First off, I know that I’m not the first one to draw the parallel. It was said in an interview with Cameron that Avatar harkens Dances with Wolves in that it is about “a battered military man who finds something pure in an endangered tribal culture.” However, people are being more than kind. Avatar was a remake of Dance of Wolves as much as Ice Ice Baby was laid on top of Under Pressure by Queen (bum bum bum bumdadumbum).
A soldier (Dunbar/Sully) is commissioned to stand a remote outpost in enemy territory (untamed West/Pandora).
The soldier meets a female of the tribe (Stands with a Fist/Neytiri) and returns to the tribe’s home with the female. The tribe is hostile and led by their best warrior (Wind in his Hair/Tsu’tey) are ready to kill the soldier. The spiritual leader (Kicking Bird/Mo’at) convinces the chief that they should learn from him and teach him their ways instead. The tribe enlists the female (Stands with a Fist/Neytiri) who has prior experience with the soldier’s culture (Stands with a Fist was white, Neytiri had attended Grace’s school) to lead the effort.
Over time the soldier learns their culture, becomes a part of their community, and falls in love with the woman who was asked to teach him.
He sees the evil of his own people and the destruction they are capable of. One particularly heinous event sparks deep emotion in the tribe (the dead buffalo skinned and left to rot/destruction of home tree).
The whole while the soldier knew the intentions of his kind to take the tribe’s homeleand, but guarded the reality from his new family. Inevitibley the soldier’s people come to take the tribe’s land, a battle ensues, and the the soldier joins the side of the tribe. They win the battle but can feel an impending war to come.
The tribal warrior, who once hated the soldier, now accepts him as one of the tribe, and calls him friend. The soldier, the woman, and the tribe are left to build a new home for themselves and start a family of their own.
Add some blue face paint, a couple incidental characters, substitute video journals with written ones, dragons for horses, and add some cute elements here and there that break up the tension and you’ve got the same movie. I actually saw Wind in his Hair in my head, sitting atop his horse yelling “I am Wind In His Hair. Do you see that I am your friend? Can you see that you will always be my friend?” when Tsu’tey accepted Sully into the tribe.
Dances with Wolves was a great movie and visually stunning without CG. Of course Avatar would be at least good. That’s what it was, but after nearly 3 hours of investment in Avatar, I found myself wishing I had spent that time to watch Dances with Wolves again instead.
I wish David Spade was still doing Hollywood Minute on SNL. I can hear it now. . .
“Avatar, good movie. Liked it better the first time I saw it, when it was called
Dances with Wolves!”