Nov 022009

The full Avatar trailer popped up recently. I’ve been wary of this movie since hearing about it for a number of reasons, not the least of which seemed to be its status as yet another big-budget movie with amazing visuals, but a dubious story. It seems to me that movies that are visually impressive, with a vaguely pseudo-naturist/spiritualist bent to them, tend to be lavished with undeserved accolades. I don’t care how much money you dumped into it; if you’ve got a crappy story, you’ve got a crappy movie.

That aside, what worries me more about Avatar is the plot element that seems to suggest a technologically primitive group poses a credible threat to a technologically sophisticated group. Throughout history, major technological disparity has meant absolute defeat for the more primitive group. I’m not talking about a scenario like Vietname or Afghanistan, which involved guerilla fighters. They were still using modern weapons. I’m talking about something more like the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, in which less than two hundred British soldiers fended off several thousand Zulu warriors.

That’s more or less what the situation in Avatar seems to be, but from the trailer it seems as though the Na’vi actually pose a credible threat to the humans. There was, of course, another movie that tried to pull this stunt, and has been universally mocked for it to this day: Return of the Jedi.

Jedi, though, can kinda-sorta get away with this in ways that Avatar’s own trailer prevents it from using. In Jedi, the Imperials had no inkling that the apparently-harmless natives would rise up against them. They had very little heavy firepower on hand (a handful of light armor units, a single heavy armor unit, and infantry), and the heavy firepower they did have was not well-suited to the terrain. It was a simple security detachment, whose sole purpose was to oversee an ostensibly secret installation (the Emperor’s claim that it was “an entire legion of [his] best troops” not withstanding; sorry, Palps, on screen evidence does not jive with your pomp).

From the Avatar trailer, though, we already know that the humans consider the Na’vi a threat (strike one), acknowledge that they are hard to kill (strike two), and are mobilizing their forces specifically to deal with them (strike three). The Ewoks’ cuddliness aside, if the Empire went into the situation with these three points established, those shield bunker personnel would have been dining on Ewok stew.

So, yeah, I’m going to reserve judgment until I see what the film actually does, but if this really does turn out to be a premise of the film, color me disappointed.