I’m a late adopter when it comes to entertainment. I don’t usually go to movies or buy books or music until I’ve read reviews or talked to trusted individuals that I’m not going to waste my money. Such as it was with the wildly popular new scifi movie Avatar. To be honest, I did not want to see this. I’d read that the plot was connect the dots, probably writer/director James Cameron got out the Hero’s Journey and plugged in the plot points. Cliche characters, predictable resolution. And so it was.
And yet I loved it.
Sometimes you gotta let your writer’s hat go flying in the wind and enjoy the ride.
Parapalegic ex-Marine Jake finds himself thrust into the Special World (tm Joseph Campbell) of Pandora, where incoming colonists from earth (cowboys) literally rape the paradise for its riches while the cat-like indigenous peoples (Native Americans) fight a fruitless battle to preserve the land and their way of life. Jake is sent on a special mission to infiltrate these peoples and learn their secrets so the colonists can subdue them once and for all. The way in is by inhabiting an avatar of the alien Na’vi. Predictably, Jake starts to identify with the Na’vi, falls in love with his mentor Neytiri, and saves the planet from the invading humans. Cliche doesn’t even begin to cover it.
But so what. The movie is breathtaking in the special effects department. I saw it in 3-D, and I was so glad I did, it’s a wonder. The three hours flew by and even though I could see the plot points coming a mile off, I didn’t care. I was riveted, I cared about the characters, and I was engaged until the very end. It’s one of the recent movies I’ve seen where I felt like I got my $12 worth.
It was also a reminder that good storytelling doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel as long as the way the story is told is fresh and exciting. We’re all telling the same stories anyway, we’re just figuring out new ways to tell them. I admired Cameron’s use of symbolism, even though it was heavy-handed and obvious at times (I only rolled my eyes once toward the end). The reader will forgive some things if you give them a good story, and I continually forgave Cameron throughout Avatar because I was being entertained.
If you haven’t seen Avatar yet, go. Not only will you be entranced by the special effects, but you’ll get a refresher course on the Hero’s Journey as a storytelling device.