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Capt. Sage's Review of
Avatar

"Avatar" can be described as "Dances with Wolves" in space, with three dimensional (3D) computer generated imagery. It combines a massive world with with interesting creatures and landscapes. However, most of the film's fun is contained in its first half. The last half contains an exciting and mesmerizing battle, but also some of the most hypocritical and stereotypical moments of the film. That I continued taking an interest in the characters despite this is one of the film's triumphs, demonstrating that it does achieve its goal of being an epic adventure.

The movie, though it relies heavily on computer graphics, doesn't really appear to be a computer graphics film - it appears that the whole world is someplace real and deeply alive. Plants and intriguing animals are everywhere, and bioluminescence is used to great effect in night scenes. These things exist in abundance, and quick camera shots of how they live and breathe and move added interest and realism to them.

Since there was so much diversity in the flora and fauna, and so much abundance of it, it was odd that I found it difficult to distinguish between the members of computer-generated alien race, the Navi, unless they were directly facing the camera. Most of the time they were, so this wasn't so much of a problem, but at other times, especially in crowd scenes, it was hard telling that any of them were different from any other. I thought that at least giving the Navi different hair colors, and possibly different shades of blue skin, would've alleviated this problem greatly. Still, when the actors were facing the cameras, I could, after a few minutes of training, clearly see who they were, and I could always get a sense of their emotions.

There are various showings available in 3D. I was pleased that the glasses offered by the theater to which I went offered "real3D" glasses, which were more stylish and comfortable than I was expecting. I also did not get the headache I was anticipating, nor did I notice flaws in the images. Sometimes I felt that some 3D effects were a bit overdone - I was wondering how much fire was going to keep falling in front of the screen during battle scenes, for instance. However, it in general provided a useful feeling of depth which excellently complimented the massive world and its towering heights. I was also glad that the experience was not used to frighten the audience - when, for example, one character tossed grenades towards the screen, we merely saw them coming closer to us, not the image that they were inches from our noses, and as a result the scene was enhanced. The movie is supplemented by 3D, but doesn't really require it.

Generally I liked the acting, and I was pleased that it did carry through to the computer generated alien faces very well. However, I found the dialogue greatly lacking, especially in the second half of the film. During the first half of the film, we merely had to suffer through stereotypical scientists disdaining the military, who stereotypically returned the disdain, and there was a stereotypical manager in charge, against all of whom stood stereotypical natives. By the time we got to the latter half, though, the bad dialogue began to devolve into parodies of recent serious events, and a strawman was created out of the stereotypical military dialogue. The remainder of the movie consisted of the stereotypical natives beating the stuffing out of the strawman. (See the spoiler section below.1)

That said, the movie still kept me interested, and I still like the amazing world that was presented to us. Unfortunately, there are several elements which make the film inappropriate for children, who might otherwise get the most out of the imaginative designs of the alien landscapes and beasts. I'd be enthusiastic about going to see "Avatar" again for the sake of the animals and plants, and rebelling against the tidal wave of the director's intent and rooting for the true underdogs in this film, the military.

SPOILERS

The movie was very obviously slanted towards the Navi, so much so that it became unbalanced, stereotypical, and hypocritical.

Never once was it suggested that the Navi might have problems in their stereotypical, idyllic life, that they might have high infant mortality and low life expectancy. Never was it suggested that they might starve if some natural phenomenon put a damper on nature's bounty. Never was it suggested that the Navi might enslave or torture captured members of rival tribes. It was also never suggested that anyone in the company or the military might harbor humanitarian intentions towards the Navi. The stereotypical military of the film always assumed that the Navi were beasts. Only the scientists were presumed to have any sort of benevolence towards the Navi.

The beasts of the jungle were stereotypically in harmony with the stereotypically earth-conscious Navi. One of the few struggles against deadly predators was the fault of the clueless protagonist. The Navi never had any problems with those predators killing their livestock or their young children. The movie also stereotypically implied there were no environmentally deleterious practices in their culture. Nature was always stereotypically good to them - we didn't see any famine or winter.

The movie also portrayed the soldiers so stereotypically that it could've been comical, except that it was meant seriously. They were shown as exceedingly gruff and mean, and always dismissing and stereotyping the natives. The company man was similar, solely concerned with himself and his company's profits.

"Avatar" heaped stereotype upon stereotype, which is why its condemnation of its military and company characters who stereotype the Navi is particularly hypocritical. The military and company man regularly slur and degrade the Navi, and the director is clearly showing us that this is wrong. Why is it not wrong that the scientists and military and company men have been stereotyped mercilessly by this film? Why are the stereotypical natural world and the stereotypical Navi assumed to be real?

With these stereotypes and a few references to modern events, the movie builds a strawman from the negative human stereotypes of the military and the company. The movie then proceeds to bludgeon this strawman mercilessly in the climactic battle of the film. However, the movie is again being hypocritical. If it is so wrong to kill the Navi because they have feelings and all life is connected, why is it OK to kill the human soldiers? Don't they have feelings, and aren't they life connected with life? But the movie doesn't consider this. It hypocritically steamrolls the soldiers without any heartbreaking music or human tears, which have all been reserved for the Navi. None of the good guys, human or Navi, stops to consider that they may be fighting deluded or frightened beings not all that different from them, when the movie has been trying to establish how the Navi are very like us in terms of dignity. No character on the right side of the film even appears somewhat remorseful or frustrated as they have to kill so many living, thinking, feeling humans, although we are explicitly shown that even the animals the Navi hunt gain such consideration in respectful prayers as they are slaughtered.

The movie grants every consideration and indulgence and understanding to the Navi, while allowing none to the company and the military. The military, company, scientists, and even the Navi and nature itself are stereotyped in this movie. It was very disappointing to see such a lovingly crafted movie diminished by such caricatures and sanctimoniousness.

I had expected that the natural course of the movie would be to seek peace and reconciliation between the humans and Navi. I had resigned myself to some sort of stereotypical condemnation and battle or infight with the stereotypical military, but I thought that on the whole, the protagonist would be able to use his position as an Avatar to build a bridge between the two worlds. Isn't that the point of his mission? This would've provided something further for the manager character to do, too, possibly reclaiming his authority and redeeming himself by accepting such peace. Instead, the movie does nothing further with the manager character, and the movie proceeds to give absolute victory to the Navi, as they kick nearly all the humans off the planet. Why is no reconciliation possible with mankind? Is the mark of a great people like the Navi unforgiveness?

With that said, I shall proceed to minor criticism. I hope that the name of the valuable mineral in this movie, "Unobtanium," was a joke, because I kept snickering. It was a little hard to take seriously, though I freely grant that it was clever and has an unexpected euphony.

Late in the film, I wondered why on earth the pilot who deserted the battle against the Navi's Hometree was allowed to walk freely on the base. Apparently the only reason was so that she could set free the protagonist and his friends. I don't mind this too much, however - perhaps she was supposed to have escaped her own detention and the guard on duty didn't know this.

Finally, the ending battle featured fairly well thought out aerial tactics, but the ground tactics were unbelievable. It seems inconceivable that the protagonist, having some military experience, would allow the cavalry to charge into massed fire. I thought that it was a feint or a diversion, and the stereotypical soldiers would cackle, "They know so little of firearms," just before other units of cavalry pierced their flanks. Instead, as one would expect of most anyone charging head-on into a line of guns, the Navi took heavy casualties and were routed. I don't think that real natives fight that way. It seems more likely that the Navi would utilize hunting or guerilla tactics with their archers, and use their cavalry to harass the human rear and flanks, then run away. I suppose the movie wanted to show us a gallant last stand, but it didn't work for me.

But, finally, a note of minor admiration. I was glad that the Navi tree wasn't used to cheat death, even though was sad to lose Grace, an interesting character.