Let me start by saying that I very much enjoyed Avatar. Its combination of action, romance, sci-fi and animation is sure to appeal to just about anyone. The fact that it’s in 3-D only adds to the enjoyment, though, thankfully, this is not one of those 3-D movies, like the ones they show in the Disneyland parks, whose only purpose is to amaze us with 3-D effects, shooting whatever is at hand straight out of the screen at us in the audience. That’s great fun for the first five minutes, but gets old quickly, so that the enjoyment of the film is quickly surpassed by the enjoyment in watching small children wearing big 3-D glasses reach their hands up in the air trying to grab the objects in the film. As I watched Avatar, I forgot that it was 3-D within the first five minutes, but the effect did add to the realism of the scenes.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let me tell you my immediate impression of the film. As I watched, it became clear very quickly that, despite the extremely impressive animation and special effects, this is one of the most derivative films I’ve ever seen. Take one part Star Wars, with a pinch of Star Trek; mix with one part Pocahontas and add half a part Dances with Wolves. Stir well, and it’s Avatar.
Star Wars: Avatar looks just like the later Star Wars movies in terms of the action scenes. There is a ship that resembles the Millennium Falcon, along with an array of imaginatively designed air and space ships. The battle scenes go so fast you have trouble following what’s going on, just like in Star Wars, with a satisfying array of explosions and near escapes for the main characters. There’s a Darth Vader equivalent, who, in this case, is human, but he’s a single-minded evil Marine commander. In the beginning of the movie, the main character – the hero – admires him, but eventually sees the evil underneath. In their eventual hand-to-hand battle to the death, the only thing missing is the light sabers.
Dances with Wolves: The main character is human, but through a clever plot device, is able to “go native” with the alien race inhabiting the planet that the humans want to use for mining – the mineral they want is amusingly called “unobtainium”. So our hero, as you would expect, goes native so effectively that he takes up the cause of the aliens against the humans. Not only that, this alien race is inextricably bound with the soul of their planet, seeing every living being as interconnected. When they hunt, they even stop after the kill to thank the animal for giving its life for the good of the people. Sound familiar?
Pocahontas: You guessed it! A woman of the alien race – alien yet still beautiful in a very human way, as well as conveniently scantily clad – takes our visiting human in hand and teaches him to understand the ways of her people. He learns the language incredibly quickly, learns all of the natives’ skills far faster than the locals would, becoming a leader in record time. Of course, we knew from the first scene that he was born for greatness anyway. And I’m sure you can guess what happens between our hero and the Pocahantas-equivalent: yep, all that time they spend together with her teaching him the wisdom of her people leads the Pocahontas-equivalent to ditch the one to whom she has been betrothed since birth and take up with our hero. Mr. Betrothed-since-birth is understandably pissed off, but eventually comes to terms with the general superiority of the hero. Big surprise.
Star Trek: The main resemblance to Star Trek, in my mind, is whoever did the make-up on this film. The aliens have a nose that reminded me of Klingons. But another link is that the aliens in this film can communicate psychically with certain other species through a physical link. It’s just like the Vulcan mind meld, except through the hair instead of the fingertips.
A friend of mind described this film as “eye candy” and that about sums it up. Because the plot is so derivative of other films, every scene is predictable. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it. It was fun to watch and well put together. In this respect, it reminded me of the Harry Potter books: they also are terribly imitative of just about every successful children’s book theme, yet I loved them. The difference between a derivative work that you dismiss because it’s derivative and one that you enjoy is simply the quality of the derivation. The Harry Potter books are very well written, and this film is very well made. So if you’re going to imitate someone else’s work, just do it well, and you’ll be all right.