This review is not featured on Bitch Flicks as part of their review of the Oscar Best Picture nominees.

Admittedly, Avatar isn’t my thing, I’m not big on James Cameron or any alien films (not only his), I’ve never been interested in Star Wars or Star Trek (though I have seen enough of both franchises to hold a conversation), so I wasn’t planning on watching Avatar at any point in my life.  However, this afternoon, I changed my mind, when a free screening became available to me.  With my original plans canceled and a spare 2 and a half hours available, I tucked into James Cameron’s latest film.

Well, Avatar wasn’t what I thought it would be, but it wasn’t any better.  During the first half of the movie I spent most of it developing alternative titles ending with “in space.”  “Pocahontas in space,” “Dances with Wolves in space,” and “Titanic in Space” all sprang to mind.  For the most part, it seems Cameron has taken plots from various other films, thrown them together, died it blue and placed it on the fictitious planet, Pandora, to create a Sci-fi retelling of the Pocahontas mythos.

In this version, instead of John Smith, it is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), the wheel chair bound ex-marine who takes over his dead twin’s avatar mission, who falls in love with the Na’vi people, and specifically, the clan leader’s daughter, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana).  He begins as an undercover spy, trying to learn about the Pandora natives’ culture to help the visiting Earthling’s military and big businesses.  However, as all stories like this go, he falls in love and is torn between the two worlds and races.  The plot is laid out in the previews, and if you need help, Cameron lays the foreshadowing on thick through out the film, but then the plot isn’t why most people are seeing this film, is it?

Special effects wise, the film is pretty fascinating.  What more can one say?  Seeing this on the big screen and in 3D, would probably have held my attention more, but alas, my free screening wasn’t at such a high standard.  Would I sit through it again if I could get a free ticket to the 3D IMAX experience?  No, but if you’re debating seeing it, definitely spend the extra and get your full money’s worth.

As much as I would like to sit through a movie like this and enjoy it for what it is (ground-breaking Sci-fi entertainment that will go down in history), I simply can’t as James Cameron’s attempt to create a more spiritual, natural, and peaceful society, leaves me annoyed that once again this idea being filtered through a white, Western male member of patriarchal society.  Some theorist will consider Cameron’s Alien trilogy feminist texts, because of Sigourney Weaver’s  empowered Ripley  (and legend says, it was written to be asexual–with casting deciding the character’s sex), but still has to prove her femininity and womanliness by saving cats and small children.  I fear, that many feminist theorist will attempt to assign some prestige on Avatar as well, for creating a world where the people worship a female entity, “Eywa,” the Clan leader’s female mate/wife is as powerful as him, and the female lead is as empowered as Ripley.  However, like Ripley, Neytiri as her feminine trappings as well, as her power can be explained away through her heritage.

When Neytiri first meets Sully, she commands the other warriors to stand down and allow her to take him to their leader–who just happens to be her father.  The warriors listen and obey her, but is it because she is a powerful woman, or because her father and mother are leaders among the Na’vi?  Does she earn her power or inherit it?  Similarly, in the legend of Pocahontas,* would John Smith have been saved if it was by any other girl in the village or because it was the Chief’s daughter who “saved” him?  Furthermore, to add to Neytiri’s street cred, her great-grandfather was Toruk Makto, a legendary Na’vi leader, basically giving her a birth right to power and respect among her people.  For those who don’t believe it, I ask, would Sully have survived his first night among the Na’vi if the one speaking for him was any other woman and not the daughter of the clan leader and shaman (or would that be sha-lady in this case)?

I’ll leave you with that to ponder, while I try to flush the symbolism that taming a wild animal is as simple as penetrating it with your mystical hair, and end this review on a generally positive note.  The first two-thirds are fairly entertaining, but the large battle scenes were just that–large battle scenes.  Perhaps at an IMAX or in 3D, I wouldn’t have lost focus, but I simply wasn’t interested and played on my phone instead.  A lot of people will see this and love it, but if Science fiction, action, and special effect-laden films aren’t you’re cup a tea, you probably won’t leave the theater an Avatar fan.

The Stats:

Director: James Cameron

Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Signourney Weaver

Rated: PG-13

162 minutes

*I refer to the story of Pocahontas as legends and myths, because it is questionable how much of John Smith’s accounts are exaggerated, not to mention that he was also rescued by a Turkish princess when captured in what is now Hungary.  The stories are similar, so the question is: did John Smith make a habit of being rescued by pre-teen girls or did he blend the two together for his own benefit.


About Liz

Liz received her Bachelors in Media Studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, California before moving to Scotland where she received an M.Litt with Distinction in European Cinema at the University of Glasgow. She is currently in her second year of PhD research on gender, sexuality, and mobility in French and Spanish cinema at the University of Stirling. In May 2009, she developed Stilwell Film (now in its 3rd year), a non-profit which provides free entertainment and diversity through outdoor film screenings to southern Johnson County and northern Miami County, Kansas. In her spare time, she de-stresses by playing rugby, and recently began roller derby. When she was four, her favorite film was The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, this probably explains a lot. View all posts by Liz

One response to “Avatar

  • John Tiller

    Review sounds good and not overly prejudiced by your views. Your John Smith references are “right on.” Many historians question the Turkish princess story as much or more than the Pocahontas one — he was a great spin doctor for his own benefit.

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