February 16, 2010

Movie Review: Avatar

At the risk of a pop culture flogging, I thought that someone over at the Natural Security blog should put out some commentary on the seemingly messianic piece of 3D cinema known as Avatar. On a personal note, it was a movie you readily want to hate, but actually proves to be pretty solid, despite its sadly obvious symbolic language (e.g., the hard to find, harder to extract mineral Unobtainium, or the dangerous celestial setting of the film, the planet Pandora), three hour run time and near unprecedented number of fans, the sadly obsessive, the geeky and the freaky.

For anyone who has seen Avatar, it is clear just how readily the plot lends itself to issues of Natural Security. For those that haven't, I'll spare the internet the burden of serving as a host to yet another film summary (suffice it to say that it evokes the spirit of the theatrical offspring of Dances with Wolves and FernGully) and hit on the great Natural Security bits.

In the film, Earth is in an energy crisis due to its entrenched investment in finite energy resources. This brings both mining and military forces (all represented by American personnel mind you) to a distant land, where the resident Na’vi people sit atop one of the most vital and valuable energy resources known to humankind - Unobtainium. It's at this point that you might begin to doubt James Cameron's cinematic subtleties and wonder why he didn't simply name the planet Iraq, and ditch the term "unobtanium" for "oil." I must admit, I was waiting for a "Mission Accomplished" banner the whole time, which (*spoiler alert*), never did materialize.

While initially the film's concept of an energy war may seem to be nothing more than a glaring indictment of some current issues, it does offer a little more. The reason Unobtainium is worth all this trouble is that it not only provides a hyper-efficient and sustainable (ignoring the side effect of killing the planet Pandora) answer to Earth's energy woes, it also allows for the energy capabilities for interstellar travel, trade and pioneering. So really we’ve switched our dependency on one resource for another, something we advocate against at the Natural Security blog since dependency on one resource can lead to struggle and potential conflict over it. Just ask the Na’vi.