Avatar and District 9 Movie Review

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .


Avatar movie feline
Avatar Na'vi female Buy at amazon 1920×1200

Went to watch the movie Avatar (2009 film) in theater today.

Boo. On a scale of 1 to 10, i'd say this is no more than 7. This movie is totally predicable, stereotypical, intellectually shallow. The 3D effect isn't impressive at all, and about the only thing that is positive about this movie is the imaginative flora and fauna.

This movies garnered raving reviews, both by critics as well as being a highly successful money maker. But it's so disappointing to me that i have to think about where to begin.

3D Effect

Ok, lets begin at some easy criticisms, the 3D tech. I recall, back in late 1970s or early 1980s when i was about 10 or so, my mom's mom took me to see one of the first 3D film, in Taiwan, a kung fu film. I vividly recall that i physically dodged when the weapons swung towards me from the screen. Yeah, a lot people did that. That, is the effect of good 3D on you. But now, after 30 years, one'd suppose that the 3D tech has improved vastly, which it has. However, watching Avatar, i hardly get ANY 3D sense at all. In fact, i absolutely don't feel any 3D sense, perhaps a little, if i force my self to feel it, thru its 3D glasses. (I did not watch it on iMax)

What is wrong? I don't know. Perhaps the 3D tech is different. I don't remember which 3D films i've watched back 30 years ago, but am guessing that some 3D tech are designed to have a exaggerated perspectivity, and am guessing the 3D tech used in this movie is designed to be more mellow or wide angle. But over all, i say bah.


Ok, now i might disclose some of this movie's plot, and so here's your “spoiler” warning, but, the movie is so formula driven and stereotypical that it doesn't matter much.

The movie, in one sentence, is about Western powers with high tech wanting to take over gold from some primitive, indigenous people, for their riches in their land. Yeah, that's it. And, yes, there's a hero, who gradually realized that this isn't right, and fell in love with one of the beautiful chick from the indigenous people (you guessed right, the daughter of a chieftain!), and saved the tribe, with the help of local animals and magical nature.

The movies runs 2.5 hours. I didn't particular cry “move on already” at any point, but nor did the long movie had my attention wholly seized.

There are no characters. All are shallow. The bad guys, in this case, the corporation head and the head of marines, are just what they are. The corporation head has eyes on gold, and that's his only concern. The marines head has bulky muscles, and is all about toughness. The hero, is just that, with good heart, and handsome to boot, courageous, always miraculously succeeds against all odds, and gets his girl. The heroin, in this case a alien race chick, is of course beautiful as much beauty we can put on a feline humanoid. And what's she like? Well, a beautiful woman, with concerns of loyalty of her man, love of her family, her people, a caring of nature. Actually had sex with the half-human half-alien hero. (inter-species porn anyone?)

Where is the Science in Sci-Fi?

What about the story line? Well, the human animals want this million-dollar land inhabited by primitive tribes. The human animals created what's called a “avatar”, which is a humanoid creature grown from bio-tubes that has mixed DNA from humans and the native feline-like humanoid aliens. The avatar is connected and controlled by a sleeping human. When one is awake, the other goes to sleep. Thru the avatars, it is thought that they can persuade the feline humanoids to move out. But the diplomatic cunning didn't work out, of course, and violence is resorted to. The hero fell in love with the heroin, and grew the sense of American Justice, and defended the primitive feline-humanoids with the help of miracle nature.

The Sci-Fi aspect of the avatar concept is all interesting. How does the avatar work? How's it grown? How long does it take? How's the technology to control or connect it? What's the biology of the alien? What they eat? Well, this movie isn't concerned about these things, only that these settings qualify it as Sci-Fi flick.

Another interesting aspect of sci-fi is that the plants and animals on this alien place have some sort bio-wire grown from their body, that allows direct animal-to-animal communication or animal-to-plant. For example, the feline-humanoid can connect her bio-wire grown from her head, with the bio-wire on a 6-legged horse or a flying-saurus, similar to how you connect 2 electric wires. Also, the plants form some kinda neural network by some bio-chemical means. (See: Biocommunication (science)) Again, all this is used as plot-devices, you don't get to whiff them.

The Message?

You can't help but think about American Indians when watching this movie, which the US American Disney proudly showed you in Pocahontas (1995 film). A history of genocide shown as one big, happy, tale. (See: Hollywood and Disney's Rape of Culture.)

What can we say about that? Is it just a coincidence that this movie made you think of American Indians? The alien race is named “Na'vi”. The tribe is called Omaticaya. They worship their tree deity. They mumble some prayer after killing in hunt, presumably to thank mother nature and bless the deceased prey. They tame wild alien beasts the likes of 6 legged horse and flying-saurus as a warrior's rite of passage. They do their face war-paints. They use bows and arrows…

I'm not sure how much of all these is connected to real American Indian, or pop beliefs in Primitive Culture. What is Primitive culture anyway? Wikipedia doesn't help much except saying it's controversial. One thing for sure, is that the movie isn't shy of perpetuating the primitive people concept.

So is there a message in this movie? Maybe i think too much. Maybe it is simply a visual treat of special effects and explosions. But you can't help thinking how shallow it is, how it reinforces a simplistic picture of Colonization and backwater savages trying to defend it. It is a insult to anthropology educators.

Enjoyable Parts

I give this movie 6 out of 10. So, it's a bit above average. What i liked is watching the weird-looking, feline-like humanoid alien race. Of course, especially the female heroin. (Yeah, i'd totally do her.) The exotic flora and fauna, based on exotic rain forest things, are enjoyable to look at. The imagined bipedal mech, the vertical take off chopper, are all well done. The final battle, i wouldn't say spectacular, but still, enjoyable.


If you love sci-fi and is a movie-goer, yeah sure by all means go watch it. If you watch movies just 4 times a year, then i'm not sure.

Wikipedia says with references, that the director acknowledged and some critics thought this movie carries anti-imperialism message. But i think, if anything, it is another black vs white, good vs evil, US-American-justice driven, brainlessness, that is likely to do more harm than good, as far as human animal's moral progress is concerned. Suppose, after watching this movie, viewer came out persuaded by the film and filled with the brainless zeal of JUSTICE. That IS American, and is where the problem is.

Avatar movie trailer Buy at amazon

District 9

Watched movie District 9. Fantastic. Much better than Avatar. Both movies are science fiction. Both involve aliens. Both have mechs. Both involves human animals as a group needing to deal and interact with alien animal. Both are successful, either by movie critics as well by profit. However, the Avatar is the most stereotypical Hollywood brainlessness. No intelligence, no content, no creativity, but plenty of big expensive computer graphics and explosions. The District 9, is just the opposite in every way. The aliens there are quite novel, and i really loved them. They have distinct, idiosyncratic, character. The mecha is also quite interesting, far more so than the one in Avatar. The alien mecha, somehow is integrated biologically with the aliens, and would puke, and when it being shot, hurts the alien inside too. The computer graphics is so well done. The overall movie content, unlike Avatar, doesn't contain some anti-this message or pro-that message, but makes you think, about deep ugly human nature, African history, history of race treatment. The only negative part about District 9, i would say, is that the beginning 30 min is quite boring.

I'd give this movie a 9.

District 9 Trailer #2.