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Avatar (2009)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

Is the film worth your time?

To a large degree, the environmental morality play contained in Avatar is painted in broad and simple strokes. Still, there is something compelling in the film’s embodiment of connection to and respect for the land. In Avatar, common stereotypes are served-up fully baked: The capitalist is money-hungry, goal-oriented, and uncaring, the military general sees little more than gunfire-based solutions, the peace-lovers have precious little time to preserve the peace, and so on. This would be enough to place the film low on one’s watch list except for the power and tenderness with which the film portrays the Na’vi peoples’ relationship with the natural world — not to mention the sheer beauty with which their world is portrayed.

The Na’vi mourn the unnecessary death of an animal predator. With the animals they ride, they seek a partnership-bond (represented explicitly by a physical connection) rather than a brute-force taming. They live within the dynamics of their rain forest environment rather than chopping it to their desire. The film’s plot comfortably takes us, together with the main protagonist, through a process of learning — and feeling — their ways with the land. We’re the better for it — if we don’t let the stereotypes get in the way. And, if we’re honest, there is even something of ourselves to see reflected in the stereotypes, particularly our tendency to place our own agendas as higher priorities over and against understanding and learning from others.

We also needn’t let the film’s spiritual content get in the way. Though Na’vi spirituality and mythology is not to be confused with Christian theology, we can be strengthened by seeing and feeling how Na’vi ways drive toward compassion, justice, honor, and even monogamy. Understanding the Na’vi may help us to better love and relate to those around us of other belief systems. Thus, Avatar is, on balance, worth watching, particularly if you’re in need of a bit of environmental or religious sensitivity. See it in 3D if you can — it is exceptionally well done.

Jake Sully is a paraplegic ex-marine. He takes up a position as a replacement for his twin brother on a secret mission to the distant world of Pandora. The mission turns out to be a diplomatic one — to gain the trust of the Na’vi people and put them on friendly terms with the earthlings — with an ulterior motive. The earthlings want the Na’vi to move off their homeland so the earthlings can clear it for mining minerals. Jake’s all for it — until he gets close enough to understand the Na’vi and their ways. Running time: 162 min.

Avatar contains intense battle sequences with plenty of gunfire, although there is little gore. The Na’vi wear only loin clothes, although the color and pattern of their skin mutes the impact of this by making it appear as though they wear skin-tight clothing. Some viewers may be troubled by the nature-worship overtones and ritualistic ceremonies of the Na’vi.

  • Director: James Cameron
  • Screenplay: James Cameron
  • Leads: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Joel Moore, Giovanni Ribisi
  • Cinematography: Mauro Fiore
  • Music: James Horner

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