Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I don't normally do movie reviews. But hell, it's my blog, and I'll write what I want.

I just saw the movie, Avatar. It was my gift to myself for finishing my last final exam. And yes, the movie is everything you've heard, and more. A film actually lived up to the hype. For once.

The one thing I'd heard about it was that it was similar to Dances With Wolves. And there are certainly obvious parallels with that story, as well as with the story of the holocaust of the American Indians. But what really struck me was how similar it was to lots of other movies we've seen before. Signourney Weaver plays a key role, except this time she's the alien who's invading a host body. Certainly her character is the same sort of hardass eco-friendly role she had when she starred in Gorillas in the Mist. And the mechanized robot machines which every Japanese Anime has used to make mere humans into supermen are eerily similar to the forklift robot that Ripley piloted in Alien 2, as well as those featured in The Matrix: Revolutions. The helicopter gunships are the twin-hooped, double-bladed VTOL variety that was seen in the movie The Incredibles on Syndrome's island, and the colorful jungle creatures that double as beasts to be ridden upon for recreation and war are a step up from the ones we saw in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. But really this is the same sort of tree-hugging love-thy-nature sort of plot that pits the machines of industry versus the serenity of nature. We've seen this before in movies like The Emerald Forest, Medicine Man, or Ferngully, The Last Rainforest. (Rubbish, all that. The "noble savage" is as much a myth as the superiority of civilization.) Plus, the plot centers upon the mining of a precious mineral (which the natives naturally happen to live right on top of) which is unforgivably called unobtanium -- a name which has always been a joke, even before it was used as the incredibly heat-resistant metal necessary to the plot of The Core, one of the worst sci-fi films of all time. (Come on! If you're gonna literally steal a plot element, at least have it be something respectable, like dilithium!)

Oh yes, and the alien planet this takes place on is called Pandora. Guess which box gets opened?

That being the case, this movie also goes places no other movie has gone before. First, it's amazing eye-candy! Not since TRON has there been this much neon light-show during a film. The flowers and mosses glow in the dark, and even the mushrooms light up if you touch them. The natives are ten-foot-tall, blue-skinned, elf-like lupine creatures who have powers of agility, vision, hearing and smelling which make the human world pale by comparison. They are humanoid, and so are simultaneously sexy yet eerie. Their hair is not just hair, but fibrous neural tissue that works almost like a USB port, allowing them to "plug in" to things like plants and animals. And here lies the crux of the plot, and the source of the film's name. Humans have figured out a way to interface an alien host body with a human mind. A human can, if genetically compatible, essentially interface into the alien host body's mind through something almost akin to a WiFi/DSL link, like something combining The Matrix with Invasion of the Body Snatchers. In fact, if you unplug the human (as happens several times during the film), the alien body simply goes limp. These alien bodies with human minds are called Avatars, and the general idea is for humans to use these alien shapes to establish friendly relations with the natives, study their culture, bring them civilization, and teach them English. Add to this a paraplegic soldier who's scientist of a twin brother got killed before he could use his Avatar. As such, the soldier gets a second chance to have his legs again by using the Avatar which was once assigned to his brother, despite his lack of academic training.

Well, by now, you can see the plot coming a mile away, so there's no harm in my spoiling anything -- it's completely telescoped. The crippled soldier gets lost in the woods, encounters the natives, lucks out in winning their favor, and is taken in to learn their ways and their culture. His teacher is the tribal princess, so you just know she ends up falling for him in a classic Romeo and Juliet rip off, and that sets the stage for the hurt and betrayal of it being discovered that his mission was to be on the inside and help plan for a military op all along. Naturally, he has a change of heart and a pang of conscience, and ends up fighting for the natives.

But perhaps the oddest thing is that there is a spiritual aspect to the story. The roots of all the plants and trees are networked through the roots, and since animals can interface with them, the planet is essentially one gigantic world-wide-web. It's hub is a grove where a willow-like tree dangles its glowing branches down, allowing people to interface with it, hear their ancestors through it, or even talk to it. The name for this dendritic deity is Eywa, a short-name which immediately calls Gaia to mind. And at one point, the soldier-turned-hero even prays to Her for a miracle in the forthcoming battle, saying, "The Sky People [humans] have no green on their world. They killed their mother." (Preachy! Can anyone say Pocahontas?) Whether this counts as an actual deity or some sort of Theodessic, Terrestrial Pantheism, I'll leave to the interpretation of the viewer.

One thing that isn't subject to interpretation: It's a damn good movie! Go see it!


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