The Corner

Avatar and the Faith Instinct

Here’s my column on Avatar. A few additional thoughts and responses to email:

1. I didn’t get to mention it in the column, but I thought it was funny when my daughter got an Avatar action figure with her Happy Meal from McDonald’s the other day. Not only is the movie too scary for truly little kids (I think), the whole premise of the film is dedicated to the idea that Western materialism and nature-exploitation is evil and destructive. But giving little kids petroleum-based-schwag that’s been imported from China at a temple of all that is wrong with modern life (according to greens), well, that’s just doing business.

2. No, I didn’t discuss the special effects. Yes, they were great. So . . . ?

3. My apologies for not working immanentize the eschaton into the column. I did manage to get it into my piece in the current issue of the magazine (which I assume you’ve all read by now).

4. A reader alerts me to something I should have remembered. The word “unobtanium” isn’t even original in its badness. It was used in the movie The Core — a truly bad movie that has been singled out for having the worst, most unrealistic, treatment of science in years.

5. For brevity I had to cut other films that Avatar rips-off borrows from. At the top of my list (other than the already mentioned Pocahontas and Dances with Wolves): A Man Called Horse (which I haven’t seen in 20 years). But it seems others think Cameron’s ripped himself off or something called Call Me Joe.

Update: Interesting! A defense of unobtanium! From a reader:

Like every reviewer I’ve read of Avatar, you seem to think Cameron dreamed up the substance called unobtanium. Actually, he’s not even that creative. Unobtanium is a term that has been used by aerospace engineers since at least the Fifties. Typically, it goes something like “we need a metal that is stronger than steel, lighter than aluminum, heat resistant, easy to fabricate and machine, abundant, and cheaper than dirt. It’s called unobtanium.” The term has crept out of aerospace into more general engineering usage (yes, I’m an engineer), to describe any material combining impossible properties.

Update II: Other readers tell me it’s a commonplace in everything from stereos to racing. Alas, the term never made it into journalism, though I might start calling my next raise “unobtanium.”

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