James Cameron’s Avatar, much like Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, takes computer generated graphics and human to digital gesture drama and expands the possibilities of filmic space. Films are learning what computer-based games have knows for years: that you can use the tools to envision creatures, characters, and worlds that simply cannot be done with scissors, lace, and painted cardboard. The movie has the look and feel of the worlds of Cyan and any number of computer and video games, complete with boss battles and level-design transitions. As I watched the film, I wondered what the future holds given the tools.
On the other hand, the story comes no where close to the wonder of the screen. I guess I might call Avatar a billion dollar cliche. The viewer knows what Avatar is coming in (war, greed, climate change, genetics) but I thought there would be at least some sophistication brought to accompany the high tech engine. This is a CG rendering of Dances with Wolves, an invader versus native story where the invaders must be dehumanized to humanize the indigenous people and this hammer home an ethic. But I’m already with that ethic. The evil corporation will take what it can’t negotiate from the nature-connected Na’vi by brute force to save the earth from its own disconnection. The corporation has military and genetic technology on its side; the Na’vi have their spiritualism, size, and ingenuity. Sully will fall in love with Neytiri and become a member of the clan and betray his “people” for the greater good. This premise is totally new. Sully, paused on a massive limb, is surrounded by luminous jelly fish, which is a sign of his promise to the people of Pandora. Haven’t seen that one before.
One greater issue with the story is history and perspective: no one seems to have much of it with the exception of the Na’vi. In this universe, corporations and their security forces have no sense that “We’ve actually done this before.” Earthers can travel to Pandora (such obscure names for places) for the required ore, which is incredibly valuable, using wonderful technology but other than technology the evil doers are never more than muscle heads, which, I believe, cheapens the narrative. It always strikes me as coincidental that the indigenous peoples’ sacred grounds are always right where the invaders need to go. We need grand conflict here but we don’t need to keep yanking out the same old rabbits.
As a final note, the first few minutes of ads were selling the Marines and the National Guard. Ironic? Not at all. These followed by two films that draw from Greek mythology. Fun fun.