There are moments in “Avatar” that you want to say, “You got to be kidding me.” What James Cameron does in his storytelling is so broad you wonder if he is trying to make fun of the audience. Then you realize that what is being said is not so much story as it is myth.
The story begins with a ship traveling through space. The people aboard are on their way to Pandora, a moon that contains an element called “Unobtainium.” The earth is now devoid of natural resources because humans have used them up. This element is the one thing that makes the earth now run.
We meet Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), an ex-Marine in a wheelchair. Since this is more than 150 years in future, surely there is something that can be done for someone like him. While surgery exists to repair spinal injuries, one must have the money to pay. Money and greed are still a big part of the future.
Sully goes to Pandora to replace his dead twin brother. His brother was to be part of the avatar program that allows humans to become like the Na’Vi, the blue-skinned inhabitants of Pandora, in order to win the “hearts and minds” of the aliens.
Taking on the body of another, even if it is an alien, is liberating to Sully. He can run and do things he cannot in his wheelchair.
While in the avatar body, he is met by one of the aliens, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who is the daughter of the chief of the people. She tells Sully that he makes too much noise as he moves in the junglelike terrain, which attracts unwanted attention from the animals. Yet Sully persists in following Neytiri. As time passes, Sully becomes part of the tribe and learns their ways.
This is good intelligence for Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang). He is in charge of the military forces on Pandora that see to it the element is harvested. No government is doing this work. It is a large corporation with stockholders looking for a profit. For Quaritch, Sully is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a doorway to attack the Na’Vi people.
The only voice of reason is Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), who heads up the avatar program. She knows the corporation harvests the element only for a profit without any other concern. All this sets up a collision course for them all.
Cameron paints the screen with beautiful but broad strokes. The movie is a joyous celebration of technology’s amazing pallet, and the broad strokes are related to the story.
What Cameron does here is create a myth about the evils of greed and the unbridled desire to take whatever one wants in the name of progress and profit.
He uses familiar themes. One of the sayings of the Na’Vi is that people must be born twice, which sounds like being born again. There is also a belief that the humans are the “sky people” who come down to them. Sully is the “sky person” who takes on their form and dwells among them.
There is also lots of indigenous theology about how the people are connected to the land. To prevent the humans from running roughshod over Pandora, it’s said that the land and trees are interconnected and taking the element disrupts the flow of energy.
This is a wondrous movie. If you see it and can stand to view it in this format, please see it in 3-D. It is one of those movies that is worth the extra three dollars to see.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
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.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.