Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez, Joel David Moore | Released: 2009
Film review by Scott Mowry | 12-26-09
"Avatar" is the $300 million sci-fi spectacle, created and directed by James Cameron, that is sure to become an international sensation and to inspire a new and ravenous cult following.
Also the driving force behind the enormously successful film franchises of "Titanic,""Terminator" and "Alien," James Cameron has generated hundreds of millions of dollars for the Hollywood dream factory. In fact, as he accepted his multiple Oscar trophies for "Titanic" in 1998, the last film he has made, he pronounced himself "king of the world." And indeed, he may be crowned King of Hollywood, after "Avatar" has had its run.
It took fifteen long years for him to bring "Avatar" to the big screen as Mr. Cameron waited patiently for the technology to catch up to the pioneering vision he harbored for this film.
And in the visual and the filmmaking departments, "Avatar" delivers on all fronts! Gloriously so!
However, something is noticeably different this time around for a James Cameron production. And that is in the portrayal of the extra-terrestrial characters found within "Avatar's" storyline, a far cry from the destruction machines in his other movies like "Terminator" and "Alien."
"Avatar" is set in the year 2154, where humans have discovered a rich cache of a prized mineral on a distant planet known as Pandora, and they have sent a highly organized operation to basically hijack it, so as to solve the energy crisis back on Earth.
But, standing in their way is an inhospitable atmosphere and a very formidable race of native people called the Na'vi, who just happen to live on top of the riches deposit of all of this prized mineral.
In order to infiltrate the natives, various humans are enlisted to be "drivers" of artificially grown avatars that have been created in a lab by blending human DNA, with Na'vi DNA to form a hybrid. To complete the process, human inhabitants are put into a pod like device where they are able to project their consciousness into the Na'vi avatar body, and thus, essentially, become one of them.
Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) in front of his "avatar"
This is where Mr. Cameron really weaves his movie magic as the Na'vi actors are brought to life on screen by a combination of CGI animation and human actors to form the electrifying, 12-foot, blue-toned humanoids, which are for the most part, fairly realistic looking.
There are also a lot of strange and wonderful creatures that are quite visually spellbinding, as is the Pandorian landscape and ecology that comes alive with floating mountains, glowing plants and ferocious animals.
However, as great a technical achievement as that is, what is disappointing about this kind of a sci-fi epic, and similar genre films such as, Star Wars, Star Trek, etc, set far into the future, is that the humans are portrayed to have barely evolved from a lowly conscious state of mind we are in now. Instead, we find same foolhardy, shortsighted bunch of nitwits who bare nothing but a penchant for war, violence and greed. Sad, indeed.
When in point of fact, we now have ample evidence that consciousness is evolving so rapidly that within in a scant few years, perhaps by 2012, the human race will be an entirely different and more highly evolved species altogether.
But I digress.
The really good news here is that the overall message of "Avatar" is most definitely a positive one, centered around a theme of anti-war, pro-environmental and pro-indigenous population.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of "Avatar" to me, was not the eye-popping visual effects, but rather the very reverent and sympathetic focus on the spirituality of the native Na'vi's.
They are for the most part, a peaceful species, yet, at the same time, they are fierce warriors. They have a deeply spiritual and symbiotic relationship with the forest they live in and the nature of their native planet Pandora.
Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldana, of the Na'vi people.
They also possess profound wisdom that all life is connected as one and that they are a part of that connection, too. This aspect of the Na'vi people is reinforced throughout the film, again and again, as they are shown bonding with the trees, the plants, the animals and the forest.
Even if they have to defend themselves from a predatory animal, they say a prayer after they have killed it.
It's as if James Cameron is trying to convince us that he holds extra-terrestrials in a much higher regard now, as never before.
This reverent and respectful homage to the spiritual nature of indigenous extra-terrestrials is, ultimately, the most interesting and surprising element of "Avatar" by far.
It is similar in tone to the Kevin Costner film, "Dances with Wolves," where a white man develops a deep love for the Native American Indian people and eventually becomes accepted into their society as if were born into it. He ends up rejecting his own race, as he grows to understand and learns to appreciate the value that the indigenous Indian people hold for the Earth, Mother Nature and the spiritual aspects to life.
"Avatar's" main character, Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington, follows this exact same path as he learns to love the Na'vi way of life and its people, including Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldana, who becomes his tutor and eventually, much more.
Sully, in his human form, is a paraplegic ex-Marine, but when projected into his Na'vi avatar body, he is literally reborn. He becomes a quick student of the Na'vi way, even speaking their native language, and is eventually thrust into the role of defending them against the mindless, warmongering humans, who will stop at nothing to get at the precious ore they lust for.
"There is a network of energy that runs through all living things," describes Sully, as he dutifully absorbs the Na'vi life. "All energy is only borrowed and one day, you have to give it back," he learns.
You will be moved as you watch Sully make this transformation from Marine to indigenous spiritual warrior. And there is no doubt you will find yourself rooting for the Na'vi to overcome the moronic human invaders, who are actually the aliens, in this case.
But for the rest of the humans in this story, save for the doctor, Grace, who is in charge of avatar lab, played by Sigourney Weaver, and a couple of her assistants, they are painted in a very distasteful light.
For the bad-ass, mindless military viewpoint, we find Marine Col. Miles Quaritch, played by Stephen Lang, who does a brilliant job of representing a doomed approach of destroying and killing everything in his path. He is obsessed with destruction.
Parker Selfridge, played by Giovanni Ribisi, represents the corporate greed element that has no regard for nature, indigenous populations, nor even, life itself. His only interest is the pursuit of profits.
For a story that is set nearly 150 years in the future, there is lots of smoke, pollution and grime when humans bring their so-called advanced technology in to wipe out the Na'vi resistance, who possess little more than bows and arrows. Again, wouldn't it be plausible to assume that in 150 years we would have solved these kind of primitive energy challenges?
But, all in all, for nearly three hours of screen time, "Avatar" is a highly entertaining extravaganza that looks even more spectacular in the 3-D visual mode. This is one absolutely beautiful film! It sets new heights for special effects, cinematography, and artistic set design.
However, maybe the most interesting, the most anticipatory and the most timely aspect of all is that "Avatar" puts forth the notion that maybe extra-terrestrials are not worth fearing after all, but in fact, are people who have much to teach us. And the same holds true for all the indigenous peoples of Earth, too.
Perhaps then, this film is offering yet more proof that the world is being conditioned and prepared to accept that idea that extra-terrestrials are among us, and are about to emerge from the shadows, as we appear to be on the brink of some kind of major disclosure announcement.
We await for that day with the greatest of hope and excitement!
Until then, feast your eyes on "Avatar" and dream...