Say it with me now: “Avatar is not the Second Coming of Christ.”
Granted, other viewers have articulated this same sentiment from a variety of angles. Peter liked the film as an experience but not as a story, and Scalzi explains why that experience works. And both Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz have mined the film from a post-colonial perspective. And still, I see thread after thread of comments declaring the film as the best of the year, the best of the decade, the best of Cameron’s efforts, blah, blah, blah.
Bitch, please. This movie is like that hot cheerleader you always wanted to date: very pretty, very cheerful, very sincere, but not exactly marriage material. You’d hook your bio-USB up to it once, maybe twice, maybe when you’re feeling lonely or bored. But that’s it.
Thankfully, Rob Beschizza has asked a more important question than whether the film is good or bad: What storytelling risks could Avatar have taken?
Because while there is something poetic about using new technology to tell an old story, I don’t think excellence in technical innovation is a pass for lacklustre narrative. There are stretches of Cameron’s film where the story is just plain boring. You don’t notice it right away, because there are a lot of colours and depth and semi-nude blue people and Sygourney Weaver doing her best Susan Calvin impression, but at the end you’re left wondering why the story’s inherent tensions weren’t exploited for their best possible effect. Spoilers below.
Fanfic writers, please steal these ideas:
- The RDA killed Jake Sully’s brother, so they could install a Marine in the anthropologist’s position.
- Jake Sully could, I don’t know, tell his wife about his disability and what it means to him.
- The banshees and other animals could open up to Jake about being raped into submission. You know, through their USB port.
- The avatar bodies could have a built-in decay rate (incept dates!) preventing wearers from going too native.
- They could also be infertile, or otherwise compromised within the Na’vi culture, further hindering Jake, et al’s integration into the community.
- More tribalism among the clans, so that when Jake unifies them, it actually means something.
- MAYBE SOME EXPLORATION OF THE GAIA-AS-WIKIPEDIA CONCEPT THAT WAS SO MUCH MORE INTERESTING THAN THE NOBLE SAVAGE BULLSHIT I DON’T KNOW WOULD THAT BE SO MUCH HARDER THAN WASTING AN ACTUALLY PROMISING PREMISE OMG.
The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus was better. The end.