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Released in 2009, Avatar became the highest-grossing film at the international box office. With the film set in the 22nd century, it carried a unique concept as epic science fiction. The film was written, directed and produced by James Cameron. This paper talks about the villainy of the human race as it is shown in the film Avatar. This paper uses the cinematographic elements of this film to prove that Cameron has carefully used them to underline the differences between the humans and the Na’vi people. Before diving into these elements, we are going to describe the plot of the film which will help us understand the background of the elements and how they help with the overall theme of the film. Next, we will take a look at how the lighting in this film has changed throughout scenes that have effectively helped Cameron in furthering his intentions with the plot. Next, this paper will talk about mise-en-scene which will determine.
the visual differences between how the characters look. This will help us in understanding the motive of Cameron. The camera angles will be discussed as well. This is important because the angles tell us what Cameron wants us to see and the angles manipulate our vision according to the plot. The last thing which this paper will look at is the use of sound in the film. It becomes clear that Cameron wanted to depict humans as evil people who have destroyed their own planet and now want to destroy an alien planet for its mineral resource. Through an active discussion of this topic, the following paper will prove that through the use of cinematographic elements such as lighting, mise-en-scene, camera angles, shot length, and sound, Cameron contrasts between the good and evil nature of the Na’vi and the humans.
Let’s begin by taking a look at the plot of the film Avatar. This will give us a little background in the topic of discussion. On the lush alien world of Pandora live the Na’vi, beings who appear primitive but are highly evolved. In order to explore Pandora’s biosphere, scientists use Na’vi-human hybrids called ‘Avatars’, operated by genetically matched humans; Jake Sully, a paraplegic former Marine, replaces his deceased identical twin brother as an operator of one. Dr. Grace Augustine, head of the Avatar Program, considers Sully an inadequate replacement but accepts his assignment as a bodyguard. While escorting the avatars of Grace and fellow scientist Dr. Norm Spellman as they collect biological data, Jake’s avatar is attacked by a thanator and flees into the forest, where he is rescued by Neytiri, a female Na’vi. Witnessing an auspicious sign, she takes him to her clan, where Neytiri’s mother, the clan’s spiritual leader, orders her daughter to initiate Jake into their society. .
Colonel Miles Quaritch, head of RDA’s private security force, promises Jake that the company will restore his legs if he gathers information about the Na’vi and the clan’s gathering place, a giant tree called Hometree which stands above the richest deposit of unobtanium in the area. Over the following three months, Jake grows to sympathize with the natives. After Jake is initiated into the tribe, he reveals his change of allegiance when he attempts to disable a bulldozer that threatens to destroy a sacred Na’vi site. After this Selfridge, the leader, orders Hometree to be destroyed. During the subsequent battle, the Na’vi suffer heavy casualties, including Tsu’tey, Grace, and Trudy; but are rescued when Pandoran wildlife unexpectedly joins the attack and overwhelms the humans. This helps them win the battle.
After the peace is restored, all humans, with the exceptions of Jake, Norm, and a select few others, are expelled from Pandora and sent back to Earth. Jake is permanently transferred into his avatar with the aid of the Tree of Souls, the sacred place. This film puts us on the edge with its advanced technological effects, there is something deeper in Avatar. It is a film that tells us about the greed, disconnection, arrogance, and violence of humans. It highlights till what extent can humans go to serve their purpose. And James Cameron makes sure to clearly make this message known throughout the film. For its use, he uses lighting, mise-en-scene, camera angles, shot length and sound.
One of the most important things among this is the lighting. Lighting is essential to the plot of the film as it reflects on the mood and the genre. It gives its audience a visual sensation and manipulates them to feel what Cameron wants them to. Following the lines of this, with high sophistication, James Cameron has used striking juxtaposing lighting to highlight between the evil humans and the Na’vi people. The film starts with Jake coming to Pandora and as soon as his spaceship lands, Cameron has used grey lighting to portray that Jake has landed on Pandora. This lighting has a gloomy effect which puts the audience in a melancholic mood and foretelling of the events that are to come later. Not only does it increase the suspense in the film, but also sets the mood of the audience. Another striking thing to notice is that the light around humans is very low and barely enough to make out their facial features while the Na’vi people are highly detailed in their characters.
At 7:00:00, the Colonel is giving the talk to the new soldiers. His face is barely visible with the light source behind him. This is a sharp contrast from the scenes with the Na’vi people. Even when they are shown at night time (46:49:00), their face is usually in the focus and can be seen easily. Its effect is a simple distinction between humans and Na’vi people implying that humans are all the same with a different level of greed which makes them less human. Moreover, there is some kind of darkness in the background whenever humans come on screen.
The darkness is symbolic of the gloom that humans bring with them. Whereas whenever the Na-vi people come on screen, it is a bright light usually a combination of blue, green and yellow that makes us realize that it comes from sun, plants or fire. This shows that humans are at not peace with nature and do not respect nature because they constantly keep cutting its resources. It goes on to show that they cannot be satisfied with what they have and hence are portrayed as evil. Such brilliant is the effect of Cameron’s use of lighting that it makes us ask the question: What does it truly mean to be a human?
Raising questions about humanity, Cameron made a very interesting use of costumes. He has given dark colored clothes to the colonel who was the most villainous as he had evil plans about destroying the home tree; whereas light-colored costumes like white shirts, shorts, and coats were given to characters of Jake, Noam, and Grace, who had good intentions at heart. This contrast between black and white presents the classic binary difference between good and evil. Although, the character of Parker was wearing a mix of dark and light-colored clothing. This represents a lot of humanity which is constantly harming nature but they also have a humane side to them. For parker, we are meant to feel the same way. He is supposed to be bad, but he is also hesitant to destroy the home of Na’vi people.
Through this mix, Cameron depicts that being a human is always an ethical dilemma- where we have just two options one of them is right or wrong. How much of a human we are depends on what we choose. And through the use of costumes, it is shown that there is a wide range of humans with different intentions, although what side we join depends on the choices we make.
Bold choices have also been made by Cameron and his cinematography team regarding the intended use of different camera angles and shot length to show the villainy of humans and the contrasting human side of aliens. More often than not, humans are shot from below. They are made to appear bigger and more powerful than they are. It shows how humans view themself as compared to everything else in nature. In contrast to this, the Na’vi people are always shot from above or straight in front. This shows that the Na’vi people view themselves just as they are. Cameron wants us to realize the difference between the arrogance of humans and the humbleness of the Na ‘vi people. Humans are usually shown with a close-up shot without any emphasis on their background. Humans are also shown in a confined space like a room or inside the machines effectively cutting them off from any other natural element. Most of the shots that have Na’vi people are either medium-long or long shots. There is enough focus on the surroundings. It shows us how beautiful nature can be when you are at peace with it like the Na ‘vi are.
Similarly for the sound, Cameron uses differences in background music, silence, and foley to show Na’vi is vastly different from humans. A soft and soothing background score is used when the Na’vis are on the screen; whereas there is no background score when humans are on screen. This contrast makes us wonder about the intentions of Cameron. He intends to enhance our view of crumbling humanity with the use of silence. At times, silence feels uncomfortable and is only broken by dialogues. This is supposed to highlight the difference between the nature of humans and the Na’vi people. The foley used is much more detailed in the Na’vi world than the human one. The only sound you can hear in the human world is machines and guns.
Therefore, we see that with the use of lighting, mise-en-scene, camera angle, shot length, and sound, Cameron contrasts between the good and evil nature of the Na’vi and the humans. With lighting, the darkness of humans is shown. Mise-en-scene helps us differentiates the good and evil in humans themselves. The camera angle and shot length enhanced the arrogance, green and unlikable nature of humans. The sound utilizes the auditory senses to clearly set the difference between the humans and the Na’vi. As the film progresses, the narrative gives the audience more and more reason to hate the humans who are destroying a foreign planet for their greed. But the audience did not need to wait for the narrative to reveal that; it had already been presented through all of the cinematic elements. It leaves no doubt that humans need to look at their actions and save our own planet before it’s too late.
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