|Genre:||Science Fiction & Fantasy|
Now, the plot is fairly simple and cliched, as has been oft-mentioned. Something of a blend of The Last Samurai and Pocahontas, the trope of the spiritual, noble savage's battle against the technologically-advanced greedy imperialists is no stranger to mainstream scriptwriting, nor is the trope of the outsider "going native". The parallels are too overt to dismiss. The costumes, the body paint, the language - they all point in the general direction of real peoples from Earth's history. The badness of the bad guys is also portrayed with no holds barred, depicting ruthless enthusiasm for iconoclasm and slaughter, and corporate self-interest utterly devoid of conscience. There are even some not-particularly-subtle references to the Bush doctrine. Oh well, I think there's little point critiquing a caricature.
Now, the universe that Cameron built. We have some rather revolutionary flora-fauna design to look at, featuring heavy doses of bioluminescense. While most of the lifeforms on the planet are obviously inspired by familiar terran creatures, there is plenty that sets them apart in an alien way. Although the "bonding" is a little over the credulity limit, I won't fine for that, considering it was done with a bioelectric plot device instead of the usual telepathy nonsense that passes as scifi too often. Aside from the inexplicable "flux zone", Pandora was, in my opinion, believable as an extraterrestrial habitat. It's not just a few creatures plonked down on a terranesque planet - Cameron actually put effort into designing some pretty novel animals, insects AND plants for an entire biosphere. I believe it's all in the movie's companion book, along with the language that Cameron created for the natives.
Speaking of the natives, although I understand that Cameron has to make money off this film, I am nonetheless a little disappointed that he decided to significantly anthropomorphize the Na'vi. Aside from being slightly taller, having smooth blue skin and sporting a tail, there is not much that sets them apart as a race that evolved on a different planet. While the stereoscopic vision, opposable thumbs and general symmetry are credible convergent features, I think he could have at least made the Na'vi hexapodal and quadrupedal like Andromeda's Vedrans (especially considering that most fauna on Pandora seem to be hexapodal), or given them digitigrade "toe-walker" limbs like Starcraft's Protoss. Their faces are strongly anthropomorphic, down to the hair, lips, eyebrows and two neat rows of human-like teeth. For some inexplicable reason, the Na'vi females have human-like breasts, which Cameron apparently insisted on adding. I understand that the idea behind this design is to enable us humans to identify and empathize with the Na'vi. But if the point of the film is to pontificate about extending rights and respect to intelligent alien lifeforms, isn't having to do it by make them look strongly human missing it? Considering that cephalopods are one of our closest non-mammalian competitors in the intelligence department, would we make calamari platters of them if they looked like squid?
Enough with the nitpicking, though. Avatar is still a must-see film, especially in 3D. Being immersed in the universe of Pandora and its myriad colorful inhabitants is a delight, and production and direction are as superb as can be expected from James Cameron. The film starts moving quickly, and generally remains well-paced throughout the two and a half hours it runs. The plot, cliched as it may be, has enough believable devices and universal appeal to make the film watchable on that level too. This film was more expensive to make than was Titanic, but it is worth every cent.