Avatar Is Great and Libertarian

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My wife and I saw Avatar this weekend in 3D. Here’s the verdict: four out of four stars. Absolutely amazing special effects–best I’ve ever seen; fun story; all in all a very fun, nice movie.

And at its core it was very libertarian: it was about a group of people (the Na’vi) defending their property rights on the world Pandora from aggressors (the human invaders), and about one of the humans (a soldier named Jake Sully) deciding to join and help the right side. Sure, the movie has some stilted dialogue in parts, and a few cliched scenes (I liked how the evil military commander referred to their outrageous assaults on the Na’vi as “shock and awe,” but his telling the troops that they would “fight terror with terror”–when the Na’vi had not really been shown to have done anything characterizable as terrorism–was a bit of a stretch in its attempt to dig at the current American “war on terror”), but overall it was great and fun, and libertarian. And the passion and vision and craft that has gone into this movie is amazing to behold. Cameron is to be commended for this great work of art.

Ignore the cynics–such as Peter Suderman on Reason‘s Hit & Run blog who accuses Avatar of “anti-corporate clichés and quasi-mystical eco-nonsense”. Nonsense. Libertarians are not anti-environmentalism, for one; property rights are the only way to protect the environment. As for “quasi-mystical”–I can’t say much without spoiling, but the various beliefs of the Na’vi are perfectly grounded in reason and reality, as the movie shows. As for anti-corporate–nonsense.

And the “corporation” here is basically a mini-state, or an arm of a state–it has an army going around killing and destroying (Lester Hunt makes this point here). In fact, in the review of the leftish Mark Kermode of the BBC, he just calls the bad guys the military; even he is not taken in by the corporate facade. And the libertarian hosts of Free Talk Live (12/19/09 episode) get it right too: the plot is about property rights. In particular, the property rights of the Na’vi, in an established tree-city that they have clearly homesteaded. The Na’vi are not just some uncivilized savages as some curmudgeonly reviewers imply; they live they way they do because of the wondrous bounty of their strange world and some unique features it has–which, again, I can say little of without spoiling, but suffice to say it’s grounded in reality and extrapolative science fiction, not some quasi-mystical nonsense. They even have a sophisticated homesteading technique worked out for ownership of the wild, pterodactyl-like creatures known as Banshee or ikran. In addition, the main Na’vi character, Neytiri, although she is betrothed to another Na’vi, is permitted to change her mind and choose someone else–respect for individual choice and autonomy.

As for the 3D: the 3D was well done, not over-used, and did add depth to the picture. It’s worth seeing in 3D if you go to the movies. That said, I don’t think it adds much. Avatar will still be great on HD home theater systems in Blu-Ray or HD. Note: we intentionally avoided the IMAX version because I assume the image has to be cropped (left and right sides chopped off) to fit IMAX’s different aspect ratio.

1:38 pm on December 21, 2009