Avatar – a quick review

Most people have seen James Cameron’s Avatar by now. Even if you haven’t, here’s my two cents.

Avatar is the story of an ex-Marine who finds himself thrust into hostilities on an alien planet filled with exotic life forms. As an Avatar, a human mind in an alien body, he finds himself torn…Avatar is the story of Jake Sully – an ex-Marine who finds himself thrust into hostilities on an alien planet filled with exotic life forms. As an Avatar, a human mind in an alien body, he finds himself torn between two worlds, in a desperate fight for his own survival and that of the indigenous people, the Na’vi.

Avatar is an enthralling experience. It is one of the most visually stunning films I’ve ever seen, and the plot, though clichéd, still holds some very important messages. By making the story about the interactions between ‘humans’ and ‘aliens’, Avatar imaginatively revisits the acts of genocide that were the foundation of European and American empires, in which entire native tribes and civilizations were wiped out by white immigrants to the Americas, Africa, and the Pacific. With its futuristic focus and allusions to a polluted and overpopulated earth, it is a film that reminds us of our past whilst raising alarm bells about the future we face if we remain on our path of environmental destruction and unhindered growth. These issues are more important today than ever before, and I salute Cameron for packing them in a pill that the general public are able to swallow.

However, once you get past the special effects and emotive storyline, the film doesn’t stand up to critical scrutiny. The plot is simple and formulaic and has been likened to Dances with Wolves or The Last Samurai, where the hero is a white male with a military background from a technologically advanced culture who arrives to subjugate native people, but ends up going to battle on their behalf.  While I’m sure indigenous groups are grateful for help from non-native people who empathize with their issues or causes, it would be nice to see a movie where these issues are resolved by the tribe themselves, not some white guy ‘gone native’ who leads the tribe from the inside rather than from the outside – a kind of inverted colonialism. I also didn’t like the way the movie valorized military action as a solution to these issues, and it certainly didn’t offer any new ideas or alternatives. But then I don’t suppose most people go to the movie to watch drawn out scenes of diplomacy, dialogue and reconciliation in action. You can’t eat popcorn to that.

Ultimately though, the movie is a grand sweeping experience that should inspire a legion of viewers to recognise the dangers of imperialism, both historic and contemporary, and understand the holism and fragility of our planets environmental systems. Definitely worth seeing… especially in 3D!


~ by humblemonkey on April 8, 2010.

One Response to “Avatar – a quick review”

  1. The most beautiful part of Avatar was the Na’vi greeting: I see you. It gives me chills just remembering this important message of the film, which connects beautifully to the South African greeting sawubona, which means the same thing. If only we would see each other, acknowledge each other more often in this world . . .

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