If you haven’t heard about James Cameron’s Avatar by now, you must be living in some virtual world far removed from this planet. For better or worse, it has been one of the most hyped movies of the year. And the hype might actually be justified. The film transports viewers into another world, but it brings up very important questions about our own in the process.
As one of Hollywood’s most buzz-worthy directors (Titanic, Aliens, the original Terminator films), Cameron understands that fantasy is a great vehicle to showcase reality and all of its harsh truths. His latest science-fiction epic is practically a mirror to the history of humankind’s greed and its destructive results.
With an astronomical budget of almost $400 million, Avatar‘s special effects are good — mind-blowingly good. It’s the most visually stimulating film I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying a lot in this age of CGI, IMAX, and digital cinematography.
The only way to see this movie is in 3-D — it enhances the jaw-dropping scenes and heart-pumping action-sequences. I guarantee you’ll be blown away by the visual experience.
Even though some of the characters are computer-animated, modern technology has allowed Cameron to capture every lifelike detail of the actors’ performances — including facial expressions and emotions. At times I actually thought the actors were wearing blue make-up. It looked that real.
Overall, the performances are sufficient, and the characters Jake Sully (a paraplegic Marine played by Sam Worthington), Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), and Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) are particularly likeable.
The story, which was written by Cameron, takes place on Pandora, a planet inhabited by the Na’vi, a race of tall, blue beings who live in various tribes. Throughout Pandora there are exotic creatures, lush jungles, and floating mountains. Everything is connected to a central spirit being, a mother of all in existence called Eyra. Being connected to nature and ancestors, the Na’vi’s spirituality is similar to that of Native Americans and New Age thinking.
But behind all of this beauty and wonder is an ugly theme: greed and entitlement. Humans have desecrated planet Earth and desire a precious mineral called “unobtainium,” which is located underneath a large Na’vi tribe. Humans view the Na’vi as primitive savages who are a hindrance to obtaining the mineral. It’s interesting to see how certain human characters accuse the Na’vi of being savages, when in fact they themselves are the savages in this story. They do not respect the Na’vi’s culture, their way of life, or the resources of their planet. Humans see everything as theirs for the taking.
In order to persuade the Na’vi to relocate, the humans try to bribe them with medicine and education, but the Na’vi are not interested. They have everything they need; they don’t want anything else. Since the Na’vi people aren’t cooperating as planned, the humans decide to force them out. At one point, Jake Sully states, “You see someone who has something you want and you make them your enemy in order to justify the taking.”
There are staggering parallels between this film and other events in world history, such as when European immigrants came to this country and forced the land away from the Native Americans or the British and American slave trades. Humankind has been plagued by greed and selfishness since the beginning of time, and it affects all people, everywhere, regardless of income or social status.
Throughout Avatar there were points that will remind some viewers of the United States, its history, and our current societal attitudes. We bicker and fight over what one group has and what another group doesn’t. Those who don’t have something think they deserve to have it because someone else does, while those who do have something don’t want to share with those who lack. This leads to heated debates and political wars. Cameron speaks to this issue in a broad sense throughout the film, but God addresses this dark side of human nature many times in His Word.
It’s hard not to be enthralled by a film like Avatar. I enjoyed it very much, despite a ho-hum story that’s filled with clichés and predictable outcomes. Cameron has never been known for his writing and character development (even his masterpiece, Titanic, suffered from a pedestrian script). Fortunately, this movie’s overall impact satisfies and will have most audience members on the edge of their seats. And, even with its unremarkable storyline, the film’s central message reminds us — warns us — just how selfish the human race can be. If Cameron could just learn how to write some compelling dialogue, he’d truly be king of the filmmaking world.
Avatar (PG-13) runs 161 minutes and contains intense warfare, sensuality, profanity and smoking.