1. Did you know that “imperialism” is bad? I had no idea until I saw this film!
2. A few little ironies I picked up on:
a.) Ultimately, I get the sense that this film toyed with the theme of “technology vs. nature,” with nature winning out. So, nature is the ideal. Kind of ironic coming from the most technologically advanced and expensive film in all of cinematic history.
b.) The film portrayed the Na’vi people as in the right. Again, they were in touch with their environment and nature. The bad guys in the film were the humans who moved in on their territory and wanted to trash things, with their technology, for their own purposes. So, if the Na’vi are so inherently good and in tune with their planet, and the humans are bad, and the theme of this film (well, one of them) is that imperialism is a force of evil, then what is the film trying to say by having a HUMAN infiltrate the natives, thus becoming their savior?
3. I was never entirely sure of Jake Sully’s intentions, at least not until he found “love.” He agreed to play “mole” for the intense military dude (who I just found out is named “Colonel Miles Quaritch” – thanks IMDb!) before Col. Quaritch even offered to get him his legs back. Was it due to some misplaced sense of loyalty? This is the only reason I can think of to explain his allegiance to Quaritch.
Once he is promised new legs, I still can’t understand why he is willing to play double agent. At the beginning of the film, when they offer Jake his brother’s position (and avatar), they also make it very clear that they will pay him handsomely. This is seemingly why he decides to do it (any other reasons I could infer would be mere speculation about a supposed sense of loyalty or family or redemption that Jake might have, and that was never explicitly – or even implicitly – stated).
Towards the beginning, in the supremely annoying voice-over narration, Jake mentions that surgery to correct his paralysis (or new legs) is very expensive, and he can’t afford it on his veteran’s pay. But, if he’s getting paid a handsome sum to join the team as his brother’s replacement, couldn’t he then pay for his surgery? And then wouldn’t it be unnecessary for him to rely on Quaritch to get the surgery for him? So, maybe at first he’s a double agent because he used to be a Marine himself, and Quaritch pandered to him, and he didn’t really want to align himself with the icky icky scientists.
But how does that explain his continued two-facedness after he’s infiltrated the Na’vi, made friends with Dr. Grace and Norm and the rest, and fallen in love, or at least intense friendship, with Neytiri? I could literally think of no better reason than, “He does it because if he didn’t, then we couldn’t move the plot forward, so just shut up and deal.”
4. Far, far too many of these characters are mere caricatures. Colonel Quaritch is every other overbearing, stubborn, narrow-minded, conquering, macho military villain who has ever appeared in any narrative throughout the history of the world. He’s beefy, he doesn’t like them tree-huggin’ softies, he feels a sense of entitlement (think “The White Man’s Burden”), and he likes to down a cold beer with his studly colleagues. Yeah, that’s never been done before.
Then there’s Michelle Rodriguez’s character, Trudy, who seemed to only exist to throw out little sound-bites. She reminded me of this bit on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, where Jimmy will pretend to be filming a commercial for something, and the entire skit will be him in costume, saying these increasingly obtuse one-liners. More specifically, he once did it for the newest Call of Duty game, and so he cast himself as a soldier in the game, and he’d just say things like, “You gotta watch out for flying rocks,” or “A man never knows when he’ll be called upon to eat an ice cream sandwich.” Complete non sequitars that still kind of made sense, because it was for a video game and who cares? That’s basically what Trudy was put in the movie for.
Then, there was the nerdy guy, the ball-busting lady boss with a heart of gold, the greasy, greedy civilian businessman, the eccentric native seer, the warrior princess… all are present. All have been seen before. None were developed any further than these surface descriptions.
5. For a good majority of Avatar, I felt like I was watching an older animated film from my childhood. It’s pretty mind-boggling that people are drooling all over a film whose closest relatives in narrative would be the sub-tier Twentieth Century Fox cartoon FernGully: The Last Rainforest, and the minor Disney animated “classic,” Pocahontas.
Think about it. A cocky young man and his fleet of equally cocky white, male humans touchdown in someone else’s territory, ready to conquer. There’s a young lady, probably the daughter of the leader of their tribe of natives. She’s confident, but a bit of a dreamer, a troublemaker, and more open-minded. Something happens that leaves the cocky young man in the care of the natives, and he finds an ally in this spitfire of a girl. Eventually, he will learn that these people aren’t so bad, in fact, their way of life and respect for nature (they always respect Mother Nature) is admirable, the ideal.
But, his old colleagues are closing in, and his allegiance will be tested. Will he return to his homies and fulfill his original plans and obligations? Or will he follow a new, enlightened path with this manic pixie dreamgirl who he has probably fallen in love with? Your guess is as good as mine.
Picture this, but blue. And 10 feet tall. And on a different planet. And fewer raccoons.
6. I found a very strange, slightly disturbing rape parallel in the scene where Jake and the other young Na’vi go to bond with the Ikrans. There was a whole, “pin ‘er down! Put ‘er in submission!” thing going on, and then he sticks his “ponytail” into the hole in the antenna thing on the Ikran. There was also the aspect of, “You’ll have a connection with the Ikran that’s yours, and you’ll know because it’ll try to fight you off, but that just means that you’re meant to be!” thing, which could be read as a parallel to that excuse tons of rapists use, “But her eyes said yes!” or whatever. So basically it was a positive view, and I was in a state of shocked horror the entire time I was watching it.
I was also irritated by the abandonment of Jake’s original Ikran when he went and conquered the giant dragon. I fully expected it to come out and save Jake’s butt or something during the final battle, at least. Instead, this animal that he had this deep (somewhat inappropriate) bond with was completely forgotten. He traded her in for a new model. Of course, it was supposedly “necessary” to do this so that he could get back in good standings with the Na’vi. I get that. But that doesn’t stop me from wishing that they’d given his original Ikran some kind of conclusion, wrapped up its story and all that.
7. I am completely surprised by how few people (particularly people who are in the business of critiquing films) are remarking on just how awful the script for Avatar is. It features some of the clunkiest, wooden dialogue I have heard on screen since Anakin waxed idiotic about his sand problem in Attack of the Clones. Seriously. I mean, in the trailer alone we hear, “You’re not in Kansas anymore.” Hmm… that’s completely original, right? I bet it means that they’re in a new place! A place that’s different than the places they’re used to! Whodda thunkit?!
8. Aged, predictable plot, clunky dialogue, flat characters with convoluted motivations, and lengthiness aside, I’d say that people should go see Avatar. James Cameron gives the film an energy that makes it fairly easy to get from the beginning to the end, and still maintain interest. It’s also a very beautiful film, and there’s a lot I saw in it that I’ve never seen on film. It’s the most expensive film ever made, and that is made abundantly clear on screen. At times, the lines between CGI and reality were blurry. If you have even a passing interest in the technology of film and the future of cinema, you’ll want to see Avatar. But, if you’re like me and you prefer films with complex characters, real emotionally genuine moments, and thought-provoking themes, then I doubt that Avatar will be one of your new favorite films.
My grade: C