Avatar – The Movie: A Review

Every time I am forced to watch this movie (I have fun friends), which is to say every time I have watched this movie, I fall asleep. Perhaps multiple times. If I am not sleeping, my mind makes great attempts to drift off and think about things that it likes to think about, and when that fails I either fall asleep as previously stated, or I squirm around in my chair, feeling more exhausted and discontent by the second.

Avatar, the movie. Nominated for nine Academy Awards. It won three, those being Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Visual Effects.

Those three things are about all Avatar has going for it.

“If you can get a theater full of people in Kentucky to stand and applaud the defeat of their country in war, then you’ve got some amazing special effects,” Russell T. Moore said in a review in The Christian Post shortly after the film’s release. It is true: Avatar has stunning visuals, a scenic landscape with beauty comparable to New Zealand in the Lord of the Rings movies, except all imaginary. This beautiful scenery, especially in 3-D or perhaps after smoking a lot of pot or eating some psilocybin mushrooms, is always what gets praised. Visuals alone are what made this movie the highest-grossing movie of all time, proving that audiences worldwide are easily bought with pretty, shiny things and have no need to hold their entertainment up to any other standards – such standards as good pacing, unique execution of an over-familiar plot structure, politically correct social themes, or fact-checked, believable science in something that is supposed to be a science fiction film.

First of all, could this movie get any longer? Hollywood loves to make ninety-minute movies out of books with 400+ pages, and this movie is not even based on a book, yet it’s two minutes short of three hours.

Not only that, but take a look at what they fill those three hours with: exposition, cliché, exposition, cliché, exposition, cliché… and finally, a battle scene that essentially lasts for the entire final third of the movie, which is one of the parts during which I typically fall asleep. After all, I don’t seem to miss much.

Sure, Jake Sully, the imposter Na’vi sent to “learn their ways” so he can subsequently “move them off of their giant tree so we can harvest an element that we can’t even call something more intelligent than ‘unobtainium’ since it’s not like we’re scientists with billions of dollars in lab equipment, we just need it to blow stuff up,” needs his journey with the Na’vi blue-people of Pandora to be well established, especially considering he is supposed to be falling in love with their ways, accidentally, so he can end up betraying everyone just in time for the EPIC BATTLE SCENE. However, brevity could have helped out this movie, not that brevity is one of James Cameron’s trademarks to any extent. At the most, all of Jake Sully’s learning-the-ways-of-the-Na’vi scenes could have been slightly more poignant, and slightly less Adventures in Training Your Dragon and Falling on Giant Leaves.

While watching the movie I was filled with the utter sense of dread that often accompanies the realization that I am watching a movie with the exact plot that I have seen countless times before. Especially this plot, the Redemption Plot. Don’t know what I am talking about? Let me tell you a little story: White Guy is kind of a selfish bastard. I mean, he’s alright, but he’s got his own problems to worry about. White Guy gets in with a group of indigenous people, in one way or another, with a stable amount of curiosity about them but mostly because of what they can do for him. He hides his ulterior motive, of course, because how is anybody supposed to get what they want when the people they are trying to take advantage of are already suspicious enough of the fact that he is simply a newcomer? Anyway, as he is trying to casually get in with these folks, White Guy starts actually liking them and rethinking his original ulterior motive eventually making the decision to stop being such a White Guy just about the time that the indigenous people grow suspicious, do some research or spying, and learn that he had an ulterior motive all along. So, they kick him out. Except he has changed! This is the sad part that gets me every time, especially since I know it’s coming. Every. Time. But then there is trouble, and the White Guy comes back to help, proves himself, and the people decide he’s alright since he essentially saved them single-handedly and so accept him into their tribe forever and ever.

Avatar follows this redemption plot exactly to form, simply imposing distractingly gorgeous visuals onto what I consider to be the worst overused plot in the history of storytelling. Which, by the way, most movies do better: ever seen Pocahontas? Dances with Wolves? Cars? Over The Hedge, for crying out loud?? I could go on.

Besides the terrible length and pacing, and the utterly painful predictability of the plot, there are several other aspects of this movie that have forever ruined my ability to just have a good time while watching it.

Colonialism and Imperialism run rampant in this film. I don’t think I have to say much more about it considering my rant earlier about how the White Guy saves the day; however, what I find most interesting about the use of Colonialism/Imperialism themes in this movie is that nobody seems to notice them. Everyone is paying attention to the new-age, hippie mantras of saving the trees and the planet and how bad the bad guys are for being so full of testosterone and obsessed with using brute force to take over planets; nobody notices that Jake Sully is still the savior of the blue people, thus becoming the most popular blue person who isn’t even really a blue person, all while bombarding his way in and around with, even at the end, a lack of a grasp on how entirely privileged he is.

However, perhaps the truly most annoying thing about this movie is the absolute lack of fact-checking behind what is supposed to be a science fiction film. Last time I checked, even science fiction (though “fiction”, I am aware), needs to have a believable accuracy and consistency in order to not break the spell of believability that movie-makers are attempting to cast over their audiences. Of course science fiction is supposed to stretch into the realm of imagination: but what universe are we dealing with here? Do we have different laws of physics, of chemistry? Not apparently, since this is just supposed to be set in the twenty-second century in our own universe. Did James Cameron want hard-core science fiction fans to come see this movie? Too bad; I don’t think any true lover of Asimov or Heinlein would touch this movie with a ten-foot pole.

How do we just shrug off the “Hallelujah Mountains”, mountains that float because of an unexplained chemical element and yet the waterfalls cascade back towards the ground? Or how there is no way you could just magically mix the DNA of a human and an alien humanoid, and then wire their brains together so that you can just -POOF!- jump into the other body by way of some kind of neurological hyperspace and run around while you sleep, or something? Or what about the way the other animals on Pandora have evolved, with the illogical six legs or their “chest nostrils”, for lack of a better term? And Pandora itself? It’s a huge planet-sized moon orbiting around an even larger gas giant called Polyphemus; which apparently James Cameron failed to take into consideration how that doesn’t work for habitability as far as natural disasters go; asteroids would constantly rain down, the planet would more than likely be “tidally locked”, meaning it rotates at the same rate that it orbits – therefore one side is always facing in, the other always facing out to space – leading to, among other things, all those natural disasters I mentioned.

Look. I think Avatar is definitely worth going to see at least once, because it is really pretty. Actually, I really don’t. Unless you are 100% okay with exposing yourself to three hours of pretty things that are accompanied by a terribly predictable plot, slightly subtle themes of racism and patriarchy, and runs rampant with scientific inaccuracies, do not waste your time.  After all, I’ve held on to a grudge against this movie for YEARS – I think I would have been a much less tense person without it.