By Don Simpson | December 24, 2009
Director: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldaña, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Sigourney Weaver
By now you have probably heard all about how Avatar is James Cameron’s first film since Titanic and the hefty sum it cost to produce; and the trailers all sufficiently represent the pure mind-numbing eye-candy spectacle that Avatar is (all of those critics who claim that Avatar looks unlike anything else they have ever seen are not lying).
We find ourselves (almost literally – thanks to the Real 3-D technology) on Pandora – an alien moon on which humans have found wealthy (in more ways than one) reserves of an important mineral. The only thing standing between the humans and this mineral is the Na’vi (an indigenous species) and their magnificent habitat on this world. In an attempt to persuade the Na’vi to make room for the humans to start mining, the humans create a hybrid species (avatar bodies which closely resembles the bodies of the indigenous species) to which humans telekinetically link in order to embed themselves in the Na’vi culture. One such avatar is a bit too successful in embedding (and bedding) himself within the Na’vi and all the while the Army gets itchy trigger fingers. Much mayhem, destruction and tears ensue.
The plot is as formulaic and predictable as most of James Cameron’s oeuvre; while the dialogue finds Cameron at his most cliché and cheesy (you might go as far as saying downright stupid and thoughtless). And, sure, the characters themselves are pure and unfiltered stereotypes (so much so that the tree-hugging environmentalists are blue – if only the U.S. military and their financing corporate interests were red!): the military personnel are stupid hicks that only seem to care about creating mass carnage and destruction; the corporation financing the military operations only care about money; the biologists are the only humans that seem to care about life (be it human, alien, animal or plant).
Other than Sigourney Weaver (who plays the head biologist on the avatar team – Dr. Grace Augustine), the cast is – to great effect, I might add – essentially composed of little-known or unknown talent.
What does make Avatar worthwhile is its message (and there is no misreading Avatar – Cameron is as literal and straightforward as possible). Avatar is an unbridled diatribe against military occupation, industrialization, capitalism, deforestation and destruction of indigenous people and species. Avatar is a story about the immense importance of the environment – a message many ancient indigenous people have tried to tell us throughout the course of time, yet time and time again their voices have been ignored. In other words, Avatar is a hard kick in the balls of the so-called civilized world for all of the bad things that they have ever done throughout their lifetime – with notable analogies existing on every continent on Earth. It is as if humans are stuck in an eternal loop of existence in which we are destined to make the same mistakes again and again (a message brilliantly realized in the recent remake of Battlestar Galactica).
Science fiction has warned us for several decades about where our current path, lead by industrialization and capitalistic interests, is taking us (let me just say that it is not a happy place) – yet very few of us are listening. Avatar is also not the first work of science fiction to attempt to deter us from neglecting and abusing other astral bodies as well (yet just during the making of Avatar, the U.S. sent a missile which careened directly into our moon in search of water reserves). Will we ever listen to science fiction or are humans destined to be lost in space forever?
I’ll summarize by stating that Avatar is much more thoughtful and intelligent (at least in terms of overall message) than I would have ever dreamed and it looks absolutely amazing (also beyond my dreams); unfortunately the plot and the dialogue are its greatest burdens, really dragging this down from a great film to something existing somewhere around mediocre.