I finally watched Avatar last night. I didn't have time when it first came out, so forgive me for joining all of the blog hubub a bit late. I thought it was a good movie - entertaining, pretty, and exciting. I didn't get caught up in the beauty of the world of Pandora like so many others; partially, I suspect, because I was watching it on a 13 inch laptop screen (the only TV/Movie access I have out here) and not in 3D. But also, I just don't get that excited about CG eye candy. It's neat, and I'm amazed at how the technology has progressed, but no matter how good the CG gets it still has an overlying fake quality - plastic, or cartoonish (Megan tells me this might have something to do with the Uncanny Valley effect). As pretty as the CG was, I'd still rather go for a hike in the mountains - it's far more interesting and awe inspiring to me.
As for the story, I feel that it fit very nicely into our general Modernist or Anti-Modernist mythology. The only really novel thing about the plot was the scale - an entire planet, covered by a singular organismic entity, with creatures that are larger than life, floating mountains, etc., which is threatened by a powerful corporation, using massive military technologies to destroy the entire planet, in order to gain access to a mineral that's so valuable it's named Unobtainium. In a sense, this is is the pinnacle of that mythology - a story told many times before, but never in so grand a fashion - and it has a powerful effect and affect on a lot of people, potentially moving them to change.
I'm not sure that this is the mythology we need to create a more sustainable way of life - the Gaia imagery and the noble savage idealism seem to put real sustainability further out of our reach. But I can't belittle the effect the movie has had on indigenous and environmental movements around the world. At the very least it creates the possibility for those movements to generate resonance in the more mainstream population. Though, after more than half a year, the excitement seems to have died down a lot, and the effect may not have been as powerful as some people once thought. Maybe it's not quite over yet, though, maybe the real fruits of the film are yet to come.
It also disturbs me in no small way that Cameron is talking about making at least 2 sequels to the film. That suggests to me that the ecological/spiritual message was little more than a ploy to draw attention to the film and money into the film maker's pockets. Sequels always seem to diminish the quality of the original, but maybe I'm just too cynical.