"AVATAR" or the Blue Goodies

“Avatar,” written and directed by James Cameron, starring Sam Worthington and Signoury Weaver, and Zoe Saldana.

“Titanic” director James Cameron threw elements from a few CGI animated sci-fi/ fantasy/action films into “Avatar,” his latest multi-million dollar vehicle. There’s “Jurassic Park,” “Transformer,” “Starship Troopers,” “Eragon,”, “Lord of the Rings,” and even a Disney/Pixar film or two where warring creatures of the forest/jungle amass to save the good guys. It’s obvious from the start that Cameron meant for “Avatar” to speak against US exploitation of indigenous peoples and their lands for their natural resources. His bias against the military is also evident throughout.

It’s 2154 and the Earth has been destroyed due to excess, climate change, and disease. The US discovers a mineral, Unobtainium, not available on Earth, on the moon Pandora, that will heal it. A space station hovers over Pandora, replete with scientists conducting experiments, headed by cigarette-smoking Grace, played by Signoury Weaver, and Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), a geeky, fanatic, project manager. The mining and exploration of Pandora is backed by the military - - in this case ex-Marines and paramilitary units - - with all their air- and gun-ships. Steven Lang is the top military operations commander, Colonel Miles Quaritch, who refers to his men as “meat.” Michelle Rodriguez has an instrumental role as pilot Trudy Chacon. We see shots of huge mining operations, with workers wearing oxygen masks, on a scale seen in coal and iron ore mining here in the US, taking place on Pandora. Monstrous dump trucks with wheels the size of ten story buildings rumble down sliced-off mountaintops, on barren terraced areas.

There’s no oxygen on Pandora, so in order to explore, scope out the situation, and befriend the beautiful, ten-foot tall, dreadlock, bead, and braid-wearing Na’vi natives, human scouts must become Na’vi avatars. Transforming into an avatar is accomplished by climbing into a cyro tank which is hooked up to lots of wires and tubes to another tank containing a Na’vi body, once your human DNA is mixed with Na’vi, you then control it with your thoughts, while you remain in the tank. Your avatar is then transported to Pandora. If things start to go wrong, a scientist can just push a red “kill” button to wake you up. Sam Worthington plays Jake Sully, a Marine who’d lost his legs in the latest war. His brother had been killed in action and he wants to do right by him, so signs up to go to the space station to become an avatar. Someone jokes, as he rolls in on his wheelchair, “Oh, boy, meals on wheels.” He is told that they are on Pandora to “win [the natives’] hearts and minds” and convince them that we mean them no harm, words that could have come directly from the mouth of General Petreus, McChrystal and those before them.

Once on Pandora, Grace, and her assistant, Norm (Joel Moore), as avatars themselves, guide avatar Jake through a colorful jungle wonderland of strange plants and animals. Jake, making full use of his new legs and body, takes off on his own and disappears. Night is falling. Concerned, Grace and Norm decide to leave him there. Here’s where I sensed a plot loophole - - Couldn’t they have told someone on the space station to push the red button? But no, if Jake is worth his salt, he’ll be fine and Cameron’s story will move forward. In a dramatic scene, Jake meets a female Na’vi (who looks like a blue Angelina Jolie), Neyriti (Zoe Saldana). She brings him home to tribal leaders, Mom and Dad (Wes Studi: immediately recognizable voice). Their ways are identical to those of Native Americans and other indigenous peoples who’ve lived off the land for centuries and feel a deep spiritual connection with their land and all living beings. Jake soon comes to think that the Na’vi world is the true world and his world is built on lies. He begins questioning Selfridge’s and Quaritch’s motives; he is derided for “going native” because he got a “piece of Na’vi tail.” Quaritch is determined to get rid of “the fly-bitten savages.” Still, Jake is a Marine and must do what he was trained to do - - until . . .

An ancestral, spiritual, tree of life is threatened as it sits on the largest deposit of the mineral. Jake has failed to convince the Na’vi to move to another site, so Quaritch barks his orders. The Na’vi and all the mythical beasts and birds of the jungle retaliate, including dragons piloted by Na’vi. When Chacon in her airship sees she is killing innocent people, she echoes what many American soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have said, openly, “This is not what I signed up for.”

This is a film with strong pro-environment, anti-war, anti-imperialism messages that I trust will not be lost on audiences who went to see it for its gorgeous animation; imaginative, sci-fi story; its inventiveness, and its out-of-this-world (no pun intended) 3D effects.

This review has been published in an abriged form in the January issue of "Socialist Action News" www.socialistaction.org