16 January 2010

My Observations on the movie Avatar

I am not going to cover much of the ground Suki already covered in her Avatar review, other than where our opinions differ.  She did a fine job and made some great observations.  See the link at the bottom of this post for her take on Neytiri and my response to that in the comments on her blog.  Also, take her advice and visit the Pandorapedia for more depth into key elements of the movie.  I am trying to do the same thing with my book series, putting background out on the web so the readers can get into the story and look things up as needed.  Now I have an example of how it is done right and will be working on that soon.

This is yet anothe of James Cameron's films that is in my all-time favorites list and has bumped Alien into being my second favorite of his.  Since seeing Avatar I have not been aable to stop telling people, anybody, everybody, that it is a must see movie and one of the best movies ever made.

Note: I am approaching this from the theory that James Cameron's intention was to write and film an interesting story.  There are hard ways to do it, there are easy ways to do it and there are many right ways to do it.  He did it right and I am not going to second-guess his decisions on portraying characters in certain ways.  I will point out why I think things were done and, in time, I am sure that his thoughts will make it out to the internet and I will see how close I got.

This was my first IMAX 3D experience and I highly recommend it.  Viewed in Alexandria, VA.


I did spot a hint of Libertarianism in the movie. Both Neytiri and Jake are rugged individualists. That's about it. The rest is pretty much mischaracterization of industrial business people and halo polishing of communal living.  The contrast makes for a good story.
I did not notice the "flatness" of the scenes in the mining compound vs. the depth of the Na'vi jungle scenes until Suki mentioned it.  She is right and it does have a "Wizard of Oz" effect.
The Na’vi have quite a few parallels to American Indians. These similarities are good for most viewers, especially with the sort of “Cowboys vs. Indians” story that is Avatar.

The Na’vi do not have wheels. At least I didn’t notice any. A sort-of similarity to American Indians. The Indians did have wheels on toys but no need to use them for transportation since they had no draft animals until the Europeans brought them to the Americas. The Na’vi do have draft-class animals and they have other tools. Just because they don’t have a need for agriculture or industry and they are masters of both running and flying beasts is not a real reason, in my mind, for them not having wheels for other uses.

The movie focuses on one Na’vi tribe, which is probably a good idea because that’s where Neytiri is and there is a significant romance story in here. They are fierce defenders of their part of the jungle, but otherwise portrayed as perfect Walden Pond residents. They do have property, but all personal property in the form of their weapons, clothing and sleeping hammocks. Like American Indians, they have territory as a group and a tribal hierarchy. No deeds or property lines.

Late in the movie it is revealed that there are other Na’vi clans or nations around Pandora. They happen to align with various American Indian Nations from the time of American Manifest Destiny. Plaines Na’avi, Swamp Na’avi (Seminoles?), Mountain Na’vi, and others. It helps the average American viewer and has the what-if twist: “What if the American Indians all banded together and kicked the Europeans out?”

As mentioned at the link below, Neytiri is one of the greatest female characters ever created. She is beautiful, brilliant and skillful. Her brilliance comes in handy when saving Jake’s life. His real life, not his avatar body.

The humans are portrayed as destructive, invading, stupid assholes with the scientists on the friendlier end of the scale. Suki finds Sigourney Weaver’s character to be a reincarnation of Ripley from Alien. I saw a hint of that, but after a few days away from the film I think it was just visual for me. Her character is the total she-wolf lab boss bitch, who softens up toward the end.

Jake, the operator of the Avatar that Neytiri fall in love with, is more of a bumbling fool than Suki described. However, I and everybody else with a military background, know people of all ranks who demonstrate his lack of maturity and discipline. Cameron’s tapping into the male trait of “boyishness” is a good. He was able to use that to put the character in peril, have Neytiri save him and grow him up too.

As mentioned above, both Neytiri and Jake are rugged individualists. The twist here, and it is quite effective, is that Jake is not the white-knight type in the beginning. He is the diamond in the rough that the girl finds and polishes. It is a geek fantasy, I think and is great in fiction. Maybe Beauty and the Beast light is too strong, but that is the idea I was having.

I have heard more people describe the Jake and Neytiri part of the story as Dances with Wolves. I was spared having to see that, so I don’t know. I immediately thought Continental Divide, whit John Belushi. There are many examples of this sort of couple in the movies and in print, so pick the one you like and compare. Guys like it, women like it at least in enough numbers for it to work over and over again. I even used a hint of it in my book series, but it may not be noticed since most of the growing up is done by the female character with help from the male.

The IMDB site seems to be incorrect on who is who with the humans. RDA is running the show on Pandora. No government employees. No Army, no Marines. The brutal security forces are RDA, not military, as far as I can tell from the Pandorapedia. At first blush, this would seem Libertarianish, until you discover that the Interplanetary Commerce Commission has granted them a monopoly over all resources off of earth.

I had the thought that using more Special Operations heavy security force would be a better use of funds and resources than the Air Cavalry and Combat Engineer heavy mix that Cameron chose for the film. In reality that would be better, but in fiction that creates a completely different story and the big battle at the end would not be so spectacular. Yes, I did get so into the movie that I had to think later that it is a story and certain things have to happen for it to be an exciting story. Big battles are exciting.

Apocalypse Now homage that I have not seen anybody else mention: when Pilot Trudy Chacon is shot down near the end she calls out “mayday mayday, red one is hit, I’m going in” (may not be exact) same as the first OH-6 in the Air Cav attack in Apocalypse Now. Other quotes and observations are on IMDB and I did notice most of them.

IMDB notes that the Na'vi arrows do not penetrate cockpit glass when they were fired from the ground, but did when fired from above due to gravity assist, not losing energy, etc.  Another obvious factor is the arrows fired from below glance off of the glass.  All of the penetrating shots from above hit the glass plates square on, the most effective way to penetrate any flat plate with any projectile.

Hard to think of anything else to note here. The above is not meant to be critical of Cameron’s work at all, it is nothing more than observations. It is a great story, a great movie and I will continue to recommend it to anybody and everybody.

Suki's take on Neytiri, my response in the comments.

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