Guilty pleasures: Avatar

Avatar 6

Make no mistake, 3D greatly enhanced the Avatar experience, but each subsequent viewing, even on the TV screen,  still succeeds in transporting me to the most incredibly realised alien world.

Avatar is a romantic epic, an ecological action tale, where director James Cameron wears his conservationist streak not just on his sleeve, but spread all over the big screen. Deal with it. Why shouldn’t the architect of cyborg armageddon  spread his (Toruk Makto) wings, and deliver an action epic for families to enjoy, an archetype hero journey?  Earth consortium RDA (Resources Development Administration) has established a colony on Pandora, a moon around Polyphemus, a gas giant in the Alpha Centauri system. There, the human “aliens” strip mine the moon’s valuable resources for a polluted, worn out Earth, trampling over the native Na’vi, 9ft tall blue-skinned neolithic – equivalent tribespeople. The consortium also rides roughshod over its own scientists, who have created the Avatar program, genetically engineered fusions of human and Na’vi DNA, enabling humans to remote explore and interact with the population, without having to wear respirators in the poisonous to humans atmosphere.

Stranger in this strange land (and audience Avatar) is  Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), disabled Marine vet and twin brother to a dead scientist originally intended for the Avatar he is a match for. Torn between the agendas of sympathetic, driven scientist Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), mercenary chief bulldog Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang), and Na’vi warrior princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), he must choose which side he is really on when rapacious human greed tramples on the delicate balance of this bountiful new world.

Pandora is at once alien and real. The move from solely human characters awakening from hypersleep (the first shot is Jake’s eyes opening) then on base, to Jake’s Avatar bursting out in joyful abandon and later interacting with Na’vi in their giant scaled rainforest, is subtly achieved. Zoe Saldana in particular helps to utterly convince that the Na’vi are flesh and blood characters.

Dismissed as “Dancing With Wolves in space”, Avatar is essentially a story of a broken heroes self-discovery and redemption, from unquestioning grunt to spiritual representative of the Na’vi  goddess, Eywa. His journey fits the Hindu definition of the word Avatar;  One which embodies a value or ideal in place of God. Cameron tucked this away in his mind long before Computer half-life took off. All this set against a backdrop of ecological ram-raiding. The story culminates in the mother of all battles between the “primitives” and the industrialised alien interlopers – themes that crop up time and time again in Star Wars. “Imagine the Dutch West India Company funded by Microsoft, Matsushita and a dozen or so of their mega corporation buddies,” Cameron told Empire. “That’s the RDA.”

avatar 4

Venezuela, that was some mean bush, “Quaritch recalls with Jake. The RDA is ruthless in exploiting and taking what they need, even on their own home planet. Their troops are more Blackwater than true military; only interested in their paycheque. Only Jake and the scientists chopper pilot Trudi (Michelle Rodriguez) question and rebel against morally wrong orders.

The use of 3D was tasteful but spectacular, Cameron drawing the audience in to this strange immersive new world, populated by flora and fauna he basically designed himself. The bioluminescent plants at nightfall inspired by his under Ocean expeditions. When Jake’s Avatar is chased off a cliff to the river below by a massive Thanator ( a black, 24 ft armoured predator), it evokes every Tarzan film you’ve ever seen, only magnified and stranger. Yes, it may seem simplistic at face value, but it is the emotional pull that propels the story along. Cameron wants you to feel it, empathise, as the Avatar program releases Jake to fulfill his potential, through the inter-connectivity of the people and the land.  Grace learns that all the creatures of Pandora are hard-wired into the planet itself by ” signal transduction” – the Na’vi interpret this as a link to Eywa. A few well aimed digs at recent American foreign policy anchor the themes: “When people are sitting on shit that you want you make them your enemies, then you can justify taking it from them,” Jake says in disgust.

Cameron was canny enough to cock a snook at naysayers by having oily RDA chief Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) dismiss the Na’vi as blue space monkeys.” Although he should have dropped the “Unobtainium” reference to the resource they are after from under the Na’vi’s Hometree. Although this is a valid scientific term for any extremely rare, costly, or impossible material, or device needed to fulfill a given design for a given application, to the uninitiated, it sounds ludicrous. He should have just had them refer to a rare high temperature super-conductive mineral found only on Pandora with vital use for Earth technology. The strong super-conductivity and magnetic properties unique to Pandora’s creation also account for the floating rock formations.

If the tree-hugging element isn’t to your taste, there are always the awesome battle scenes and bad guy to root for. In the spectacular climax, the RDA forces mobilise on the ground and in the air to “bomb the Na’vi Tree Of Souls back to the stone age”. A punch the air moment occurs when the Na’vi seem beaten, but Jake’s appeal to bio-spirit Eywa pays off. Suddenly a herd of massive Hammerheads stampede the RDA troops, and Banshees (winged dragon-like creatures the Na’vi ride) join the fray, ripping troops from gunships.

avatar 2

Lang’s Quaritch is a great villain, a powerful ego and body who tests himself daily in this most dangerous environment, that scarred him on his first day. Capable of holding his breath without a respirator while loosing off rounds against Jake and his absconding human friends earlier. “There’s no character arc with him, “ said Lang. “He doesn’t change as  the movie goes on; he only intensifies.” Like jumping via AMP Suit from his crashing, burning Dragon gun platform. Forget Conan punching out a camel, here Quaritch (via Amp Suit assist!) punches a Thanator. He sees the Avatar program as an aberration, of value only when Jake initially passes him intel. That’s why the fight between them is personal – he offered Jake a sweet deal to get his legs fixed up, and feels betrayed, insulted. He pulls Jake towards him, wanting to dispatch him by his own hand. “Nothin’s over while I’m breathin!” Their fight is a clever reversal of the powerloader / Alien Queen fight in Cameron’s Aliens – this time the mechanised human is the alien.

avatar 1

But it’s not Jake who kills him, it’s Naytiri. Riding a Thanator into battle, she is a powerful warrior in her own right. The final shot of the film mirrors the opening, this time Jake’s Na’vi eyes snap open – he has cast aside his human form, mind and spirit now fully united with  his Avatar body. He has finally moved beyond his broken, sullied state, to become more enlightened, in harmony with Pandora, Eywa, Naytiri, and himself.

Originally posted 2013-06-05 22:09:24. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Read and post comments on this article