Avatar: What’s the Big Deal?

So years after its release, I finally saw the movie Avatar. It’s gorgeous to look at, but it was a pretty weak film. The plot and story simply don’t hang together at all. This is really long. I didn’t realise how many things I had to say"

We Need Socialised Medicine

Because Jake Sully cannot afford expensive spinal surgery, he turns his back on humanity and thwarts humankind’s exploitation of the natural resources of a planet and the genocide of an indiginous people. Do we finally see how important socialised medicine is? It could have avoided all this. In 2008 when the film was made, only one important country on planet Earth did not have socialised medicine. Only America could be expected to continue making its citizens pay for fundamental surgery long after we we had the technology to colonise alien planets and moons. If only we had a Death Panel to let him die or perhaps had given him a new set of legs at taxpayers’ expense, then he might not have joined the Avatar program and ruined all our plans of interstellar exploitation. But alas, we kept the expensive, patient-funded healthcare system and that led him to thwart all our evil plans for interplanetary domination!

In addition to the evils of a patient-funded healthcare system, here are some other plot holes:

The Bombing Run Was Hopeless

I can’t figure out how the bombing run was supposed to work. Seconds away from its target, the bomber crashes and explodes, presumably detonating its entire cargo of explosives in one place that isn’t all that far from where it was aiming. First off, yes, all the explosives must have exploded. This is Hollywood, where spilling a cup of coffee can set off a palette full of explosives, and the whole ship went up in a fireball: more than enough to set off the explosives.

Nobody seems to care that the ship went down and exploded really close to the Tree of Souls (the fan wiki says it crashed within a kilometer of the target) . This, to me, suggests that the bombing was essentially pointless and the Tree of Souls was in no danger to begin with. If the ship crashing and delivering its entire payload fairly close to the target was so inconsequential, then there are only a few possible explanations:

Maybe They Needed Luke Skywalker Precision

If getting that close and setting off the whole payload did nothing, then they needed to be more precise. But these were skids stacked 10 feet tall with explosives. They’re not precision-guided bombs. A couple of guys were gonna heave them out the back at more-or-less the right time. If this needed precision to be done right, it was never going to be done right. A few guys trying to shove them out the back during a firefight isn’t going to be terribly accurate. Fortunately, since they went down with the ship, we never had to get into the question of whether the wind would just pull the whole thing apart and scatter the explosives harmlessly as they fell from the ship.

Maybe They Didn’t Have Enough Dynamite

Maybe the force of the explosives, plus the extra explosion of the ship, was still not enough to do anything significant. In which case, the Tree of Souls was never in any danger at all. Getting all that stuff really close to the target didn’t do anything. Or maybe it was enough explosives, but only if the humans were really precise, in which case, see above.

Maybe They Went Way Off Course Really Fast

I suppose. But watching it doesn’t make it seem like they flew for minutes and minutes in some radically different direction. The soldiers had been ordered to push the skids out the back just before the ship is fatally attacked. They were in the drop zone. So how far off course could it have gotten on its way down? Again, the fans seem to think they got within a kilometer of where they were aiming.

What’s with the Ground Assault?

In the final battle, both the humans and the Na’vi get into a needless and stupid ground war. I mean what was the point? It seems like if the soldiers managed to advance far enough, they would have been bombed to death by their compatriots. If their purpose was, for example, to stop the Na’vi from fleeing, then it’s kinda dumb because there’s just one line of people blocking one direction. And they should have stayed still. So since they were advancing, I’m assuming they were attacking. But why?

From the Na’vi side of the equation, why did they charge at the massively better-armed humans in a direct frontal assault? Have they not seen Return of the Jedi? Do they have no guerrilla tactics? We know that inept, comic teddy bears can defeat a highly trained, mechanised infantry. They simply have to be a little clever. These 8-foot-tall hunters can’t do anything more clever than charge straight to their deaths? If I were the horse clan, I’d be a bit disappointed at Sully’s tactics. All my warriors just got shredded, and for what? We spent an hour watching Jake Sully learn how to sneak. Then the Na’vi scream like a bunch of Apaches coming over the hill in a bad Western?

The movie makes us believe that the bomber is the deciding point in the battle. If it succeeds, the humans win, if it fails, the Tree of Souls survives. So what’s the ground assault? If the Na’vi won on the ground, who cares? The bomber flies in, destroys the tree of souls, and that’s that. If the Na’vi lose on the ground, but win in the air, then they just lost a bunch of warriors, and for what? And in fact, it’s that second scenario that seems to have happened. They won the air, so they won the war. Shame all those horse clan folks died for nothing.

Jarhead Diplomacy

Nobody spends any time worrying about Jake’s hopeless condition. He knows precisely jack squat about what he’s going to Pandora to do. He knows nothing about the Na’vi, Pandora, the mission, etc. He has just spent 6 years flying on a ship headed to Pandora. Did they think of waking him a couple weeks or months early to study up a bit? I realise packing 6 years of food and not going crazy during that time is too much to ask. But surely we can afford a week or two in space on his way in. If the “investment” in the Avatar is so expensive that they’re willing to pay an ignoramus to fill the chair, surely they want to spend a little time and money to make it likely to succeed.

They have spent something like 8 years preparing for this moment. Think about it: a year before Jake’s brother Tom is killed is probably when they got Tom into the program. Then Jake spends 6 years on a ship flying to Pandora. Then Jake gets there and spends some time familiarising himself with the place. Finally, he’s given a 3-month ultimatum. This incredibly long-sighted organisation—that has spent 8 years getting an Avatar ready for this mission—gives the mission a 3 month window or else they just kill everyone. What kind of organisation has the patience to spend most of a decade building up to introducing the Avatar, and about 10 minutes actually deciding what to do when they get there?

Does anybody (even Jake) think that maybe a little study in diplomacy is in order? Does anyone anywhere want to coach him on how to be diplomatic? I mean, taking a battle-scarred marine and sending him into a volatile political negotiation with no training at all? Nobody gives him even the slightest briefing on how to be diplomatic. Sure, they fill him with information, showing him pictures of important people and such. But nobody teaches him to chill out and put the gun down, for instance.

Where are the Other Avatars?

When Jake first runs around in his Avatar, he passes through basketball games, training courses, and all sorts of Avatar stuff. There must be a dozen different Avatars running around, getting trained, chilling out. Where are these people? During Jake’s 3 months that he’s learning the Na’vi ways and participating in their society, where are the other Avatars? Why isn’t he introducing those people to the Na’vi? Why is Grace the only other person in an Avatar? Couldn’t we have a group of Avatars working as a team, getting to know them, sharing knowledge, etc? I mean, you’ve got the Avatars. You’ve got 3 months to do or die. Why is it just Jake?

It seems like Norm isn’t in his Avatar very long for a huge stretch of the film. What do they do with the body? Does it just hang in its bunk in the bunkhouse? Do they have to go in each day and at least feed and go to the bathroom?

And all those other Avatar scientists: Do none of them care at all about the Na’vi? Not one of them speaks up or resists the genocide? Why is it only Norm, Grace, and Jake who hop in their Avatars to resist?

Can We Do a Mineral Survey?

One of the points that they neglect to tell us is whether there’s any other source of unobtainium (really? REALLY? That’s what it’s called?) on the moon. I get it that the Na’vi are sitting on a really big pile of it. But is there no other pile? Seems to me they didn’t tell me whether they had looked elsewhere. In fact, the humans seem to know very little about the whole planet. They don’t mention other clans of indiginous people. Do they know they’re out there? Why can’t we find more of this stupidnamium elsewhere on the moon? Nobody even mentions it as a possibility they’ve explored. They were waiting six years for this guy to show up and help with the diplomatic solution. That’s a decent amount of time to explore the rest of the planet.

Only One Soldier Has Compassion?

Out of the thousands of humans, we see a couple bleeding heart liberal scientists who side with Na’vi. Only one soldier, Vasquez er, uh, Chacon (who will not be mistaken for a man) has any sympathy. And she doesn’t display it until they finally have to kill women and children. And she’s the only soldier who resists orders at all? Everyone else is totally OK with all this? Not a single other defector? Only her? There’s no dissent from within. No conscientious objectors.

Eywa Cares about Life?

For an omnipotent, omnipresent life force, the mystic energy of Eywa let an awful lot of death happen before it finally did something. It waited until thousands of Na’vi had been slaughtered before sending in the megafauna cavalry. If it cared about life, wouldn’t it have done that early, instead of letting so many creatures get slaughtered first?

In Summary

I waited years until after it came on Freeview before I bothered seeing Avatar. I wondered what all the hype was about. Visually beautiful, yes. The animation was completely seemless and blended perfectly with the live actors. But the plot of the story was really quite weak. I don’t see why everyone’s so excited about it.

I did something similar with The Matrix. I waited until it was out on DVD and all my friends were talking about it before I saw it. I thought The Matrix might have been overhyped. But actually, I really loved it. I expected Avatar to thrill me similarly. I expected to regret waiting so long to watch it. In the end, meh.

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