Monday, 21 December 2009


Let me start by getting the standard line over with: Watching Avatar is an amazing experience and the plot and weaknesses of the movie don't significantly get in the way. This is what most people seem to be saying, and I agree. I have never seen a 3D pic before and I was surprised and impressed. The depth into the screen quickly becomes "normal" and real. When close objects move off the screen toward you, it is quite impressive but less real and more holographic - kind of gimmicky in a way that is fun but does detract from the realistic quality. The subject of the film - the exploration of a new world - is a great fit for this experience, though I would have preferred a world a little less hostile. I actually think this level of omnipresent danger is one of the weaknesses of the film and will return to that later. But first let me just say one more time - this film was a fun ride.

(Some mild spoilers may lurk herein - careful if you're touchy.)

So now let me get some weaknesses off my chest. The plot, especially in its resolution, is as cliched as many are saying. I was led astray by a reviewer who said that James Cameron will be written off by Fox News as a tree-hugging pacifist (which is probably true but then according to Fox News anyone who thinks it's better to ask someone a question before shooting them is probably a tree-hugging pacifist). This is clearly not a pacifist movie. But it could have been, which is the painful part. Instead we see the disappointing myth of redemptive violence, once again, in far too predictable a fashion.

One thing that would have helped a creative plot develop would have been bad guys who had even a little character. The colonel and the CEO are as caricatured as one could imagine. The colonel makes Chuck Norris seem like a total wimp and Selfridge is the pathological embodiment of all that makes corporations evil. Sure they're both tempting caricatures if you're making a movie critical of corporate and military evil, but a little complexity would have been nice. (And as many have asked, "How much integrity do you have criticizing corporate priorities while you're making a movie that costs $400 million?")

There's no question that there is a Gaia worldview being promoted here, but I don't feel too critical of that. I think they sold that piece okay without it being too shallow. The scene where the two main characters meet started that off well, I thought. Something that would have helped this to be more metaphorical and not quite so literal would have helped.

Maybe the hostility of the Pandoran world helps it to avoid a New Age shallowness. But it seems too hostile to me. In a way, it justifies the paranoid, fearmongering attitude of the colonel. And there is no easy way to understand the coexistence of the constant danger with the relatively peaceful existence of the Na'vi people.

The theme that I found most impressive in the movie is the exploration of the paradoxical relationship between knowledge and ignorance. The "childlike" ignorance of Jake Sully nearly kills him in the forest but his teachability transforms everything. If you take the meaning of meek in the New Testament as teachable, as I've heard said, you could say the movie demonstrates "the meek inheriting the earth" (or Pandora as it were). With a little effort and creativity this theme could have been the centerpiece of a very substantive story.

But this is not a movie that requires a substantive story to be amazing. The experience was wonderful and even if the plot caricatures the enemy, at least it's the right enemy. It will just be left to others to promote a better response to our militarized, corporate society. Still the film gets **** from me. Mugs up.