Monday, January 27, 2014

Avatar (2009) [PG-13] ****+

Set in the distant future, this is the story of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a Marine veteran who's a paraplegic in a wheelchair. Because he's a perfect DNA match to his dead brother who was a scientist, Jake is offered his brother's place on the Avatar project team on the moon Pandora, located in a nearby star system. Pandora is the only known source of a valuable mineral called Unobtainium, and while the colonizing force from Earth digs open pit mines and destroys Pandora's environment, its intelligent but primitive humanoid race called the Na'vi fight the colonizing Sky people with poison-tipped arrows, held in check only by a high-tech, ex-military security force under the command of Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang).

The Avatar team, led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) is attempting to win the trust of the Na'vi, as well as to understand and preserve the incredibly beautiful and diverse Pandoran environment. Each avatar is a clone of blended human DNA and Na'vi DNA - basically a Na'vi body without a mind. It's operated by a human operator who reclines in a link module, establishes a mental link with the avatar and controls it remotely. Soon after Jake arrives on Pandora and gets his own avatar, he discovers that he's really been recruited for his military skills, and his task is to become accepted by the Na'vi clan and discover the Na'vi weaknesses so the security force can limit its own casualties.

As fate would have it, Jake soon meets Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) a lovely young Na'vi huntress, who recognizes his strong heart and protects him from certain death – from wild animals and from her own clan. As Jake gradually becomes accepted by the clan, he begins to understand the damage the strip mining is doing to the Na'vi population and the Pandoran environment. He sympathizes with them and ultimately goes native, aiding the Na'vi in their fight for survival against the human colonizers.

The photorealistic computer graphics special effects are incredibly impressive, but the screenplay by writer/director James Cameron is fairly predictable: alien boy meets native girl who saves him from death after which he helps her clan defeat the aliens. This is Dances with Wolves, with a nod to John Smith and Pocahontas, set on a distant world. Major plot points are telegraphed well in advance, there is no memorable dialog, little development of the main characters, and cartoonish supporting characters (the brusque scientific team leader, the wimpy corporate stooge, the brutish security force leader, and the rebellious chopper pilot). The most beautiful thing about the film is the environmental message – the incredibly rich Pandoran environment, its diverse world of plants and creatures, the Na'vi and their language, dress and culture, and their deep connection with their living planet (Gaia hypothesis).

However, the lack of any Star Trek – like prime directive designed to preserve and protect the native population and its culture, as well as the lack of any nuanced subtlety in the relationship between natives and colonizers reduces the story to simple stereotypes: innocent, environmentally-pure good guys vs. cynical, money-grubbing, brute-force bad guys. It's a shame that Cameron went for big thrills, big explosions and big box office receipts, when, with a little sensitivity, his film could have been so much more meaningful and rewarding. Nevertheless, if you like Michael Bay films (ArmageddonPearl HarborTransformers) then you will love Avatar

Labels: action, adventure, fantasy, sci-fi    
Internet Movie Database    
Metacritic 84/100    
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=74, viewers=82)    
Wikipedia - Gaia hypothesis

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