Moviegoers looking for deep meaning will likely be disappointed; this story has been told a thousand times in a hundred ways: underdogs win the day. Sam Worthington plays Jake Scully, a paraplegic, ex-Marine who, upon the death of his identical twin brother, finds himself on a five light-year mission from earth as part of a diplomatic effort. Diplomacy was needed on the distant planet of Pandora, where an abundance of “Unobtainium” (or that’s what it sounded like they were saying) is needed to power Earth which has been stripped of her own natural resources. A few humans had “avatars” developed which mixed their own DNA with that of the host race, the Na’vi, then, through a cerebral link, a la “The Matrix,” the human is able to control their avatar in the toxic atmosphere of Pandora.
Trained by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver, Alien Series), for working with his avatar, Scully is simultaneously recruited by the corporate security chief, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang, Public Enemies), to infiltrate the Na’vi and attempt to move them from their dwelling place, Hometree, underneath which lies the largest deposit of Unobtainium for “200 cliques.” Predictably, Scully falls in love with one of the natives, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek), and ends up rallying the troops to fight the invading bulldozers, tractors and other pillaging equipment.
The Na’vi themselves are twelve or so feet tall with long tails, carbon fiber skin and feline agility. In fact, they look like the cross-bred offspring of a jamboree of jaguars with The Blue Man Group. Culturally, they are African complete with Shamans, communication with dead ancestors, bows and arrows, adulthood rituals and loin cloths. Similar to Tolkein’s Elvish language for LOTR, an entire language system was developed for the Na’vi and it sounds like an African dialect. At its core the Na’vi could be any people whose land has ever been taken by a stronger people and exploited for the availability of some natural resource, whether that be the land itself (the American Indians), oil (Nigeria) or diamonds (Sierra Leone).
Generally the movie is anti-imperialistic and pro-environment; be forewarned, when you see the ultra-lush, spectacularly rendered vistas of Pandora, you’ll be pro-environment, too. Otherwise the human acting is nothing outstanding (other than Lang, who is the best of the bunch) and the storyline was obviously a vehicle for the special effects, rather than the effects carrying the story.
Also, I think it important to note that there is a very heavy pantheistic bent and open promotion of goddess worship. This is not an undertone; it makes up the central spiritual thread of the movie. Though Cameron may not believe these things himself, their presence mitigates against any real biblically redemptive quality.
(Lang is a largely under appreciated actor having played Stonewall Jackson in Gods and Generals but is better known for a significant part in one of the most quoted movies of the 1990’s. See if you can figure it out by his voice and features. I’ll put it on the first comment, so don’t look if you don’t want to know.)
Avatar, from 20th Century Fox, is rated PG-13 for language, violence, and scant CGI clothing on some most Na’vi.