Yeah yeah, I've heard it too. "Thundersmurfs" and "Dances with Smurfs" etc. During the climactic battle scene I turned to my friend/fellow blogger Steven Glaspie and cracked that "Rambo Smurf is destroying the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier!"
Yeah, it borrows heavily from Dances With Wolves and Last of the Mohicans and even Forrest Gump among many others. Yeah, Avatar employs every American Indian cinematic trope without once being a movie about American Indians (but for good measure it has Wes Studi as the Na'vi chief). Yeah, it could be said that Cameron is ripping off John Carter of Mars and Dune and a bunch of other classic sci-fi.
Well, once upon a time a filmmaker named George Lucas drew inspiration from The Hidden Fortress and old Flash Gordon serials and dozens of other previous material to make a little arthouse film then simply dubbed Star Wars. Nobody seems to complain about that though, aye?
The biggest complaint I'm hearing about Avatar is that it's too "political". That it's really a film about the "white man's guilt" over treatment of Native Americans. Is Avatar's story analogous to things like the Trail of Tears? Sure is. But that's not the purpose or moral of Avatar, and I really believe that without looking at this movie through the fake paradigm of conservative/liberal that there's plenty of good to chew on and debate for years to come. To me personally, Avatar has a strong Christian message to it: that one must admit that one does not "have all the answers". That one must "die unto self" before understanding and wisdom of the truth of things can possibly come. Sully (played by Sam Worthington) tells Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) that his "cup is empty" at one point. That is the real beginning of his understanding. To not have faith in his own self but to have faith in something larger than he is. I can totally dig that.
Is there an "anti-Iraq"/"anti-Bush" vibe in Avatar? Hell yes there is. But knowing now what we know do, should that even be a problem? RDA, the fictional megacorporation in Avatar that's exploiting the mineral wealth of Pandora, is a thinly-veiled take on Halliburton. The marines stationed there? Like Sully notes early in the movie, they're not really soldiers: they're mercenaries (heavy tones of Blackwater USA, which I've never liked at all). Colonel Miles Quaritch (brilliantly played by Stephen Lang) is classic vintage Cameron bad-a$$, but he's also George W. Bush... if George W. Bush had ever been man enough to step into his own warzone and get down and dirty, that is. I would love to see the Avatar treatment that Cameron wrote before 9/11 and the Iraq War (one extended scene in the movie will certainly bring back memories of the attack on the World Trade Center) and compare that to what he was finally able to bring us in 2009, just to see how real life impacted the evolution of this story. If the differences are only marginal well... that would make for a very interesting study indeed.
I have barely touched on the effects work in Avatar. Had I written this review immediately after seeing it the first time, that's what I would be gushing about. But instead I've talked about the story. Which to me means that James Cameron has succeeded with Avatar. Yah it's an overwhelming shock to see things like floating mountains and the Pandoran megafauna (and in the most convincing 3-D I've ever beheld). That's not what Avatar is about. Cameron and his crew created the most vibrant and living alien world ever depicted in fiction, but this isn't a movie concerned with eye candy. Those unprecedented visual effects have purpose: to draw us in and convince us that Pandora and its life is real... or at least as real as it could possibly be for two hours and change.
I don't know quite what else to say about Avatar. I'm still so blown away by this movie, and there are so many reviews of it already, that I wasn't sure what I could even say. But I had much the same experience after seeing The Dark Knight and it kept me from writing a review of that movie, and I'd come to regret it. I didn't want to make the same mistake with Avatar.
This is not a movie that you go see. This is a movie that you experience. Go and experience Avatar while it's in theaters. Experience it multiple times if you can.
And go in leaving your preconceptions and prejudices at the door. You owe it to yourself to see Pandora for its own sake, not how others tell you to see it.