Avatar seems to be everywhere these days. It's the season's blockbuster film. I'd guess that most of the people who were planning to see it have seen it already, but I'm going to post this review anyway.
I do not recommend it for children on the spectrum.
Let me qualify that statement by saying that I didn't really like the movie in the first place, so if you saw it and thought it was a fabulous movie, some of my reasons for not recommending it might not ring true for you. Warning: Spoiler alert!
- The storyline is not well developed. For example, humans want to mine on this alien planet for a valuable ore, but the audience never learns the use of the ore that makes it so valuable.
- Likewise, the dialogue is pretty anemic. For much of the film, characters' lines seem taken straight from video games. In my mind, this characteristic of the film further detaches the dialogue from the largely CGI environment. It also limits the degree to which any of the characters can take on any dimensionality. Which leads me to my next point.
- The characters are not well-developed. The bad guys have a goal, and that's all there is to them--no thought, no reason, no conscience, no back story. Our hero stands out because he is placed in extraordinary circumstances that make him do his own decision-making, but his motives and decisions are largely reactionary, rather than considered and logical.
- One of the primary messages of the movie seems to be that humans are fundamentally bad. Of the aliens, only one is not good, and he is redeemed in the end--no such luck for the human bad guys. Of the few humans who side with the aliens, only our hero survives, and he gets transplanted into an alien body. I think this is an especially bad theme for our Aspies, who often struggle with feelings of not belonging and worthlessness. If they had to judge from this story, the only way for a person to become worth while and productive is to become something other than human.
- Humans interact with the aliens through a kind of virtual reality device. By plugging into the device, they activate their "avatars"--alien bodies--which allow them to walk among the aliens. Since it is very easy for children on the spectrum to become wrapped up in gaming (as can be seen by adults who experience their entire social life through online RPGs), I do not think it is helpful for them to see a movie that glorifies that behavior as a viable lifestyle.
- There are four strong female characters in the film. Of them, two are human and two alien. Both the human women die. One of the alien women is a fairly incidental character (the tribe's medicine woman).
- I think that the insertion of a sexual relationship between the two main characters was unnecessary. But even if it had to be included, there ought to be consequences for such an obviously illicit choice (the man is human, and the woman is a high-ranking member of the alien culture engaged to someone else). At the very least, there should have been some context for the role of physical relationships in the alien society.
- While the plot is not well-developed, it is very broad. The viewer has to track both the hero's learning of and growing attachment to the alien tribe, not to mention all of the novelties of the alien planet, and the progression of the humans towards the climactic conflict.
- The climactic conflict (which is quite lengthy) is utterly illogical. The decision is taken for the aliens to stay and defend their home with spears and arrows against invading humans, armed with military aircraft. Through a miracle, apparently wrought by the "ancestors," the aliens win the battle.
- I personally found the "happily ever after" ending unsatisfactory. Even if we allow the miracle of the alien victory over the human invaders, it ought to have been a costly victory. Inserting an ending in which there are no negative ramifications to the preceding story made no sense.
Overall, the film is obviously a metaphor for the interactions between Westerners and indigenous peoples around the world, especially those in the Americas. These conflicts are important to know about. It is also important, in this technological age, for our children to be aware that cultures that use ancient wisdoms are valuable, to be respected, and to be learned from. However, I think this movie was too much about action scenes and CGI to communicate that as clearly as it could.
If you want to show your child fictional films about those topics, I recommend Medicine Man (tragic) and The The Gods Must Be Crazy (comic). There are also numerous documentaries and books about many indigenous cultures, non-Western belief systems, and interactions between Western powers and indigenous peoples.