One of the most amazing cinematic experiences you’ll ever have, Avatar represents a watershed moment in film history. Just like it’s close cousin Star Wars, James Cameron’s latest offering will change the way we watch, experience, and yes, create movies. There has been nothing like it before and thus, it’s important that everyone who loves films go see this it in 3D and in a large auditorium. The home experience just won’t cut it.
But what about the story?
The one common problem most audiences have with the film is that they come away feeling “empty” or “unmoved” by the story. This comes as a result of a poorly defined Main Character Throughline. It’s clear the Jake Scully is the Main Character, but whatever personal issues he may have, emotional baggage and the like, is really not very well developed. The only thing we truly know about him personally is that he is handicapped. But his lack of usable legs becomes more of a way to get him into the story, a plot device, rather than an exploration of any personal issues. There are a few scenes in the beginning where he is trying on his “new feet” for the first time, but that whole emotional throughline is basically let go, forgotten for most of the rest of the film. His resolve, then, becomes a bit of an issue. It seems that Cameron started out wanting Scully to be a Change character, one faced with the decision of choosing between the humans or the Navi. But the way the film plays out, it becomes more about him remaining Steadfast while his new girlfriend Neytiri is the one who struggles with the deep fundamental Change. It’s confusing and weakens the film’s message.
This lack of a clearly defined Main Character throughline is precisely what makes the film feel less engaging than it probably could have been. It’s less egregious than the animated film 9 in that at least we have something about Jake to latch on, but it is not enough to keep us emotionally engaged. As such, it feels more like an amusement park ride than anything else, albeit one that is damn entertaining.