I forgot to mention that I saw Avatar before my trip. So heres a belated review.
Ill start with the negatives. If theres a problem with this film, its that its completely formulaic and predictable. In terms of plot (as opposed to visuals), there were no surprises none. Every step of the story was telegraphed far in advance. Now Im all for Chekhovs dictum about hanging a gun on the wall in the first act and firing it off in the third; but here every gun essentially gets hung up with a neon sign that says hey, watch for this gun to go off in the third act! If even a fraction of the creative effort expended on other aspects of this movie had been devoted to story development, it could have been a much better movie.
Now, the positives. Foremost, of course, are the magnificently beautiful special effects. But I want to talk about some more specific things that I personally found especially meaningful.
1. As Ive mentioned before, around age eleven I was introduced, on the same day, both to Edgar Rice Burroughs Venus novels and to Anne McCaffrey Pern novels, so they got themselves lodged in my imagination fairly early on. Id already noticed, from the trailers, Avatars resemblance to both, but the similarities were far more striking in the full movie.
There on the screen was Burroughss Venus, with its causeways high among … giant trees that dwarfed the giant Sequoias, traversing an an endless vista of foliage, an apparently bottomless abyss of leaves bathed in soft light and occasionally shaken by the terrifying dissonance of hideous screams and snarls and the crashing of some heavy body through the foliage. There, too, were McCaffreys dragonriders of Pern, wheeling and swooping through the air just as Id always imagined them. (The flying scenes alone are worth the admission price of the entire movie.) So that was a double treat.
2. With all the compulsive and compulsory adulation of the u.s. military that weve been subjected to over the past decade, it was great to see a movie that offered a more libertarian perspective. (Sure, the guys in the movie were corporate mercenaries, but in artistic terms they clearly stand for the u.s. military.) The movies most important message may be this: soldiers are responsible, as individuals, for the actions they carry out, and when theyre ordered to do something immoral they have an obligation to disobey. Spreading that message is an important step in the (r)evolution.
3. Finally, this excerpt from a review by AICNs Harry Knowles (who is himself disabled and uses a wheelchair) brings to the film another perspective, one that I found quite moving:
Jake hates his wheelchair. He doesnt like being treated like a cripple, doesnt like having to depend on others and most of all hes out to prove that he may still be worth something, even if he is half a man. … Jake cant afford to fix his legs, and the fucking government that got the legs fucked didnt take care of it. So he has to go the corporate route to get adequate Healthcare. Man, can I relate. Instead, hes had to see the legs wither. The very best effects work on the film are these emaciated dead legs of Jake. Nobody questions them, yet this visual detail tells us everything about Jake. …
To watch your own body begin to wither because youre not capable of financially rescuing your own limbs from atrophy and uselessness, it is a bitter pill to swallow. …
Anyway, by the time Jake comes to and he sees toes he can wiggle …. Look, I went over this when I saw this footage at Comic Con. I got excited by just what happened in the lab. However, when Jake busts out of the facility into the poisoned air of Pandora and can breathe without fear of imminent death … and then when he just takes off running.
People in wheelchairs dream of running. Trust me on that. I know Im a fat geek in a wheelchair, but we all dream of running. This is Jakes first step towards being intoxicated with his Avatar. Hell, I doubt Id ever want to wake up if I could have a Navi body that was as nimble, fit and amazing as this. …
Sure, Neo plugged in and fought in a fantastical version of our world. But when he woke up, he was still Neo, just with a better haircut and sharper clothes. … Jakes human existence, over the course of the film, you can see the effort it takes to pull himself out of the AVATAR machine. Every time he comes out of these dream like realities hes back in a sterile environment, having to open up his chair, carefully swing his dead sickly legs over the side and back into his chair. The real world sucks for Jake. …
That isnt to say it sucks for everyone in a wheelchair, it is just … for a man like Jake a true Man of Action life in a chair can feel like two feet in the grave. As a 4-wheeler myself … I alternate between hating and loving my wheelchair. However, I feel thankful that I live in a world that is as accomadating [sic] as possible for my condition even if the dentist I went to today had painfully inadequate facilities to take care of me and my shattered wisdom tooth.
So there you have it: Avatar appealed to my eleven-year-old Venus-and-Pern-loving self, my present-day anti-militarist anarchist self, and my likewise present-day plodding fat (though thankfully not in a wheelchair) geek self. But not so much to my ingenious-plot-loving self.