Dances with Avatar

I liked Avatar the first time I saw it. . . when it was “Dances with Wolves.” Kevin Costner’s name didn’t appear in the closing credits of “Avatar,” but it should have. The plot was nearly identical to the 1990 Costner flick. Pretty much, “Avatar” is “Dances with Wolves” plus some amazing special effects, a little post-Bush-era leftism, and a heavy dose of pantheistic creation-worship.

I put-off reading any reviews of the film until after seeing it myself, but now I can recommend some to you that are worth your time: John Podhoretz, Russell Moore, Ross Douthat, Peter Suderman, and Rod Dreher.

If you like the spectacle of innovative, grandiose special effects, you might like seeing this movie in the theater. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother with it. You’ve already seen this story before.

25 Responses to Dances with Avatar

  1. Chris Garner December 24, 2009 at 11:26 am #

    Ferngully came to mind when I saw it.

  2. russware December 24, 2009 at 11:41 am #

    All the great epic stories are re-tellings and in that regard Avatar is a great one. An age old story told in the form a brand-new genre, and I’m not just talking about the CG. Avatar is a new kind of movie and a new kind of telling. It is a masterpiece.

  3. Michael Metts December 24, 2009 at 1:05 pm #

    Dr. Burk,

    May I respectfully disagree with your opinion of Avatar. Avatar is five stars in my book. It was so good my wife and I saw it twice yesterday.

    While I can appreciate your theological concerns regarding the rich pantheism of Avatar, I do not think it should be seen so negatively. Although I much prefer our sovereign, transcendant God, what helps to keep in mind with the rich immanence of deity in Avatar is that the movie is not necessarily attempting to push propaganda, but is instead inviting us to a world of imagination, wonder, and splendorous creation. Creation is going to be what’s important in a movie emphasizing imagination of this sort, and I can see how constructing a pantheistic observance of creation will drive this kind of imagination. Of course, we can choose to view it alternatively as pushing pantheistic propaganda and offering compelling CGI to drive it home.

    Perhaps my enthusiasm for Avatar has blurred a wiser observance of the film, but I did not find any ‘overt’ political connections between the miiltary-assisted RDA Corporation in Avatar with the previous Bush administration, neither the United States military. After reading a couple reviews I was expecting considerable propaganda. I didn’t feel like I was being sold on anything, to be sure, but that is certainly not out of the question — we are, after all, talking about Hollywood.

    The movie should merit the appreciation of imagination that Costner’s movie would have captivated older audiences with.

    Now, if we were meeting for a cup of joe and scrutinizing Avatar theologically, I’m sure we’d be in agreement on just about everything. Perhaps growing up in the videogame generation has weakened my sensibilities.

    Have a Merry Christmas!

    In Christ,
    Michael

  4. Nathan December 24, 2009 at 2:05 pm #

    Michael,

    Cameron himself has said that he wanted to ingrain his anti-war message into Avatar because of his disdain for the Iraq War and for America.

    While denying that current foreign policy is the “main point” of Avatar, the director James Cameron told the Times of London that “Americans had a ‘moral responsibility’ to understand the impact that their country’s recent military campaigns had had. ‘We went down a path that cost several hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives. I don’t think the American people even know why it was done. So it’s all about opening your eyes.’” He continued: “We know what it feels like to launch the missiles. We don’t know what it feels like for them to land on our home soil, not in America. I think there’s a moral responsibility to understand that.”

    I guess he forget that Sep. 11th happened, or even Pearl Harbor. Then again, Cameron isn’t an American…

  5. Jason December 24, 2009 at 3:36 pm #

    That’s a pretty lame “review” by any standard. While the plot is very average and nothing new, the film is quite groundbreaking in its use of new technologies, providing images and sounds that no other movie can equal. Avatar is worth seeing for that alone. I’d suggest going in without worrying about the storyline – it will stink, we should expect this by now from Hollywood – and enjoy the creativity and filmography, which is truly breathtaking at times.

  6. D.J. Williams December 24, 2009 at 4:13 pm #

    I’m with Russ and Michael on the film. There are certainly theological/worldview ideas to talk about, and I wrote about some of them that struck me on my blog, but as a film, this is a resounding success. As Russ said, simply because the story is familiar it’s not neccesarily a failure.

  7. T. Webb December 24, 2009 at 5:26 pm #

    Dr. Burk, didn’t Aristotle say that there are really only 12 stories anyway? In other words, _every_ story you see has already been told 1000+ times. It’s how the story is told that makes the difference.

  8. Denny Burk December 24, 2009 at 10:13 pm #

    Jason, that wasn’t a review–just a few brief thoughts and some links to some full reviews. No time to review this one.

  9. Joel December 27, 2009 at 10:25 am #

    Yeah, I agree with Michael, Russ, D.J. and T. Webb. I saw it and really liked it. And, consequently enough, saw dances with wolves a couple of days after. It isn’t the same story- Avatar is making a claim, primarily, about the nature of the universe (I’d say panentheism more than pantheism). DWW isn’t about that at all, though there is some overlap in the two stories about treating the earth properly. DWW is primarily a story concerned with the way the American Indians were treated when their land was stolen and about showing that America’s use of resources and lack of care for others proves them to be the real savages, not the indians.

    I thought the story was moving and I would recommend seeing it.

  10. Ryan K December 27, 2009 at 6:48 pm #

    I am with Dr. Burk on this one. The writing was clunky. The characters were predictable and bland. The story was not just “familiar” but a clear rip-off of Pocahontas and Dances with Wolves.

    Also I find it disgusting how it made the military to be blood thirsty, war-mongering, jar heads who were unwilling and unable to demonstrate empathy or reason. For those I know who are in the military they are usually the people who most profoundly understand the cost of death and war.

    Couple this with the anti-corporation, pantheistic, environmentalism and you had a very preachy movie that fails to hold your attention once the special effects lose their appeal.

  11. Darius T December 27, 2009 at 10:10 pm #

    For those who don’t think this movie was a rip-off of Dances with Wolves, why did the Na’vi speak a language that sounds rather like a North American Indian dialect, use bow and arrows, have hair styles remarkably like those in DWW, and ride horse-like alien creatures? Just a coincidence?

    As for the movie, I’m kinda on the fence. The story is terrible, the script atrocious, the worldview pure evil. But the CGI is pretty sweet. It kinda reminded me of Lord of the Rings. But Lord of the Rings has a good story… see Avatar in theaters for the special effects.

    As far as groundbreaking films go, The Matrix has this one beat with an arm tied behind its back.

  12. Darius T December 27, 2009 at 10:12 pm #

    “you had a very preachy movie that fails to hold your attention once the special effects lose their appeal.”

    Which is why I don’t see this movie aging well. Once there are ten movies a year using this same technology, this film will get old quickly.

  13. Michael Metts December 28, 2009 at 1:01 pm #

    Wife and I saw it a third time! Top-notch!

  14. Joel December 28, 2009 at 1:38 pm #

    ryan, ryan, ryan…

    Darius,

    See my comment (#9) – that’s why they aren’t the same.

  15. Scott December 28, 2009 at 1:43 pm #

    Nathan,
    JC is right about what he said…

    Pearl harbor was provoked and allowed to happen to get America behind the idea of entering WW2.
    9/11 at the very least was known about and let happen, but the evidence shows it was an inside job.

  16. Nathan December 29, 2009 at 12:25 pm #

    Scott,

    April Fools Day is a few months off. If you are serious, you may need to make an appt. with your doctor and avoid using power tools.

  17. LB January 5, 2010 at 10:11 am #

    Darius,

    The Na’vi language was created by Paul Frommer, a professor at the Marshall School of Business with a doctorate in linguistics. It borrows from English, the Romantic languages, Polynesian languages, Bantu, and Japanese. Many phonemes from the Na’avi language are found in the Amharic language of Ethiopia, and the initial “ng” may have taken from New Zealand Māori. Not a North American Indian dialect.

    The direhorse was based on the Clydesdale, which is based in Scotland, again not North American.

    Finally, Nathan, Cameron’s words were, “We went down a path that cost several hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives. I don’t think the American people even know why it was done. So it’s all about opening your eyes.” He also said, “We know what it feels like to launch the missiles. We don’t know what it feels like for them to land on our home soil, not in America. I think there’s a moral responsibility to understand that.”

    Is it so reprehensible to want people to understand that there are two sides? It would seem that he did not mean to demonize America, but just to remind viewers that there are consequences to these actions.

  18. russware January 5, 2010 at 4:43 pm #

    Well said, LB!

  19. Darius T January 5, 2010 at 10:42 pm #

    LB, the other side was Saddam and his evil dictatorship, not the Iraqi people. It would do you and Cameron well to get that straight before helping people “understand” anything about the Iraqi war.

  20. Darius T January 5, 2010 at 10:43 pm #

    Also, please note that I did NOT say that tha Na’vi spoke an American Indian dialect, but that it SOUNDED like one. Other than that, thanks for the information. 🙂

  21. Matt January 7, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

    You guys are hilarious!…

    Welcome to Seminary!

  22. russware January 16, 2010 at 11:18 am #

    We finally saw Avatar again yesterday, this time in 3D. I went in a bit more critically this time around after so much discussion. I was surprised to like the movie and its themes even better this time around. It really is a great movie, and truly a work of art visually.

  23. Darius T January 16, 2010 at 1:14 pm #

    My wife just saw it last night for a second time after really liking it the first time, this time also in 3D. She said that this time the story really seemed stupid and the movie was average the second time around, outside of the special effects, of course. That confirmed my suspicions that it won’t age well… particularly once all action movies are employing similar technology.

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