The blockbuster film of the holiday season is James Cameron's "Avatar." I saw it in 3-D and wish that I could have seen it in the IMAX format. This is a beautiful, exhilarating film that invites the viewer to suspend his or her imagination and enjoy the ride. The invitation is easily accepted.
Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington, prepares to undergo a Na'vi ritual in "Avatar." (Photo: 20th Century Fox)
The story is not new or unique. Although some reviewers have charged that Cameron plagiarized "Dances with Wolves," his inspiration is more from Edgar Rice Burroughs' "John Carter, Warlord of Mars" series, which Cameron himself readily admits.
Although the writer and director strives for a fresh take on colonialism and biodiversity, this is a swashbuckler about an outsider who becomes immersed in an alien culture and becomes its savior – a common theme in science fiction and fantasy. Cameron also introduces a love story but that too is standard for this genre.
In the film, an avatar is a body controlled by a "driver" or human controller. The body itself is a cloned hybrid created by combining the DNA of the Na'vi, the race indigenous to the moon Pandora, and that of a human. Although the avatars were designed as a medium for scientific and sociological research, the managers of the company plundering the moon's resources have other ideas.
The real focus of this film is the production itself. Much of it was digitally created. The integration of live action and computer-generated characters is nearly flawless. (We saw a computer-generated Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Terminator: Salvation." I wonder when someone will resurrect a deceased star like James Dean or John Wayne for a cameo in a film.)
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The visual effects are realistic and breathtaking – animals, the Na'vi tribe and the landscape. The viewer feels that these are real and not simply a virtual world created by computer.
Cameron's team also goes to great lengths to create a native culture with its own language, customs and religion. This culture stands in sharp contrast to the mechanical, militaristic culture of the mining company.
Although the story is hardly original, many of the characters are strong. Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, a disabled Marine who becomes part of the avatar program, is convincing. (He was good in "Terminator: Salvation" and is even better here.)
Stephen Lang as Col. Miles Quaritch is a strong villain, although rather one dimensional. Joel David Moore is Norm Spellman, a biologist who studies plant and nature life, and fills the "sidekick" role well.
If there is one thing we can count on from Cameron, it is strong female characters. In this film, they are portrayed by Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace Augustine, a botanist with an attitude; Zoë Saldaña as Neytiri, a native princess; and Michelle Rodriguez as Trudy Chacon, a Marine pilot. One of the fun things is to see Weaver in the form of an avatar.
Some will put be off by the violence, others by the Gaia or "mother planet" idea, and some by the simplistic storyline. However, this is not a philosophical or "message" film. This is a popcorn film with characters that are easy to like. Sit down, put on your 3-D glasses, pick up your soft drink and popcorn and enjoy.
Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column appeared previously on his blog.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking.
Director: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington: Jake Sully; Zoe Saldana: Neytiri; Sigourney Weaver: Dr. Grace Augustine; Stephen Lang: Col. Miles Quaritch; Michelle Rodriguez: Trudy Chacon; Giovanni Ribisi: Parker Selfridge; Joel Moore: Norm Spellman; CCH Pounder: Moat; Wes Studi: Eytukan.
The movie's Web site is here.