With Star Trek, Gene Rodenberry sought to “seek out new worlds and to boldly go where no man has gone before.” With the $300,000,000 bombshell that is Avatar, James Cameron can proudly stand with Peter Jackson (remember his little Lord of the Rings trilogy?) and proclaim he too has gone where none have gone before.
The planet of Pandora as conceived from the mind of Cameron and constructed with super-computers fit for the military is beyond fascinating to gaze upon. Lush forests with phosphorous vegetation house mammoth trees spiraling hundreds of feet into the air. Above the canopy, jagged floating mountains dot the sky. This is no serene setting. Oh no. Jackal-like creatures hunt their prey in packs. Panther-esque creatures barrel through the vegetation in search of food. Great winged creatures dive bomb for meals from the sky. Coexisting with these animals are the Na’vi.
And they live upon what we, the humans, want — unobtainium.
Pushing evil capitalism to its extremes, a mining corporation hires marines to raze the land of the Na’vi, so they can plunder the valuable mineral deposits on their lands. In a diplomatic endeavor, a scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) creates an Avatar program that genetically engineers humans with the body of a Na’vi, so humans can communicate with the natives and come to a nonconfrontational solution. If you’re confused, think The Matrix, but with people morphing into tall, graceful blue skinned people instead of manifestations of themselves. One of the chosen few for the program is a crippled Marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) — the perfect candidate as a new Avatar is not needed for him since he can use his deceased twin brother’s, and from a military standpoint great for relaying key information to Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) on the Na’vi’s strengths and weaknesses.
As Avatar progresses, Cameron’s liberal, eco-friendly stance becomes more and more abundantly clear. Scully begins to empathize with the Na’vi — falling in love with a warrior princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and seeking oneness with Pandora’s mythical mother. The natives are one with the land, an integral part of the circle of life — never killing without need; never destroying without cause. The humans, Scully begins to realize, are murderous monsters that need to be stopped at all costs. He sides with his alien counterparts.
As a man conflicted, Worthington is quite good. His gradual descent into choosing whether or not to abandon his own race is well acted. Saldana, sadly, is only seen in Avatar CGI form but her voice talents capture the plight of her inner struggle and that of her people’s. The award, however, goes to Lang as the omnipotent military overlord of the operation. This guy is just plain nasty — any man willing to fight to the very end for a cause he could give a damn about is a man you don’t want to meet in a dark alleyway.
Visual 3D orgasm aside, in the end, Avatar is a supped up version of Dances with Wolves. The white man is still the plunderer. The Na’vi are the American Indians. Scully is Dunbar. That doesn’t mean the film isn’t very well told — it most certainly is. The point is Avatar deftly uses stunning visuals and computer horsepower to mask the fact you’ve seen this story in another form already (if you haven’t, do so). It is done so damn well, actually, that I nearly missed it myself. Costner’s flick is a must see and so is this.