Written by Matt Packer
For the past few years, Elli has played a valuable role as a key member of the Avatar reddit community, looking after a particularly passionate corner of the film’s fandom. So, this month, Kelutral is delighted to feature her as an honorary Member of the Month.
What’s your biggest memory from the first time you watched Avatar?
Well, the first time I watched it wasn’t until 2017, which is a lot later than most people in this community. So, I didn’t actually see it in theaters. But a scene that really stood out for me was one that a lot of fans have talked about as being particularly effective in 3D, which is when Jake has just met Neytiri for the first time and all the atokirina' [aka woodsprites] show up and land on him.
I was absolutely stunned by the beauty of that moment – and by what happens just after, when they run off through the bioluminescent forest. It marks a complete shift from the Pandora we’ve seen up to that point, where everything has been filtered through the Hell’s Gate perspective of what Pandora is. Our introduction to the glowing forest is when we start to see Pandora as it really is. I found it visually stunning, and it has really stayed with me.
Another memory I have – for somewhat more amusing reasons – is that my phone didn’t synch up properly with the caption track. So, when there were groups of characters all speaking in Na’vi, I had no idea what anyone was saying! But in a funny way, that kind of put me in Jake’s shoes – not understanding what was going on, and having to work it all out.
What does Avatar mean to you – what sort of place does it have in your heart?
That’s a hard question! I’d say Avatar is a showcase for what could be – and that applies as much to human behaviour as it does to technology. Obviously, the film was technologically revolutionary, and in my opinion the CGI still holds up incredibly well 13 years on. But beyond how the film was made, it sets out a vision of the future that I think is very imaginative and believable.
Some critics have argued that Avatar is derivative. But according to story theorists, there are only seven types of stories that humans can tell – and what Avatar does is it kind of distills those fundamental storytelling values in the context of human industrialism. So, there’s a lot of commentary in the film about topics like Manifest Destiny and American colonialism.
But on the flipside of that, there’s also the way it opens up beautiful possibilities – for example, what happens if we do things better? It shows us we have the capacity to make mistakes, but still do things right in the end. We can learn, and we can change. I think that’s what it means to me at its core. Sometimes I get discouraged when I look at the state of the world – but Avatar shows us that humans like Jake and Trudy can learn how to be better.
And I like how it explores that potential.
How did the r/Avatar community get started?
The Reddit community began in August 2009, a few months before Avatar came out. Not many people knew much about the movie because of the secrecy, but the teaser dropped that month and sparked off enough hype for people to start to come together and speculate about what was going to arrive in December.
After that, we grew pretty steadily – we’re not one of the larger fandom-based subreddits, and indeed, we have often been confused for subreddits connected to a certain anime-influenced fantasy franchise… so, that required us to implement a few auto-moderator commands to clear up the timeline! But we’re established and ready to grow more.
What’s it like to be part of that community?
One thing I would say is that this subreddit has really shown me a lot about the character of the fans. Obviously, we have to acknowledge that for years, people have accused Avatar of having a limited impact because it’s not really a film about merch and memes. And yes, perhaps it’s hard to gain a mainstream following that reaches the scale of some of the longer-running, smash-hit SF and fantasy brands when there’s so far only one film.
But from what I’ve seen, the Reddit community is full of people who feel so strongly about this quite frankly beautiful piece of media that they’re willing to stick with it through literally any level of opposition. And their whole perspective when it comes to the negative voices is, “Well, you may not have found much meaning in the film – but I did. And I love it. And you may say that it didn’t have a major impact – but it had an impact on me.”
That whole attitude pretty much typifies what I’ve seen in the community during the hiatus between films. And clearly there have been people waiting in the wings, because when the trailer for The Way of Water dropped, our numbers went up by almost 80%. So, we expect that it will continue to grow as time goes on.
It's a group of people who are individually passionate about the film, and that’s perfectly valid. We have a lot of content creators who have been pushing it and putting a lot of effort into growing the community, which is fun – and most people are good about it. There will always be a minority of people who come in deliberately to be rude or negative to followers, but I think that one of the benefits of being a relatively small community is that it makes those people a lot easier to deal with. Other than that, we’re a pretty close family – we almost feel like a book club!
I think now we’re getting to the end of the 13-year gap, there’s so much potential to get exposure to a whole new type of potential fan. Especially considering that the first film is going to be re-released and will be accessible in its intended form for those who were too young to see it first time around – or not even born.
Plus, I’m pretty sure that Flight of Passage is the single-most popular ride at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom – which goes to show not only that the film has definitely made an impact, but that it’s still bringing new people in through a theme-park spinoff.
It may be a tall order to hope that the sequels will catapult us on to the same level as the online communities that have grown up around things like Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings. But all being well, James Cameron is doing every bit as amazing a job of putting the sequels together as he did with the first one, and the results will bring in more and more fans. The fact that there are going to be four new Avatar films this decade will help a lot. They’ll give audiences a more regular showcase for this wonderful world.
What sort of relationship has the Reddit community struck up with the Na’vi Language community?
There was a recent shift alongside The Way of Water’s trailer coming out that helped to bring a lot more of the leadership behind Kelutral and the language community into the Reddit. Obviously, it’s a huge commitment to learn a new language, and not everyone on the Reddit is going to do that – but I would say there’s a pretty significant overlap. The language learners are people who feel particularly strongly about the movie, so they’re big contributors. There’s a lot of meshing and cross-pollination going on, for sure.
What excites you most about the Avatar sequels?
One, the world – and two, the technology. On the world side, as we all know, Pandora is absolutely beautiful! So, I’m looking forward to seeing how the sequels explore more of it and show us other types of environments. The second one is going into the ocean, and who knows what kind of territories await us in the third, fourth and fifth? Cameron has such a stunning eye – and I do not expect to be disappointed by where he’ll take us next!
Technology-wise, Avatar was so ground breaking with its camerawork and CG, and we’ve already seen a glimpse of what’s coming up with underwater motion capture, which has never been done before. So, if Cameron can unleash something that’s as advanced in 2022 as the first film was in 2009, that will be very exciting.
How does the Reddit community plan to support the new films?
This all ties back to how much we’re going to grow as the sequels come out. Internet culture changes and, having seen our following almost double with the advent of the new trailer, we’re hoping to see further jumps the closer we get to The Way of Water’s release and just after it comes out. So, we’ll be looking to bring in more moderators to keep a handle on the increase in traffic – both good and negative – and ramp up the community engagement side of things to get more people to showcase their love of Avatar.
It would be cool to get people who have worked on the films to drop by for interviews.
A community blog for language updates, AVATAR news, and community happenings, maintained by the members of Kelutral.org