Alien worlds fascinates me. They always have. Pandora is the closest we’ve been able to get to that world cinematically. Jim Cameron’s vision delighted me on all levels and was perhaps, the most fun that I’ve had in the theaters wearing dorky 3d glasses.
It’s obvious through his films that the mind of Cameron is a colossal wonderland, full of floating islands, 6-legged horses, brightly-colored pterodactyls, and the blue-skinned, golden-eyed Na’vi. At least this was the latest of Cameron’s dreams to be shared with us… a dream tucked away for more than a decade. In 2005, he revisited the script and agreed that it was time. What emerged? You’ll have to see it to believe it!
THE BEAR BONES
Following the death of his twin brother, a paraplegic marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington; Terminator Salvation), steps into a unique position to continue his brother’s project and travel to the amazing world of Pandora. The mission is for Scully to inhabit a lab-grown-replica body (known as an “Avatar”) of both his twin and of the Pandorian race known as the Na’vi and to infiltrate the tribe and negotiate an exodus, away from an area rich in an Earth-rescuing mineral known as “unobtanium.” Trigger-happy Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) strikes a deal with Sully to gather intel on the Na’vi in return for post-mission spinal surgery. Cheif Administrator Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) wants diplomacy (only because it looks better), and scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver, Aliens) wants to truly understand the biology and hidden mysteries of Pandora. As the Avatar, Jake Sully forms a bond with the Na’vi and must make his choice; stand with his new family, or help the human race blunder Pandoria’s most precious resource.
As a movie-loving public, we’ve seen literally hundreds of movies. In my case, (and as so many others film-nuts) we’ve seen thousands. Themes and scenes, especially the good ones, always stand out. It was apparent to in this film that connections can be made with the following: Dances with Wolves, Last of the Mohicans, The Last Samurai, and even Braveheart. The world of Pandora was a cross between the amazon rainforest and a coral reef. The Na’vi were a cross between native american indians (I don’t mean to lump you all together) and african tribes. The “horses” a cross between a seahorse, and a regular horse – add a pair of legs. The flying creatures of Pandora were pterodactyls with the head of a savannah monitor. But the question we must ask ourselves is “does our knowledge of these traits/similarities take away from the film?” The answer is “no friggin’ way.”
It was explained to me a long time ago, that there is very little in the world that we would fail to assign complete uniqueness to. To this theory, I agree. Many years ago, when phones were the size of a Tom Clancy hardback we watched in awe as Kirk and Spock had what looked to be my first Motorola flip-top cellphone. That debuted in 1966! From then on we become desensitized to technology and even of artistic creations (to some point). Had Cameron and his visual artists created creatures, machines and contraptions without a likeness to images of our time, our minds would be quite likely to reject it. For Avatar, a thin line had to be threaded in order to lock our collective minds into a state of belief and wonderment. Cameron performed like a surgical Annie Oakley due to his experience, years in film and the fact that his body is made of 60%water and 40% of awesome!
Do you want to know why there are no more Jim Cameron’s in the world? I’ll tell you why! Answer: Because he’s a nerdy woman in the body of a good-looking man. He’s a tree-hugging, technology-embracing, liberal – not just for alien rights but for universal equality. It’s a widely-known fact that most powerful men place other powerful men as heroic characters in their stories. Cameron simply changes the gender and leaves the balls. Sigourney became the first of Hollywood’s top heroines by way of her role in Alien, and as if she were acquiring more balls along the way, Aliens (the sequel). Aliens even had Jenette Goldstein playing the toughest female marine in cinema history as Lt. Vasquez. (Note the enormous similarity of Goldstein to Avatar’s Michelle Rodriquez) … Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in both Terminator 1 & 2. (She was so bad-ass in T2, that Jim married her!) Even Kate Winslet’s role in Titanic can be seen as unsteriotypically masculine… just in the bold, strong, take charge way… not in the “I bust a cap in alien asses”-type way (obviously!). Now… we have Zoe Saldana (Star Trek), playing Neytiri, the warrior princess of the Omaticaya Clan. Blue, fierce and dead sexy! I remember as a kid I had a crush on Betty Rubble of the Flintstones (yes, the cartoon version), but if the 10 year old in me where to react hormonally (after seeing Neytiri) he’d run out into the woods, risking an arrow of neurotoxic death.
Before viewing Avatar, I had (and still have) some reservations on the use of CGI. Call me old-school (again), but motion capturing, CGI and the lot can never truly portray what an actor or actress can do. Recreation is not creation. CGI gives control and is cost effective but can only be a reflection and a refraction of what a performer creates. E.T. was more-or-less a sock puppet, but was as real to me today as it was when I was a kid. The creations of Avatar will always stay with me. Not just because Earth is “played out” and I want to move to Pandora, but because the CGI realism of Avatar finally hit the mark of believability. What is key is that we put this technology in the hands of skilled samurai (i.e. James Cameron, Peter Jackson) and not in baby, knife-wielding hacks (i.e. Michael Bay).
I agree 95.8% with my fellow critic, Colin (read his Avatar review at: Cineaste John) when he says,
“I felt like I was on the same emotional journey as Jake Sully. I felt for the Na’vi. I felt for Hometree and the Omaticaya. I felt that the true struggle for Jake Sully, a born-and-bread Marine, suddenly feeling like everything he once knew and was trained to be was savage and inhumane. Avatar was everything I’d hoped it to be and more.”
It wasn’t a far leap for me (being skinny, tall and good-looking in blue)… but Avatar will always be a film that I feel connected to – for its messages of environmental responsibility, diplomacy, and the fact that it’s far less cool to be human. At least we can dream. For the less and unimaginative folk, Cameron holds us up to the viewfinder… and what an awe-inspiring view it is.
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