Sunday, December 27, 2009



To be sure, Avatar in 3D is visually stunning, and sort of amazing.

But it is also... a little bit boring, slowly plotted, trite, and predictable.

The story is pretty basic, a sort of Fern Gully/Pocahontas (myth and Disney, not actual history) for grownups-- backstory is, humans find a new planet with some ridiculous rock substance, they develop work sites, the native population doesn't like them, humans try to establish a school to teach them English and modern things, the natives are like "Um, no. We like our lifestyle, thank you very much. Neurotoxin arrows, anyone?", and things fall apart.

The story, as we join it, is the transformation one "dumb" ex-Marine goes through as he learns of the interconnectivity of life, falls in love with a native woman, and manages to get accepted by a tribe (including, surprise surprise, her aggressive former suitor). It is HORRIBLY predictable. You know they will fall in love, you know that he will be accepted, and you know they will triumph. The foreshadowing over small details is even enough that you end up being able to predict those too. But predictability, in itself, isn't a killing stroke-- after all, men and women are both portrayed well in the movie-- as strong individuals, with rich emotional lives, capable of being scientists or warriors. They actually do a pretty good job on that front, without reducing toooo much to gender stereotypes. Though, of course, they make the military leader of the natives a hereditary male role, and the spiritual leader a hereditary female role. Which, yawn. Whatever. It's to be expected, I guess, even if it is an unconscious nod to the patriarchy. the inclusion of a woman as the lab PI and a woman as the best fighter pilot sort of help to make up for it on the feminism front, at least.

But the movie still has other problems. for a 3D movie, it's villains are awfully 2D. Their motivations are greed and bloodlust, and they have no complexity or moral qualms. While I know there are people like that, if you're going to have a movie as long as Avatar, with as much time spent on slow exposition, you might as well at least invest another ten minutes into making your villains real, into establishing some level of something more than simple disgust for them.

My biggest problem though goes back to the tired and played out trope of the Noble Savage. A quick Google search will show you plenty of people better able to talk about it at length than I am. But still-- it irks me, from the way the lead woman's voice is accented to her clipped stereotypical speech, to the way the native men regard the protagonist, to just-- the trappings of the culture.

I think the reason this all disappoints me so much is that it has the potential to be so much more. Stories about conservation and interconnectivity with nature are important, as are stories that feature strong women as scientists and warriors. But in the end, Avatar doesn't live up to it's promise.