We were a little late getting on the Avatar bandwagon in our family. My husband and two sons, ages 13 and 16, finally went to see it on New Year’s Eve. Wow! We were all blown away. We haven’t been this impressed with a nearly three-hour film since The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The story that James Cameron has written is, in my opinion, on a par with the writing of Tolkien as fantasy fiction. However, the Na’vi, the humanoid aliens who inhabit the idyllic planet Pandora, are the opposite of Hobbits as they tower over the humans at an average of three meters in height. They are more akin to the Elves for their gracefulness, agility, slender build, and excellent archery skills. Tolkien would have felt at home in this pre-industrial society that embraces all life as sacred and for which trees are alive with spiritual energy, all of it threatened by greed for the sought after mineral that lies under the trees and in danger of annihilation from the military machine.
The planet is visually stunning in 3D. The vegetation is painted with vibrant iridescent hues and many even glow in the dark. Plants that resemble the pre-historic ferns of our earth seem familiar alongside fields of mushroom-like plants that shrink up when touched. Creatures bear resemblance to those of earth’s primitive ages from sabre tooth cat-like creatures to a kind of hammer-head rhino that proves to be useful as a battering ram in the final scenes of the film. The coolest creatures are the flying ones, Banshees, dragon like creatures bonded for life with their riders.
Cameron said he gave the aliens cat-like features because cats are likeable creatures but there is also a sense of an African heritage to the alien race. When they speak english they have a distinctly Caribbean accent, which works with their sort of Rastafarian hairstyles.
Ancient religious beliefs are infused into the spirituality of the Na’vi. One can recognize at least three belief systems with which we are familiar and others with more time and education in this topic will find more, I am sure. But clearly Cameron borrowed from Native American, Asian, Pagan and Christian themes to create the foundation of this alien society. Reverence for the life gift of the animal killed for food, the environment as mother figure, a female deity, drawing upon the collective strength of ancestors who live on in the trees, the appearance of a prophetic figure to save them, and a kind of reincarnation – some would say resurrection – are all depicted here.
The only criticism I have is that the PG-13 rating did not reflect the strong language and intensity of the drama and violence. While we didn’t see blood spurting everywhere, we did see plenty of people get impaled in various ways, and we watched the slaughter of the Na’vi as the military attacked The Hometree with poisonous gas and fire bombs. I was particularly struck with the grieving of the Na’vi – gut wrenching cries of mourning for the loss of their home – their source of life – and for their family members. A Disney movie this was not.
But for grown ups, and teens who can handle it, this is a film to watch again on DVD and engage in conversations about how its lessons, if heeded, could make an impact for the better. Those discussions will encompass everything from climate change to military aggression to the very local concept of eminent domain.
This film is going to be in my home collection as soon as it comes out on DVD.