Posted by: David Stewart | January 5, 2010

Looks shiny. Where’s the story? (Movie Review | ”Avatar”)

What’s not to like about Avatar, particularly in 3D?

  • Director James Cameron has created a totally immersive experience in a world which is significantly different from our own. The plants glow when touched or float in mid-air. Hero Jake Sully wanders around experiencing this alien world as we might, with a sense of wonder and sometimes fear.
  • Even though it’s a genre film, the story is quite accessible on the ecological and cultural diversity levels. It’s easy to see Dances with Wolves or Pocahontas, two moderately successful films set in the past, and see their stories played out on an alien planet.
  • It’s great to see Sigourney Weaver, who looks marvelous by the way, deliver another strong performance as a woman who takes no BS from anyone, yet is willing to grow and learn when things change.

But, there are some significant issues with the movie as well:

  • I’m no English major, but I always learned that three dimensional characters have a past, present and future. Other than Jake Sully, and a little bit with Weaver’s character, all of the characters are one dimensional. You don’t know where they came from or where they are going. They all seem more like cartoon cutouts or caricatures rather than being fully fleshed out.
  • The accessibility of the story also makes it seem incredibly derivative. In fact, the internet has been joking about how similar Pocahontas is to Avatar. In fact one page gives the high-level description of the one movie and shows how easy it is to translate it to the other. And frankly, I get annoyed when it seems like you are assumed to be some hippy-dippy pantheistic new ager if you care about eco matters.
  • People are calling Avatar to be the Star Wars of this decade. But as Don Miller states in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, you can freeze frame Star Wars any place and point to any of the characters and know what they want. It’s clear where all of them want and where they are going. In Avatar, most of the characters are too thin to figure this out.

So, the bar has definitely been set for the look of movies in the future. But there are many better stories which could have been told.



  1. My thoughts were also on Dances with wolves similarities.

    The story was nice IMO, the missing part might have been more character development, but would have also made for a much longer movie. There have been subtle moments where some insight took place as to figure out the Colonel.

    It ain’t no new Star Wars though!

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