Friday, December 18, 2009
The Na’vi are currently living in a giant tree that just happens to be located over a large deposit something called “unobtanium”. The scientists and other peacenik humans, chief among them Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), want to find a diplomatic way to get the natives to move so that this unobtanium can be harvested. That’s the reason for the avatars. Corporate big-wig Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) realizes it might be bad publicity if they just went in and killed off the Na’vi, but he’s also sensitive to his investor’s bottom line. He tells Augustine if she doesn’t get results soon, he’ll let Colonel Quaritch (Steven Lang) send his private army in to get the job done.
After a bumpy start, Jake (in avatar form) slowly begins to win the trust of the Na’vi. They even agree to let him become one of them, provided he can make it through their rites of passage. Neytiri (Zoe Soldana) is charged with preparing Jake for these challenges, which culminate in learning how to bond with and ride a giant flying lizard thing. Because of Jake’s success, Augustine is given a little more time to try things her way. But Jake finds himself caught in the middle when Quaritch offers him a chance to get his legs back in return for intelligence about the natives.
Call this a spoiler if you want, but it should come as no surprise to anyone that Jake and Neytiri become romantically involved, and that the final fate of Pandora will be decided not diplomatically, but rather by a spectacular, action-packed battle. What is surprising is how much time is spent on story, character, and just showing the simple wonders of this alien world.
Also surprising is the degree to which Cameron includes political allegory in his film. This is an unrepentant left-wing fantasy. The Na’vi are meant to evoke native Americans, and their “in harmony with nature” lifestyle is shown in the most positive light. With only a few exceptions, the humans are the bad guys who have depleted all their own resources, and are now moving on to pillage other planets. There are also overt references to the war on terror, with Quaritch talking about pre-emptive strikes, shock and awe, and fighting terror with terror.
But politics aside, this is just an entertaining and well made movie. The basic plot is nothing new, but Cameron adds enough fresh touches that the end result doesn’t feel too recycled. The effects are amazing, but unlike some effects-heavy blockbusters this movie doesn’t fetishize them. They are tools to tell the story, not an end unto themselves. The same is true of the 3D. It’s excellent, but Cameron doesn’t screw around throwing things out of the screen at you every couple of seconds like those old SCTV “Dr. Tongue” sketches.
My only complaint is that the good guys and bad guys portrayed in such absolute, black and white terms. I realize that’s what most people want in a movie like this, but considering one of the themes Avatar deals with is the demonization of an alien culture so we can justify killing them, it just seems a little hypocritical. Still, I’d be hard pressed to find a fantasy/sci-fi/action film this year that I would recommend more highly. This is definitely one to see in the theater. As for spending the extra couple bucks for the 3D version, I don’t think you’ll miss it if you want to save the money. As good as the 3D is, this is a real movie, not a gimmick. 3 ½ out of 4 stars.