Last weekend I finally got a chance to see Avatar. The film had been delayed in China until January 2, and from what I hear about it, it’s unlikely that I would have been able to see it at that time, if I had tried (as it was I just waited until I was back in the states.
I’d already read a few reviews of it, both positive and negative, so I knew what to expect. The story was actually a bit better than I had thought from the reviews, but it was still very much suffering from the noble savage and white guilt tropes (those aren’t necessarily bad, though), and I do see why people have objected to the hero being a white American who not only assimilates into Na’vi culture but becomes better than them at everything they do in a very short time (the second bit is the key to the objection). However, I had to agree with my brother who mentioned the Avatar body as being “liberating” for the paraplegic protagonist.
I was impressed by the depth of the world and the alienness of the creatures living there. The world of Pandora is beautifully rendered and at no time did I detect a flaw in the CGI — in fact, I didn’t even think about it most of the movie. Like others, I noticed the conspicuousness of the humanoid Na’vi on a planet where all other land animals have six limbs, a second pair of eyes, and breathing orifices on the underside of the body, particularly when much of the world uses realistic science to make fantastic landscapes (those floating mountains are not magical in the least). I do, however, think it is a good alien design for the purpose — there are a few things that will take people out of their comfort zone (the neural link takes on a whole different meaning when you find it not only links to other animals, but is also used during mating — though in my mind it makes it more plausible as far as evolution goes).
Plus, too much alienness in the Na’vi could have messed with one of the reasons I saw the movie: the language. I’ve tried creating languages, or conlanging, a bit myself, and when I had read that a linguist consultant was hired to construct the language I knew I wanted to see the movie, and I think this language could possibly achieve its goal of “out-Klingon Klingon”. I have tried to find as much information about it ever since. The consultant, Paul Frommer posted a sketch of the language at Language Log, and I know of a fan site that is trying to make sense of what materials have come out. Certain bits of the romanization (which I hear were decided from above) irk me, (x marks ejectives when ‘ is being used for the glottal stop?) but I do think that the language has a beautiful sound to fit the beauty of the Na’vi while still being somewhat unconventional. I would like someday to see a developed constructed language for aliens that actually used some non-human sounds, but I can understand Cameron’s desire for actors to perform their lines without manipulation. In any case, don’t be surprised if you hear me calling someone a “skxawng” (if I can get the pronunciation down, that is ).