Friday, February 5, 2010

Movie Review: Avatar

Though I hope my semi-retirement changes this for the better, for a variety of reasons I haven't gone to see as many movies as I'd like. The upside of this is that I get to wait for the DVD to come out, and can see the same film for a fraction of the cost. The downside is that I'm often behind the times, when it comes to talking about current movies.

There are, however, several movies I insist on seeing the theater...on a big screen. One of them was Avatar, the newest movie by Titanic director James Cameron. Still, with all the hype and hoopla surrounding the film, my wife and I waited until the crowds had died down a bit, and went to see an early show. The movie was well worth the wait.

To call the visual imagery stunning really doesn't do the film justice. The world created --- a moon orbiting a large, Jupiter-sized planet, and chock-full of a mineral that Earth craves desperately --- was lush and filled with energy. The scenery --- a thick jungle filled with life that glowed in the dark (at least, to the eyes of the natives) --- was a seamless blend of fantasy and reality. The story, told largely from the perspective of the alien natives, drew the viewer into a rich world, filled with a spiritual connection between all living things. The humans (the villains of the piece) were shown divided between the truth-seekers (the band of nerdy scientists running the "Avatar" project) and the militaristic head-bonkers, enlisted in the service of the ruthless corporate pursuit of wealth.

Though notworthy most for the stunning visual effects, the story, though somewhat simplistic, was never a distraction. There were a few holes in the storyline, that an alert viewer could pick apart by thinking too much. And the alien culture created was perhaps a bit too close to the Native Americans for those looking for a non-human look at the Universe around us. But the net effect was to create a world where Nature, trying simply to exist, confronts a soul-less human culture consumed by the pursuit of riches; in the end, Nature proves victorious, though a cynical viewer might wonder how long the victory would last, given the limitless wealth that Nature could provide to those willing to sell their souls to exploit it.

Many of the common criticisms of the movie struck me as rather silly: for example, the movie is in no way the "racist" view of Creation some issue-mongers insist. The method chosen to draw the human audience into the alien world --- the insertion of a crippled human who finds himself made whole by merging himself into the Na'vi world of Nature --- seemed natural, almost organic. Their world of Pandora, in which Nature envelopes those living within it, breathes life into the concept of "The Force" from Star Wars, by showing Nature living in balance, with the Na'vi surrounded by its bounties and beauty. Those denoucing it as a display of pagan pantheism seem to forget that there are different ways of looking at the world than through the eyes of Western Christians. And though its anti-war message is a constant theme throughout the movie, it is hardly the mindless "peacenik-tree hugger" movie that some of its more conservative critics contend. Instead it poses, in starkly beautiful fashion, the dilemma faced by Modern Man: what do we gain by subduing Nature, if we lose its bounty in the process?

Still, being a work of art crafted by human hands, the movie was not without its flaws. Lost in translation was the fact that, in its own way, the Na'vi culture was just as warlike as our own, only more primitive. Though obviously intelligent, they seemed to overlook the obvious superiority of the Earthers' weaponry in their initial response to our attacks, and their strategy and tactics --- flying wildly at the invaders, and hoping for the best --- would have come to disaster if Nature (having been summoned by the hero at a place called the Tree of Souls, where the Na'vi would commune with their deity, Eywa, an apparent blend of Mother Earth and the Yaweh of the Old Testament) hadn't come riding to the rescue in the nick of time.

Still, the flaws all pale in the glow of the spectacle, and the nitpickers really need to look beyond their own noses once in a while. The movie was stunning and often moving, enticing the viewer into a world of beauty and danger and rewarding anyone with a sense of adventure with a captivating tale of love and redemption.

RATING: Five Stars

JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a veteran public prosecutor in Detroit, Michigan, specializes in the appellate practice of criminal law and writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the science fiction adventure novel The Star Dancers, the exciting second volume in the Guardians of Peace-tm series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.

1 comment:

DRT said...

Hi Jeff,

I'm very torn about Avatar. For me the 3D experience left me with a queasy feeling in my stomach for the entire length of the movie. Needless to say that made it seem like a very long movie! The visuals were incredible, the story was so-so, but add that to nausea and you don't get the best mix! I hope to see it in 2D on DVD sometime in the near future and see if that improves my impression of the movie.

Joe McDermott