More serious Avatar thoughts

It occurs to me upon reflection that I had better also address the fact that even if I didn’t care about them as a viewer while I was watching the movie, with my writer hat on, I do need to care about the various tropes that the movie deals with, and why it really would have been better if they hadn’t been there. I’m breaking this out into its own post since it covers the not-squeeful, more thoughtful reaction I have to the film.

The biggest one being, of course, what userinfojames_nicoll called the What These People Need is a Honky plotline. ‘Cause yeah, this time around the savages are blue aliens, but they’re still savages, and we’re still dealing with a plotline of White Guy Comes In, Gets It On With the Chief’s Daughter, and Becomes the Big Respected Warrior. Um, yeah. Seen that. And it would be unjust of me as a writer if I didn’t point at that and go “okay, that? That’s something we ought to know better than to use as a plot device at this point.”

It’s especially apparent with Jake’s big “this is our land” speech at the end, when he’s rousing the Na’vi to war. That was pretty much the most cringeworthy aspect of the entire movie, and underscored the whole Colonialism thing. I don’t know if I could have done a better job with it. I’d like to think that there could have been a better way to handle that whole speech, though. I can’t help but compare it against the masterful rousing speeches Theoden and Aragorn throw around in the movie version of Return of the King–but then, we’re dealing with the words of Tolkien there, and we’re not dealing with a Colonialism plot.

Mulling how else the plot could have been bolstered to decrease the Colonialism flavor of the plot, and this is leading me in directions of thinking about alien species as portrayed in SF books I’ve read, like Julie Czerneda’s. Her recent trilogy about the origins of the M’hiray is coming to mind as something that could have wound up being a Colonialism plot and didn’t, since the Om’ray are certainly “savages” by the standards of the Trade Federation, and yet the interaction they have with the humans is very clearly kept on a footing where the human characters in the cast are on an equal footing with the primary Om’ray characters. It helps as well that there are other sapient, non-humanoid species in play there who have just as much influence as the humans do.

I don’t know if such a situation could have improved the plot of Avatar, but I would certainly have appreciated more indications that the Na’vi weren’t just the “ignorant savages” that most of the humans on Pandora clearly perceived them to be.

I think the movie’s definitely still worth seeing, but I do have to keep all of this in mind as well. You have to take the zomg-awesome parts of it as well as the deeply disappointing parts, really, as you would with any other work. I’m finding myself thinking of the James Bond books, for example, which have a whole lot of awesome in them, and a whole lot of abhorrent racist and sexist attitudes as well.

So yeah. There’s beauty there but there are also flaws, which keeps me from diving as headlong into squee as I would have liked. But hopefully I’ll be able to keep this in mind and remember it when I write my own stories, and learn how to do it better.

And oh yeah, last note: “unobtanium”. SERIOUSLY, Cameron? Did you have to call it “unobtanium”? *headdesk*

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Angela Korra'ti

As Angela Highland, Angela is the writer of the Rebels of Adalonia epic fantasy series with Carina Press. As Angela Korra'ti, she writes the Free Court of Seattle urban fantasy series. She's also an amateur musician and devoted fan of Newfoundland and Quebecois traditional music.