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James Cameron Struts His Stuff in “Avatar”

Movie Title: Avatar (2009)
Spoilers: No

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In Avatar, James Cameron has shown that his directorial brilliance is still where it used to be. There is gold to be had in the seemingly empty mines of science fiction. Cameron creates not only a story that will stay true to your heart, but also an entire alien ecosystem that will stay in your mind. With almost the care of an entire team of scientists, Cameron constructs for us an alternate world with new types of aesthetically pleasing life.

In the future, mankind is exploring new worlds. It takes years to reach Earth’s newest planetary find, the planet Pandora. The crew is kept in a cryogenic state until they arrive. Pandora is home to the Na’vi, a tribal race of giant, blue humanoids who become known for their use of a deadly neurotoxin on the tips of their arrows.

With their own language and culture, the Na’vi are intelligent and spiritual, very connected with their planet. And it is their planet that has something that the humans want, a precious mineral found under the ground. Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) is the one in charge of heading up the operation. The funding for the Pandora mission must be obtained from the riches found under the planet.

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is the paraplegic war vet and brother of a deceased researcher. In place of his brother, he is selected to go to Pandora. His mission: to take on his brother’s genetically pre-matched Na'vi body and learn the Na’vi’s ways to persuade them to relocate so that the humans can get what they came for without a fight. The scientific findings of the mission are under the direction of an always attitude-y Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver).

Avatar is a beautiful blend of heavy, novelistic science fiction, with enough visually stunning details to satisfy the geekiest. Here lies a cheese-less sci-fi story that makes sense and is appealing in doing so (and better yet for some, leads to serious action!) You get more than enough of what you need if you watch to view another world and other types of life that operate not unlike we would expect them to. It’s nearly too much, but it’s also a lot of everything else that most of us want in a movie. Pandora is beautiful, much more beautiful than any planet would be. That is what you expect when a human mind artistically creates their own world—it is always much more gorgeous than one nature can provide.

There are so many spiritual connections, allusions to Native American animism and mysticism. Except for the younger viewers, it’s hard to miss this eco-spiritualism when the Na’vi speak of “a network of energy that runs through all living things. All energy is borrowed, and one day, you have to give it back.” That’s not new talk. It’s New Age talk, and regardless of how you regard New Age philosophy, it’s a better religious philosophy than the more traditional ones our world is bombarded with that spread hate propaganda and fuel the flames of war.

That brings us to the inherent intellectual superiority of the film. I was at first confused why, when Jake became known to the Na’vi, that he was referred to as one of the “sky people.” The Na’vi had been in contact with humans before, but why not call them gods, “sky gods”? I didn’t pick up on it at first, but then found out why.

As it comes to be known, “A’wa” is “Mother Nature.” The Na’vi saw all of their planet (and presumably the universe) as one unit of God. There were sacred places to pray and “holy” things to do, but the role of “The Great Mother” was to preserve balance and interact with everything. As far as we know, there was no waiting for a heaven or dreading a hell, just a giving and a taking of energy. That is a very Native American idea. And of course, the Na’vi unabashedly represent the Native Americans, those who need nothing but to be close to and love their planet.

The humans, in contrast, are the traditional “blue-eyed devils,” all of them white and all of them with the attitudes of redneck space pirates who shoot first and ask questions later. Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), is a no-nonsense military overachiever who just can’t wait to pull that trigger. He takes loss personally. He calls the cavalry out and back. He’s one of the cooler villains since Inglorious Basterds’ “Colonel Hans Landa.”

From the start, it isn’t hard to predict where things are headed. You would think an advanced earth culture would go the way we are going now, with great concern for all forms of life—much more when we are speaking of alien life and ecosystems that can tell us so much about ourselves. But we get none of that. There is apparently no Star Trek-like “Prime Directive” in dealing with aliens. These humans don’t care about the beings or the environment, and certainly not the trees, as they spend the entire movie literally trying to destroy them to get to their loot.

These trees are more complex than our brain’s neural pathways, and a bunch of bucktoothed, knot-kneed hicks are trying to destroy them. If only the Na’vi knew about the old earth and about the legends of man doing the same thing to his fellow man and home planet for ages. They do find out, and the film wastes no time telling us how the humans “have destroyed their world.” Now, man’s greed in search of a new type of gold has him traveling the galaxy doing the same. No, the message isn’t flattering. As in District 9, we are the bad guys, and I believe if we did come across an alien race, we’d help ourselves to anything they had that we wanted. I’d like to disagree, but I can’t.

Nevertheless, it’s your job to decide when it’s time for a movie to shut the fuck up with its moralistically preachy and jackhammer-driven messages of “Save the planet!”, and it’s my job to determine whether or not such a movie can still be called worthy.

Avatar is a little too long and a lot too militant in it’s “down your throat” environmentalist message. Some of the characters are over-the-top, but do hit their marks. Avatar is nonetheless immensely rich - visually, artistically, and emotionally - making it a fair cap-off of a hit in a year with mostly mediocre movies.

(JH)

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Grade: A- (4 Stars) Recommended!
Rating: PG-13
Director: James Cameron
Summary: A paraplegic marine dispatched to the planet Pandora on a unique mission becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home.
Starring: Sam Worthington “Jake Sully,” Zoe Saldana “Neytiri,” Sigourney Weaver “Dr. Grace Augustine,” Stephen Lang “Colonel Miles Quaritch,” Michelle Rodriguez “Trudy Chacon,” Giovanni Ribisi “Parker Selfridge”
Genre: Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi / Thriller
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