I went to see Avatar yesterday…and accepted the invitation to review it for the website where I bought my tickets. Sadly, visitors to the site will see only a much truncated version because they limit their comments to 750 characters – barely more than a twitter to me, gentle reader. But you get the benefit of the Director’s Cut, as it were:
James Cameron sets a new high water mark for the seamless integration of real and virtual imagery. The scary soullessness of Polar Express and slightly wooden Beowulf are now artifacts. Avatar offers computer-generated images so vivid that (even in 2D) the line between camera and computer is obscured.
The action is lively, the images beautiful, and tale is a great mythic story. The Exile, the wounded man who is taken in by a people not his own, must prove his loyalty to them in order to find a place for himself. Cameron has studied these stories and found a way to relate the myth to a modern reality: oppressed people fighting a ruthless oppressor that measures the world in profit and firepower.
So why *not* five stars? This the story of our times, of women and men who choosing between serving the greedy and the bloodthirsty, and serving the people. Where Cameron fails is as classic as the story. Jake Sully, the ex-marine from our world, a world devoid of green life, not only becomes one of the Na’vi but in the process he becomes their leader . . . presented as the only one who can save them. It is, sadly, another version of the White Man’s Burden. Here, the white hero is not the bringer civilization but the protector of the tribal people of Pandora from it. Cameron’s telling is true to the myth but misses the mark as a modern story. It does not account for the racist myth in which a white man can do what an entire race of people cannot do for themselves.
With that criticism, I loved this movie. I saw it with my daughter, who is 13. It helped us to have a discussion about the parallels to American history: the genocide of Native Americans as well as Vietnam and other U.S. wars of conquest. The story of Avatar is a spiritual introduction to the fundamental principle of anti-imperialism: the power of the people is greater than the Man’s technology.