R and I and a bunch of friends finally saw Avatar in 3D last night. I went in expecting to think the story was boring and to possibly be offended on various levels. I expected the visuals to be awesome. I did think the story was boring, but that it was a super-pretty movie and very cool in 3D. I was not really offended, because the story was in a lot of ways so trite that there was not much to be actually offended by. If you haven't seen Avatar yet, be careful reading further as there may be slight spoilers.
As an anthropologist, I was struck by the fact that the scientists seemed to be some sort of general purpose scientist, and that if they had an actual anthropologist they might have had more luck getting to know the Na'vi. But this is nothing new, movies and tv often have a "scientist" who grasps all fields equally, making me think they must have spent a really long time in grad school. Although they are often also young and attractive, so maybe they are just geniuses.
The real take-home message I got from Avatar was to never work for the military/giant corporations as it will all go horribly wrong. CounterPunch has a post comparing the scientists in Avatar to the Human Terrain Teams that the US Military is using in Afghanistan and Iraq.
So in the end, I enjoyed my experience watching the movie because I enjoyed the 3D and the cool world of Pandora. I found the 3D to make the movie an especially immersive experience, and I thought several times during the movie that a Lord of the Rings or a Narnia movie or an Anne McCaffrey book inspired movie would be awesome in 3D. Those are all worlds I have been sucked into in book form, and it would be awesome to have that experience using the technology involved in Avatar. I was actually surprised at how much the visuals allowed me to be sucked in to the movie, despite the fact that I was intellectually aware the story was sub-par. Here's an interesting look at why we are so affected by virtual worlds. But in the end, I agree with this Savage Minds post that aside from the effects the movie has so little to offer that there is no great and deep commentary I can make, except killing people for their resources is bad.