For all German readers I wrote a comment on the film here http://www.wildes-denken.de/2009/12/avatar-film-ethnologie/
I discus the fact that anthropological knowledge plays an important role in the film in two ways: 1) It is used against the Na'vi in order to replace/attack them 2) it is the protagonists, Jake Sully, chance to "see the forest in the eyes of them". This going native seems to be crucial in the film not at least when he becomes the leader in the fight against “colonisation”…
The idea of "seeing" the other is an especially powerful trope in the film, as Norman points out, and it has been picked up by the popular press, including in the New York Times. While I find the attempt laudable (cliched invocations of a new-age alien namaste notwithstanding), I think we would do well to pause and question just what it is that we are "seeing". The Na'vi are, for better or worse, a monolithic, timeless culture, a pastiche of eco-indigenism that makes Dances With Wolves seem subtle. What we "see" is, in many ways, a reflection of our own ideas of what native people are, as filtered through colonialism and white guilt.
This is absolutely not to deny that there are many unique and valid worldviews which incorporate very different understandings of ecology from our own. But I worry that viewers will pick up on the essentialism without a grasp of individual agency, change, or internal diversity.
Another random note on the film - did anyone else find it curious / revealing that the Na'vi had real, physical connections to the animal and plant life? It is as if, fearing a backlash against metaphysics or the possibility that viewers might reject the perceptions of the other as primitive and irrational, the filmmakers instead felt the need to make the metaphor literal, and legibile to modern scientific sensibilities.
Also, another interesting idea is to look at this movie not only as "filtered through colonialism and white guilt" (which rings absolutely true to me), but also as expressing the panics, fears, hopes and intentions of us white colonialists and our culture (or at least - certain aspects of it).
You may also be interested to read the article by the journalist and activist George Monbiot - 'The Holocaust We Will Not See: Avatar Half-Tells a Story We Would All Prefer to Forget'. See: http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2010/01/11/the-holocaust-we-will-no...