing endangered animals without leaving my home? I’ve grown to take it for granted.

Bosch But this is a relatively new convenience. A favorite painter of mine, Hieronymus Bosch, didn’t have this luxury. Bosch was born around 1550 in what is now part of the Netherlands. In his triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights, Bosch painted a scene from the Garden of Eden. He depicts the garden with exotic animals including a giraffe. When you look at the giraffe, you can tell what it’s supposed to be, but it’s like Bosch was painting the animal from a description or another illustration. It’s unlikely that Bosch ever saw a giraffe.

When I think about it like that, it reminds me of how privileged I am. I can see the majesty of creation from my sofa. That is fantastic.

What We Feel

As emotional beings we remember what we feel better than what we know. In the June 2010 issue of Wired magazine, writer Erin Biba nails the problem on the head. “Scientists feel the facts should speak for themselves. They’re not wrong; they’re just not realistic.”

About two years ago I watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Honestly, the only thing I remember from that film is that Al Gore showed his data with a very fancy presentation program. But he presented lots of data, lots of charts, lots of numbers. I don’t remember any of the facts he showed. I don’t remember anything substantial about the film.

Planet Earth Still But Planet Earth appeals to my heart. I’ll forget numbers, but seeing a mother polar bear bringing her babies onto the ice for the first time? That’s something I’ll remember. Watching the cubs get their footing for the first time on an icy slope. That pulls my heartstrings. They’re cute little things! It’s much more memorable to show the things that make me feel instead of blast me with facts.

Our Place in the World

I’ve only visited a small portion of this planet. I’ve never been to a rain forest. I’ve never been to a pole. In fact, I’ve never been to the southern hemisphere. There are many places I’ve never been, but they are part of my world—part of the miraculous island of life we live on.

In the follow up to the series, Planet Earth: The Future, Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, says “Wilderness always speaks to human beings of transcendence in the widest possible sense. It says, ‘You as a human being are part of a system which is not just about your needs and your concerns. Like it or not, you’re part of something immense and very mysterious.’”

Watching this series reminds me that there are places where life is totally different than my home. I’m from Oklahoma. Here the sun rises overhead on its daily journey—starting in the east and reaching the western horizon at the close of day.

Planet Earth Still Watching “Pole to Pole,” I’m reminded that there are places in the world without daily sunsets. When the sun does rise in these polar regions, it stretches across the sky horizontally, not vertically. During the summer, it does not set. Depending on the time of year, it may not show each day at all. It’s something I’ve never experienced, but it is still part of my world.

Beauty of Creation

Planet Earth Still There is no doubt that the Earth is glorious, but it is also beautiful in its bizarreness. To me the strangest chapter in the Planet Earth series is in the “Jungles” documentary. The program focuses on the bullet ants of the rainforests. These ants occasionally become infected with the spores of a parasitic fungus called Cordyceps. This fungus will infect the brain of an ant and cause the insect to go insane. The ant will climb up to a high perch, cling to a branch with its mandible, and die there. Once the ant is dead, the fungus begins to grow out of the head of the ant. In a few weeks the fungus will release spores from this height to infect more ants to begin its lifecycle again. Through the fantastic use of time-lapse filming, we’re able to watch the fungus emerge from the ant. The actual growth can take up to three weeks. Planet Earth shows the event much more briefly.

Planet Earth in Real Definition

The footage in Planet Earth is astounding. This is some of the most compelling video I have ever seen. However, beautiful footage captured on some of the most advanced cameras in existence can’t fully deliver the beauty of nature. I enjoy being in nature. High definition can’t recreate the feeling of a breeze over my skin while I watch the sunset at the lake or the coolness of moist soil on my hands while gardening.

Animals don’t have to be exotic or endangered to be fascinating. While planting roses, I uncovered earthworms that danced wildly before tunneling back into the soil. It reminded me that under my urban landscape there is a whole ecosystem of burrowers and bacteria that I’m sharing the land with. How many days have I walked over their world without giving any thought to their existence?

While I hold that Planet Earth is one of the most important productions of the decade, I enjoy evenings with the sunset more than evenings in front of my television.

Do you know which plants and animals are native to your region? Which wildflowers are your favorites?

Daniel J. Lay lives in Shawnee, Oklahoma. He grew up in the country north of Tulsa where he spent countless hours playing in the mud and climbing trees. These days he enjoys brightly colored insects and sunsets at the lake. Leeches fascinate him too.

The Lord of the Rings, Relativism, Crystal Meth, and Other Observations

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Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series, Significant Films of the 2000s, of articles about the cultural significance of films that were released between 2000 and 2009.

Introduction

Lord of the Rings Still When I first decided to write this analysis of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I was excited. Then, I was overwhelmed. Where do you begin a discussion of one of the longest, biggest box office grossing, most beloved film series in the last decade?

Perhaps I should begin at the beginning. The Lord of the Rings trilogy began as a series of books by one of the most endearing fiction writers of the mid-twentieth century, J. R. R. Tolkein. I need not tell you the story; most people have seen the films. If you haven’t, you should. Don’t let the uber-nerds of the world scare you away from something that is truly momentous.

And momentous it is.

Whether discussing acting, writing, storytelling, cinematography, special effects, score, major advancements, or any aspect of film, The Lord of the Rings trilogy marks excellent in all categories. Perhaps I could discuss the details of a good story: themes, archetypes, character development, plot, conflict, rising action, climax, or resolution. Again, I could argue the films’ top marks on all these detailed features. However, instead of creating an article that lingers on the edges of being as long as the movies, I will restrict this article to three main discussions: the creative ethic, the major themes, and the documentary of the films.

The Creative Ethic

Lord of the Rings Still To begin, one of the things that struck me most about the films was the unrelenting commitment to creative excellence. You get the impression during viewing that this world, Middle Earth, really does exist somewhere. It exists in the vast sweeping landscapes of the film. But it also exists down to the gritty details of each person’s clothing and personal affects. From top to bottom, each element was imbued with a creative effort that went beyond the call of the standard film.

In watching the special features, you discover that this was the plan from day one. The director, the art directors, the writers, the actors, the artists, and illustrators had such a love of the books that they took their task of bringing it to the screen with the solidarity and gravity of a monk. You find that the leadership communicated their mammoth task so well that every person who had a hand in the film had their other hand on a copy of the books and their heart plunged down into the romance of Tolkein’s story. The result was a unified, comprehensive artistic study of each element of the story, visual and otherwise. Rarely does a fantasy film come so…complete.

If you temporarily ignore the fact that many fantasy books and films owe a great debt to Tolkien’s work, you can look at those other fantasies and still find them lacking in some respect. Compare The Lord of the Rings to the film Legend directed by Ridley Scott (one of my other favorite directors). Here you have an amazingly beautiful film. But unlike The Lord of the Rings (LOTR), it borrows its lore about goblins, elves, princesses, unicorns, and heroes almost directly from archetypes that are common to most fairy tales. While this is not a bad aspect in itself, it leaves it open to direct connection or association with other kinds of art. The characters of Jack and Lily are introduced, and we already know everything we need to about them. The filmmaker has no need to tell us that one is the hero and the other is the damsel in distress. After about three seconds, we get it. LOTR brings to the screen whole races that demand explanation. Elves and dwarves we may be familiar with, but what is a Hobbit? What are orcs? Who is this ultimate evil in the east? One of the most satisfying attributes of the LOTR films is that they give you the answer to those questions. The fantasy is so engaging that as I watch, I delight in the details. Just as with a long description of the scenery in one of Tolkien’s books, these investigative portions of each race add to the tone, the voice, and the storytelling of the film.

Each race comes with its own design ethic. The filmmakers read the books for details and then asked, “What would this culture be like? What would its architecture look like? What would its clothing look like? What is its history?” For ninety-nine percent of all other movies, we already have answers to these questions. The history is ours, the clothing, ours, the architecture, all ours.

Lord of the Rings Still In addition to the design questions, the LOTR filmmakers knew that every character is motivated by something—even the monsters. One example would be the creature The Watcher in the Water. Since Tolkein didn’t give explicit details of what the creature was like, the filmmakers saw it as an opportunity to shine. But they did not just run off and make what they wanted. They thought about the text and reasoned that everything in Middle Earth—especially the monsters—is somewhat unique to that place. It would have been much easier to create a big octopus or squid to attack the fellowship in the first film. Instead, they took those elements, expanded upon them, and created something that as far as I know, does not exist on real planet earth. And there it is! Through the miracle of movies and the creative ethic of the LOTR crew and the design team at WETA workshop, a truly terrifying, photo-realistic monster terrorized the screen and drew me in even further into the world of Middle Earth.

It seems a Herculean task to consider each character in as much depth as the creators of the film did, but they did it. They took each idea as far as it would go and with confidence hammered it into the eyes and imaginations of a whole world of people new to the fantasy genre while at the same time satisfying those of us already captured by the genre’s intrigue.

But the creative ethic was not restricted to mere efficiency or attention to detail. No, it truly was creative. Each challenge of bringing the books to life was met not with a handful of ideas but a relentless pursuit of those ideas until a great one was achieved.

We live in a culture that does not value this kind of thinking at all. We’d rather have whatever we want fast and cheap. Take furniture at Wal-Mart as an example. You could spend the money on the lumber, the tools, and the finishes and create a custom desk that is exactly the way you want it and will last a lifetime. Or you could settle and just buy something made cheaply from the big box store that will probably fall apart while you are trying to put it together. What do we value more? Cheap or careful? I would say that by and large, we value the cheap. However, great art that takes the artist countless hours still tickles our imagination. We look at something like the LOTR films and see the detail and come away with one of several conclusions: (1) Those people are complete nerds and have wasted their time, (2) Wow, I respect them for that, but I could never put myself into a project like that, or (3) How do I get a job doing that? I think those of us who put ourselves into our work already get it; everyone else is just trying to get by. My challenge to anyone reading this is: If you are going to do something, why settle, why not do it with excellence?” Look at the result. Worldwide fame, millions of dollars earned, and a work of art that will most likely be preserved beyond your lifetime and into the next. Why can’t our culture respond to all great art like that? Perhaps it is because there is so little art of this quality left in our mechanized, speed-driven culture.

The Themes

The next major thing that makes The Lord of the Rings films significant is their themes. By theme I mean that overarching concept which we seem to pull from the film. It is not necessarily a moral of the story or some catch phrase. Many times they are more complex than that. The LOTR films use the themes from the books. That is to say, themes that are from last century and represent a worldview that has widely been abandoned. Still, they are themes, and therefore, large enough to be applicable to us.

Lord of the Rings Still People today get wiggly when you ask them to define evil. Many people just sit back and say, “Hey, that’s your thing. Do what you want to do, and I’ll keep my values over here.” It is a stance of moral relativism. I believe moral relativism to be self-refuting and therefore nonsense. Rather than attempt to argue that here, I will simply note that Tolkein would agree with me.

There is real, unmistakable evil in Middle Earth—and it should be fought to the last man. Why march across the world into fearful territories of the unknown? Because there is evil, and it must be stopped or all will suffer. Why stand and fight against insurmountable odds on the open field of battle where death is assured unless a miracle occurs? Because there is evil, and it must be stopped. Why align yourself and your future with an obsessed, schizophrenic creature of the deep facing the constant danger of someone’s own mind turning on themselves and then killing you? Simple. Because there is evil in the world, and it must be stopped.

And yet if you stated this as a real reason for going to real war today, people would not accept it. If we go to war in Afghanistan or Iraq or Palestine because it is full of terrorists (evil) and they must be stopped at all costs, people get all frumpy. They claim that this is not a reason to go to war and that it is not our business and that we should just make peace and let them be. They are missing the point of The Lord of the Rings books and of World War II. There is evil out there in the world putting the innocent in danger and killing without question—and it must be stopped. The theme is unmistakable and written by a man who served in the first World War and lived in Britain during the second; in other words, he should know.

Lord of the Rings Still Another theme that arises from the film that seems so foreign to our postmodern American culture is sacrifice. The film is ripe with it. And this is as it should be. The most powerful tales are always about sacrifice: Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. All these contain heroes. What makes them heroic is their willingness to lay down that which is most precious for the sake of someone they love. Sometimes it is an individual like Charles Darnay, or it is a group of people like Scotland. And who could forget the world’s most famous story of sacrifice, that of Jesus Christ? Being innocent, he willingly laid down his life to bring man back into fellowship with God. Is there a more powerful tale to be told than this?

The Lord of the Rings shows Frodo and Sam willing to travel into the land of the enemy with less and less hope of returning to protect what they love most, their friends and their land. I wonder if the average American resonated with this? Are we still patriots? Do we love our homes enough to fight impossible odds for the possibility that they may survive the coming onslaught? My guess would be that most would say, “That’s what the army is for.” And may I take a moment to edify those that do serve in our Armed Forces? You do what most won’t, and whatever your reasons for service may be, I hope that one is because you simply love this great land and that another is to protect our homes and families.

Sacrifice continues to show up again and again. Gandalf gives his life so his friends can escape the Balrog. Merry almost dies defending Eowen against the Witch King of Angmar. The Ents march to war to protect their home believing that they will never return. Faramir rides to certain death to earn his father’s favor. Pippin risks all to save Faramir from his father’s madness. Each one of these heroic characters was willing to give of themselves for a greater good.

Lord of the Rings Still A final theme that arises from these stories has to do with obsession. Since there is a perfume named after this and many people use the language carelessly, I will replace the word with one more relevant and precise, addiction. Gollum’s and Frodo’s relationship to the ring can be described in few other words.

Gollum’s relationship to the ring is only detrimental to himself and others. It causes him to spend the greater part of his life in exile and is the direct cause of his long life, unnatural appearance, and psychological misfortune. With the exception of the long life, could the parallels be any clearer? I live in Oklahoma, and crystal meth is a huge issue here. You can drive around town and see people that are literally wasting away. At twenty-five years old, they look like forty. Their teeth and hair are falling out. They are engaged in compulsive behaviors that are destroying their life and the lives of others. If they don’t change what they are doing, they will die and possibly kill someone they love. I cannot list the number of children and homes lost because a reckless adult was using meth. Gollum, it seems, is not such a fantasy character after all. He is my neighbor.

The films paint another version of the obsession issue though. Frodo has the terrible task of carrying the ring to its doom. Everyone he meets, except for Sam, seem drawn by the allure of the ring. The ring becomes more than just something they want. It becomes their drive. The parallels to our culture are straightforward. Some people are hell bent on getting a certain car, a specific house, or a particular kind of mate. It becomes their obsession. Our country is full of people stressing out, working two or more jobs, and tossing their children in the hands of complete strangers for forty hours a week, because they had to have a certain style of living. Suddenly they don’t control their money; their money controls them. Isn’t this what happens to Frodo? The ring starts out as an accessory, but by the end of the trilogy, he is willing to live with the darkness and pain it is inflicting, because he cannot bear to be parted from it. We should learn from this that there is no physical thing in this life that should demand our lives.

The Documentary

Lord of the Rings Still Having not begun to scratch the surface of the vast depth these films offer, it is time to move the discussion to the final topic of this article: the documentary. It may seem odd to include this, but this is one of the things that really impressed me about the films. While they were shooting three films at once, they were also shooting a fourth—the special features discs on the special edition. Here they explored the author himself, the filmmakers’ journey all the way from concept to screen, and the actors’ involvement in the entire process. No film to that date had done such in depth record keeping on film. They took the viewer behind all kinds of closed doors. It is almost as if a magician showed you how he did his trick, because he knew that the illusion was not nearly as impressive as the reality behind it.

This is a stroke of genius. First, the fans of the novels get the filmmakers’ reasoning for making the changes and diversions from the books that they did. I remember my friend being livid that they skipped the portion of The Fellowship of the Ring that describes Tom Bombadill. I agree that it was a lamentable loss, but after hearing Peter Jackson’s reasons—in humility to be found in few movie directors—I was won over. It simply didn’t move the plot forward.

Another thing that the documentary did was investigate all the creature effects as well as set building and background work. As an artist, I loved seeing the storyboards, the concept art, and the miniatures built to serve the film. But as a film appreciator, watching them combine multiple elements so smoothly was a treasure. I feel as though I appreciate the film more when I watch it. I look at an establishing shot like in Rivendell, and I see the matte paintings blended with miniatures, mixed with digital architecture and film of live actors shot on green screen, covered with a gorgeous color filter, and I think (mouth agape), wow. Before I saw the special features, I only thought, Hey, that’s Rivendell, pretty.

Perhaps the special features service only those who were already fans. So what? With millions of diehard fans across the planet, why not? If nothing else, it only causes those of us in love with the films to fall deeper in it. Kind of like when you are astounded by the perfect woman when you see her. You might think you’re in love. But then you get to know her and find out she really is perfect: nice, creative, humble, passionate, intelligent, and interested in you. That’s when you fall completely head over heels and you buy a ring you can’t afford and ask to marry the girl. I will draw no parallels between those kinds of rings and the one from the films; feel free to do so if you dare.

Conclusion

So after over three thousand words, more could be said, much more. I will leave you with this: These films are significant. They are significant to the history of cinema. They are significant to our culture. They are more than simple movies. They are not some pieces of pop-culture trivia to be memorized and used on game shows. They are true works of art to be appreciated like a Rembrandt or Mozart. So call into work, make some popcorn, and watch The Fellowship of the Ring. Then stretch, gird up your loins, make some bagel bites, and watch The Two Towers. Then rearrange the pillows, throw some chicken wings in the oven, and hold on to your hat for The Return of the King. And if you make it all the way through, take a deep breath, make out some certificates of proof, and hang them on your wall. Your friends will ask, but you’ll smile on the inside knowing you were part of something special.

Credits: All Images Copyright (c) New Line Cinema. All Rights Reserved.

Douglas Hurt is a Christian, husband, father, artist, musician, writer, reader, thinker. He enjoys Rembrandt, Apologetics and Flatfoot 56. He lives in Oklahoma.

Learning About Ourselves from 10 Feet Tall Blue Aliens

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Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series, Significant Films of the 2000s, of articles about the cultural significance of films that were released between 2000 and 2009.

Avatar Still While not one of the best films of 2009, Avatar was the most significant film of 2009. The first film from writer-director James Cameron since Titanic, which was the highest-grossing film of all time, premiered twelve years ago, Avatar has already surpassed Titanic to become the new highest-grossing film. Roger Ebert called Avatar “an Event, one of those films you feel you must see to keep up with the conversation.”

Catholic film critic Steven D. Greydanus represents the critical consensus when he writes, “Deep down, Avatar is bone-headed, but it’s also beautiful.” I disagree with the consensus. Although undeniably an example of technical mastery, the artwork feels cold and impersonal. The human imagination is messy and chaotic, but Pandora is bland and sterile. There is hardly any color except for the occasional splash of blue. Avatar has been hailed as a breakthrough in computer graphics, but The Fall, which contained absolutely no computer-generated graphics, is much more visually engaging.

Cameron’s attempts to explore religion and race are similarly sterile. And for as beautiful as the Na’vi are, they are strangely asexual. Instead of probing provocative issues, he offers a bland mix of New Age and folk religious practices seemingly calculated to offend the least amount of people. Conservative commentator John Podhoretz (one of the movie’s more outspoken critics) wrote in the Weekly Standard (in a review titled “Avatarocious”), “[Avatar is] more interesting as an example of how deeply rooted these standard-issue counterculture clichés in Hollywood have become by now. Cameron has simply used these familiar bromides as shorthand to give his special-effects spectacular some resonance. He wrote it this way not to be controversial, but quite the opposite: He was making something he thought would be most pleasing to the greatest number of people.”

Why are the special effects, religion, race, and sensuality of Avatar important? To answer that question, we must enter into the world of Avatar. As Jake Sully explored Pandora through his avatar, when you go to movies, for two hours (or in this case, two hours and forty-two minutes) you live vicariously through the characters on the screen. Are you Jake Sully?

Am I Jake Sully?

Avatar Still There have already been pages of magazines and newspapers filled—not to mention countless blog posts—about Avatar. And it’s not just the film critics who are chiming in; political commentators—both conservative and liberal—theologians, and journalists have all been offering their thoughts on the movie. Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips aptly described it as “the season’s ideological Rorschach blot.”

Escapism

One sentiment is that it doesn’t matter what the movie is about—just enjoy the pretty pictures. New Yorker film critic David Denby wrote, “[T]here [is not] much point in lingering over the irony that this anti-technology message is delivered by an example of advanced technology that cost nearly two hundred and fifty million dollars to produce; or that this anti-imperialist spectacle will invade every available theatre in the world. Relish, instead, the pterodactyls, or the flying velociraptors, or whatever they are—large beaky beasts, green with yellow reptile patches—and the bright-red flying monster with jaws that could snap an oak.”

Is Avatar escapism? Yes. Is it just escapism? For some reason “escapism” has become an insult, but all fiction—high literature as well as blockbusters—is escapism. But escapism can be used to explore serious issues. New York Times columnist David Brooks observed, “It’s just escapism, obviously, but benevolent romanticism can be just as condescending as the malevolent kind—even when you surround it with pop-up ferns and floating mountains.”

Some commentators think Avatar is pantheistic; some think it is racist. Further on I will ask “Are the Na’vi pantheists?” and “Is Avatar racist?” My answers to those questions say more about me than they do about the movie. I could dismiss it as escapism and not allow it to affect my life, or I can engage with the themes.

Non-narrative

Avatar Still An alternative view is that Avatar is not really a narrative at all. Film blogger Tim Bray conceded there are stereotypical characters, wooden dialogue, and a derivative plot, but “that’s not what Avatar ‘is’—that’s all just sort of the dressing that they used to make it a narrative feature, on account of studios don’t spend $350 million on experimental landscape pictures.” He continued, “Applying the rules of plot and narrative structure to something that is so viscerally visual seems horribly wrong-headed.”

162 minutes is long for an “experimental landscape picture.” There is a tendency in Hollywood to treat all big-budget pictures as epics. But Avatar is not an epic; there is barely enough narrative material for a television episode. It felt liked an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation or Stargate SG-1 stretched out to almost three hours. In fact Stargate dealt with a number of similar themes in a much more nuanced fashion.

Pandora has a carefully thought out mythology. Cameron even hired a linguist to create the Na’vi language. Mythology is no substitute for story though.

Propaganda

Avatar Still Many critics argue that the flimsy narrative structure of Avatar is just an excuse for Cameron to use pretty pictures to make a political point. Sam Adams of the A.V. Club argued, “Rather than a clunky work of agitprop the movie can—and, I think, ought to—be seen as a polemic, which makes criticism of its obviousness beside the point.”

When I preach, I occasionally use object lessons. But you can also teach with stories. Jesus did. He used parables to get his message across. There is no story in Avatar. It is a sermon—one with plenty of pretty sermon illustrations. Cameron would have been more effective getting his message across though if he had developed a strong story that illustrated his point.

Metaphor

Avatar Still In her review of the movie on sci-fi blog io9, Charlie Jane Anders pointed out, “The whole exercise is a metaphor for the experience of watching any movie, with Cameron’s camera lens represented by the beds that transfer people’s minds into alien bodies.” Avatar is more effective at being a metaphor for watching movies than it is at narrative or sermonizing. She continued, “It’s hard to imagine a movie where medium and story are so closely married. Even as Jake Sully climbs into a coffin and abandons his human body for a spry alien one, Cameron is hoping to pull you into his alien world to a much greater degree than the usual movie immersion.” Tim Bray observed that Sully is a “poor character” but an “extremely good audience surrogate.”

Sully experiences a role reversal within the movie. At the beginning he is an alien to the Na’vi, but by the end he is an alien to the humans. On his blog Christianity Today film critic Peter Chattaway contrasted Avatar with Cameron’s earlier films: In Aliens Ripley fought the Alien Queen with the help of a “load-lifting mechanism.” In Avatar the humans employ “walking battle machines,” but we are rooting for the aliens. In True Lies an Arab hangs from a missile. In Avatar an American is again piloting the plane and a representative of the “other” is hanging from a missile. But the “other” in this case is Jake Sully, the audience surrogate. In Terminator 2 the cyborg becomes increasingly humanized. In Avatar the protagonist starts out as human and increasingly becomes “other.” He is unhumanized or alienized.

One possibility is that Cameron wants us to associate with the “other”—to know what it feels like to be an outcast and alienated. On the other hand, Cameron could be saying that our (over)reliance on technology is causing us to lose touch with our humanity. The Na’vi are not representative of the “other” but of what it means to be truly human—what Sully had strayed away from and the Na’vi helped him reconnect to.

Are the Special Effects Game Changing?

No.

While definitely an incremental improvement of motion capture since Robert Zemeckis’ Beowulf and A Christmas Carol, it is not a monumental leap forward. The real accomplishment is not the (computer) graphics but the (human) performance. Zoe Saldana (Neytiri) may supplant Andy Serkis (Gollum) for best motion capture performance.

Avatar Still Some have accused Avatar of “style over substance.” I have no problem with stylistic films. The Fall had more style than substance. But Avatar’s style falls flat. The visuals are more of a technical achievement than an artistic one. The trailer for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland that preceded the film looked more visually engaging than anything in Avatar itself (too bad the story of that film fell flat too). And when it comes to battle scenes, this movie has nothing on Lord of the Rings. According to ScreenIt.com, “While the effects are quite good, they’re not groundbreaking as was the case with ‘The Abyss’ and then ‘T2,’ and only raise the overall bar a notch at most.”

Are the Na’vi Pantheists?

If there is any single theistic worldview Avatar is representative of, it is Hollywoodism, the folk religion of Hollywood. Catholic film critic Steven D. Greydanus wrote, “James Cameron’s Avatar is a virtual apotheosis of Hollywood mythopoeia. It is the whole worldview and memory of contemporary Hollywood, given shape in a narrative and pictorial form that is stunning in its finality and grandeur.” Spirituality in Avatar is a synthesis of a number of Native American, African, and Aboriginal worldviews. Greydanus declared, “Cameron’s mythopoeic gift…is precisely a knack for synthesis.”

Pantheism, Panentheism, and the Gaia Hypothesis

Avatar Still One part of the stew is undeniably pantheism. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat (and also film critic for the conservative bi-weekly news magazine National Review) called Avatar the “Gospel According to James.” He describes the movie as an apologetic for pantheism, which “has been Hollywood’s religion of choice for a generation now.” Greydanus disagreed with Douthat’s column and wrote that he would not call Avatar an apologetic. “Avatar expresses and embodies Hollywood’s hippy-dippy, West-bashing, New Age, tree-hugging milieu on a mythic level; it is not a defense of that worldview.”

Wheaton College Associate Professor of Theology Jeffrey W. Barbeau, in a guest post on the Christianity Today Movies & TV blog, thinks Avatar’s “near-pantheism” is better described as panentheism since their deity is a personal being named Eywa. In pantheism god is nature; in panentheism, nature is a part of god, but god also extends beyond nature. In other words, for pantheists all of nature is god and all of god is nature while for panentheists all of nature is god but not all of god is nature. Panentheism leaves room for a deity who is a personal being whereas pantheism does not. Neither pantheism nor panentheism is compatible with traditional Christian theism, but some modern Christian theologies such as process theology and open theism are panentheistic or have panentheistic elements.

Some commentators think Avatar is more representative of the Gaia hypothesis than pantheism or panentheism. According to the Gaia hypothesis, the biosphere of Earth is itself a kind of living entity. While at first glance this might just sound like another spin on Mother Nature, the Gaia hypothesis differentiates itself from pantheism by claiming to be a scientific theory rather than a spiritual practice. The ecosystems of Earth are interdependent and interact. Damage to one ecosystem affects the whole Earth like damage to one organ would affect the whole body.

Modernism

Avatar Still There are many interesting elements to pantheism and panentheism that would have been worthy to explore, but Cameron dismisses all of them in acquiescence to modernism. One of the reasons all the talk of spirituality in Avatar feels sterile to me is because Cameron had no interest in exploring spirituality but rather in rationalizing spirituality.

ScreenIt.com observed, “While it’s interesting to see Cameron…tout spirituality over technology in a film that’s been obviously created in full force with the latter, there’s little if anything that emotionally connects.” The problem is he does not tout spirituality over technology. He makes it clear that there is a scientific explanation for the Na’vi’s spirituality. In accordance with modernism’s love affair with rationalism, he rationalizes the Na’vi’s spirituality.

Avatar could have been a great space fantasy had it not been shackled by modernism. Although the Pandoran animals join in the fight at the end as the Narnian animals do at the end of Prince Caspian, this movie is almost the opposite of Prince Caspian, which was C.S. Lewis’ great treatise against Enlightenment rationalism and skepticism. Had Avatar been a fantasy with dragons and magic like Lord of the Rings or Chronicles of Narnia set on Pandora instead of Middle-earth or Narnia, it would have been much more engaging than this sterile tale sanitized by science and technology.

Christianity Today film critic Todd Hertz cautioned, “Some Christians will be bothered by the worship of the Na’vi’s unseen female deity—there are scenes of worship, rituals, and prayer to her. But vagueness about this entity makes it possible to view her not as a New Age goddess but as just one more strange piece of fantasy in this alien world. In fact, there’s suggestion that this entity is Pandora itself: one big, living alien.” It’s more than a suggestion. Cameron does not have the subtlety necessary to suggest anything—the ore the humans are after is called unobtainium after all. He makes quite explicit that the Na’vi’s conception of their deity comes from the trees and plant life being able to communicate via electric impulses across a planetwide network of sorts. Even Hertz points out that “One human character [Dr. Augustine] says, ‘We’re not talking about pagan voodoo but something that is real biologically: a global network of neurons.’”

Greydanus saw Cameron as a myth maker. He is more akin to twentieth-century existential German theologian Rudloph Bultmann and his task of demythologizing the New Testament. Cameron has set out to demythologize spirituality as a whole. Christians should be more bothered by that than that the Na’vi worship a panentheistic female deity.

Is Avatar Racist?

Many people will respond to this question, “Why can’t you just enjoy the movie? It’s just good old fashioned fun.” It’s important to be aware of the issues. I’m a white male. There is a temptation in American culture to assume my experience is normative. In fact, the character everybody’s supposed to be able to identify with, Jake Sully, is a white male. How I respond to this question says more about me than Cameron.

The Victors Write History

Like Inglourious Basterds, Avatar is an experiment in historical revisionism. Cameron has rewritten history with the Native Americans sending the colonizing Europeans back to Europe. But also like Inglourious Basterds, it is the victors who (re)write history. Occidental College Assistant Professor of Sociology Lisa Wade explains that although Avatar is the history of colonization rewritten, it is rewritten by “white people living with a heavy dose of liberal guilt.” She continues, “[U]ltimately, [it] marginalizes indigenous peoples and affirms white supremacy.” She explains, “If it were a fantasy for, say, the American Indian population in the U.S., the story might go a little differently. In that fantasy there would be no Sully character.”

When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like Avatar?

Avatar Still Many critics have pointed out that Avatar is not original. It is basically Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, or The Last Samurai…in space. Like in those films, “a white guy manages to get himself accepted into a closed society of people of color and eventually becomes its most awesome member,” summarizes Annalee Newitz, editor-in-chief of io9 in a post titled “When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like ‘Avatar’?”

Newitz bemoaned that this is “a sneaky way of turning every story about people of color into a story about being white.” PopMatters columnist Rob Horning chimed in that “[Avatar] reaffirmed my sense of belonging to a group of wise and morally pure Westerners who would have done colonizing right—that is, it played to the ingrained sense of superiority that being white and middle class in America provides.”

All the Blue Aliens Look the Same

Avatar Still New Zealand theologian Eric Repphun, who called Avatar “one of the worst Orientalist fantasies in recent memory,” wrote:

[T]he Na’vi are evidently supposed to represent a smattering of oppressed indigenous peoples on Earth, from New Zealand Maori to the Navajo of the American southwest, but in blending all of these cultures into one, the film is guilty of doing exactly what it thinks it is condemning. That each of the cultures that Cameron borrows from [to] create the Na’vi are vibrant and complete in their own right simply does not matter. What matters is that they aren’t European and thus are an open resource to plunder when trying to define Europe over and against what it is not.

The Na’vi never really stood a chance of being all that interesting. Avatar is not about the Na’vi. The Na’vi are simply stand-ins for Native Americans and other oppressed peoples. Had Cameron taken the time to craft a unique society, we might have actually cared about the Na’vi. Cameron’s sharing with us the fantasy world he’s been dreaming about for decades. Why did the catalyst for a story in this fantasy world have to be humans? Plenty of interesting stories could have been set on Pandora without humans having ever reached the planet yet.

Repphun pointed out that though computer-generated, most of the Na’vi are portrayed by non-white actors. Although central to Cameron’s telling of it, this story could also have been told without the avatars. The humans could have interacted directly with the Na’vi. While using the avatar, Sully looks just like the Na’vi. Had the humans not been using avatars, the movie could have seriously dealt with the issue of learning to accept and love somebody who looks different than you. The mythology would have probably had to have been rewritten to reduce the size difference between humans and Na’vi, but it is a fictional mythology to begin with.

Joyriding on the Mars Exploration Rover

Avatar Still Have we learned nothing from our past experiences with colonialism? I would argue that we have or else we wouldn’t be having this discussion. If this was my fantasy about how first contact with an alien species in the future might go, it would be very different from Avatar. I think humanity has learned enough that we could live in harmony with the Na’vi. This seemingly ignorant refusal to even acknowledge that humanity’s more honorable instincts might prevail makes Avatar ineffective at critiquing colonialism. OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies was a much better critique of colonialism. Blogger Jake Seliger wrote:

Avatar is really a Western about the perils of modernity, but it gets contemporary politics utterly wrong—or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that contemporary politics are utterly absent. There is no intergalactic criminal court or committee for the protection of indigenous peoples, which seems like a probable development for a race nursed on Star Trek and post-colonialism and that is advanced enough to travel the stars. In the contemporary United States, a bewildering array of regulations govern activities that might have an environmental impact on communities. Such regulations are growing, rather than shrinking.

Avatar is also rife with contradictions. Todd Hertz summarized, “[A]ny Cameron fan expects certain modus operandi: using violence to preach anti-violence (Terminator 2 and to a degree, The Abyss) and spending millions of dollars to warn of corporate greed (Aliens).” Black film critic Armond White of the New York Press declared, “Cameron fashionably denounces the same economic and military system that make his technological extravaganza possible. It’s like condemning NASA—yet joyriding on the Mars Exploration Rover.” (Coincidentally, Cameron is designing a 3D camera for the next Mars rover and may make a documentary about Mars from the footage.) In the end, Avatar doesn’t seem so much racist as ignorant of its own contradictions.

Do Jake and Neytiri Have Sex?

Only on the DVD.

According to io9, there was a sex scene filmed for Avatar that ended up getting cut. Cameron assured, “We had it in and we cut it out. So that will be something for the special edition DVD, if you want to see how they have sex.” One might wonder if it was cut to preserve Avatar’s PG-13 rating, but it sounds like the scene was pretty tame. Zoe Saldana, who played Neytiri via motion capture, shared, “Because Jim [Cameron] was shooting for a PG-13 rating, we couldn’t move in certain directions. So it was really funny for Sam [Worthington] and me. We had a lot of giggles there.” She further speculated, “If you sync to your banshee and you’re syncing to a tree, why not sync into a person? I almost feel like you’ll have the most amazing orgasm, I guess.” io9 extrapolated from her remarks and wondered, “[S]he’s not revealing a ton, but is she implying that there’s something under those little brown loincloths?”

The Na’vi were strangely asexual. Technology blog Ars Technica complained, “The PG-13 rating allows for a decent amount of violence and salty language, but a major misstep is keeping the Na’vi ambiguously nude. There is always a bit of hair or a strand of beads placed strategically. An actual flash of nipple—or whatever organs the Na’vi have—would have been less distracting.” With all the running and jumping they do, the Na’vi’s skimpy loincloths couldn’t have kept everything covered up 100% of the time. It wouldn’t have had to be anything titillating—just a recognition that the Na’vi do have gender.

Instead of the clichéd, liberal themes Cameron does explore, he could have explored uncomfortable questions about sex with aliens and the very definition of humanity. I would have settled for a more fleshed out relationship between Neytiri and Sully. A playful, more antagonistic relationship between them would have been refreshing. Greydanus remarked, “[The Na’vi] are spiritual, peaceful, feminist, practice sustainable living and have negligible carbon footprints. Intriguingly, they take sex seriously and mate for life; free love and hooking up is the one element of the flower-child heritage that doesn’t seem to have been adopted by the Na’vi.”

I have a hard time imagining why Neytiri fell in love with Sully—not because he’s an unlikable person but because we are never shown them getting to know each other. I would have loved to see a scene where Neytiri reacts to the fact that Jake’s real body is paralyzed. The movie really should have been about these two instead of battles and becoming “king of the Na’vi.”

Avatar Still Now I can understand why Sully fell in love with Neytiri. She’s hot! Maybe it’s the big eyes. I like big eyes—Audrey Tautou, Zooey Deschanel, Angelina Jolie. According to Joe Letteri, FX supervisor for WETA Digital on Avatar, “[The Na’vi] eyes are almost 3 times as big proportionate as human eyes.” Roger Ebert commented, “Cameron and his artists succeed at the difficult challenge of making Neytiri a blue-skinned giantess with golden eyes and a long, supple tail, and yet—I’ll be damned. Sexy.” Eric Repphun stated, “Zoe Saldana as a nine-foot tall Smurf? Still hot as all hell.”

Credits: All Images Copyright (c) 20th Century Fox. All Rights Reserved.

Matthew D. Miller is editor of Popsickle. He lives in Oklahoma City and enjoys reading, writing, and programming. He also writes a series of space opera short stories called Map Makers.
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