Movie Talk: AVATAR

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.


About Kathleen Bolton

Kathleen Bolton is co-founder of Writer Unboxed. She writes under a variety of pseudonyms, including Ani Bolton. She has written two novels as Cassidy Calloway: Confessions of a First Daughter, and Secrets of a First Daughter--both books in a YA series about the misadventures of the U.S. President's teen-aged daughter, published by HarperCollins, and Tamara Blake, for the novel Slumber.


  1. Patti says

    LOL, I got my twelve-dollars’-worth…twice. I might even try for a third time, because I know that I’ll never enjoy this movie as much on the small screen once I buy the DVD. I was far too riveted by the visuals and too busy trying to drink in every single detail to worry about things like plot and script. The second time I noticed a few lame points in the script, but as you say, it wasn’t nearly enough to ruin anything for me. This is the most beautiful movie ever made, in my opinion.

  2. says

    I plan on going back again this weekend (in 3-D) and this time I’ll be prepared. Make sure you take something to tie under your jaw and over the top of your head to keep your mouth from hanging open!

    Plot aside, it a breathtakingly beautiful!
    .-= DL Hammons´s last blog ..Tickle Me =-.

  3. says

    I enjoyed this movie, too, and also had the same gripes as everyone else. It really left me torn. Visually, it was stunning. The biological interconnections of Pandora were intriguing as well. But you’re right, cliche doesn’t even begin to cover the downfalls.
    Your comments here were much kinder than mine (I posted a review of it last month). Yet I still recommend the movie just the same. *shrugs*
    .-= Lydia Sharp´s last blog ..Unheard Voices In Spec Fic: Kaycee Looney =-.

  4. says

    YES YES YES! As a writer I was highly skeptical (because I knew the ENTIRE story from the trailer) but as a movie-goer and scifi fan, I ADORED this movie. Simply incredible, and totally worth the $15 I paid to see it in IMAX 3D.

    “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.”

    Exactly. I’m blog-friends with an aspiring screenwriter who made some… somewhat bitter-seeming comments about how Cameron and Hollywood were devaluing story, and after seeing Avatar, I have to completely disagree (with him — I’m agreeing with you!). The story might not be original, or complex, but it’s fresh. It’s compelling. It’s solid.

    So yeah, I loved Avatar, and I’m glad I’m not the only writer who did!
    .-= Kristan´s last blog ..Word math =-.

  5. says

    The supporting characters were also straight from the Department of Stereotypes, but again, whatever. The lush visuals and insane 3D effects are what is driving the success of the movie. Sometimes the audience wants a spectacle. Avatar has replaced Return of the King in my cannon for film spectacles, though no one can supplant Jackson for melding filmmaking art, storytelling and special effects into the full filmgoing experience.

  6. thea says

    i, too, enjoyed Avatar in 3D – it was a visual pleasure. My only gripe was with the plot. I really wasn’t sure how this story would end, but I was hoping against hope that the hero could come up with a better solution that more war in order to win. I wanted a story about true evolution, not just who wins the battle. is war the only answer to greed, corruption, and selfishness?

  7. says

    I loved it in both 2D and 3D because Mr. Cameron can tell a story. Yes, all of the “gripes” above have merit, but the STORY as well as the wonderful world is what made those minutes fly by. I, too, cared about the characters and what happened to them. Well worth the ride.

  8. says

    I saw Avatar on Imax 3-D and was amazed by the special effects. When my husband and I can get another babysitter.

    It’s rare in this day and time to find a movie (or book) that sticks with you. This movie creates dialogue (good or bad). My husband and I saw it two weeks ago and we both still are talking about it.

    That’s the magic of this movie, the fact that the story–although cliche–it brilliantly and beautifully told.

  9. says

    I loved it, too. So it’s “Dances With Wolves” on another planet, with 7-foot-tall blue people with tails. And the warfare at the end is a bit cartoonish. But I enjoyed it more than any movie I’ve seen in a long, long time.

  10. Janna Coppola says

    I am usually really skeptical about “alien movies”, and i rarely fall in love with movies in general, i am a book nerd, but this was amazing! I saw it twice in 3D, and i ‘m going to buy it when it comes out; i hope it comes out in 3D! I know that a lot of people think that it was not terribly original, but i think that it puts a wonderful new perspective on a good story. i especially like how it ended; i needed him to stay Na’vi!

  11. says

    I loved it even without 3D and I do hope I can see the 3D version eventually. It’s a visual masterpiece, and cliché or not, the Hero’s Journey is so archetypal that it always moves me on a very deep level.
    .-= Satima Flavell´s last blog ..And more rejoicing! =-.

  12. says

    It’s only in the very recent history of story-telling that it was seen as a bad thing to retell an old story – the Odyssey, Beowulf, Shakespeare’s plays are all old stories and familiar plots retold – so that the delight was two-fold, both the pleasure of the familiar and the surprise in the way of telling. I loved Avatar, too, and not despite the cliches but because it told a story that’s been told maybe as long as people have been telling stories, but told it whole-heartedly and in beautiful visual language.