Mesmerized by Avatar
February 28, 2010
By Mary Vuk Sussman
I admit to having been a holdout. I didn’t want to see Avatar because I am neither a science fiction/science fantasy buff nor a dedicated follower of the latest in film technology. But I saw it anyway, not so long ago, in a nearly deserted theater on Super Bowl Sunday (dare I admit to that, too?), donning my 3D specs with a bit of Missourian show-me defiance. And, yes, I was mesmerized and mystified and had little difficulty buying into this fabulously sensual and beautiful film directed by James Cameron.
Former Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair. Sully regains use of his legs, and then some, when he agrees to participate in a bizarre experiment in which his DNA is mixed with alien Na’vi DNA and steps into his hybrid avatar body. The avatar body is controlled remotely by Jake’s human self but the avatar looks like a Na’vi, the indigenous species of Pandora, a distant moon. The hybrid can survive in the rare Pandoran atmosphere that is toxic to humans. When the human “controller” “sleeps” in what looks like a tanning bed, his avatar is active in Pandora.
Pandora is home to a rare mineral, unobtanium, coveted by the humans, who are prepared to destroy the Na’vi, kill the fauna, and defoliate the flora of Pandora to realize their avaricious ends. It is strict scorched-Pandora policy. Greedy humans are rubbing their hands together while waiting in the wings to claim the spoils. Paraplegic Sully is supposed to be a pawn in their game. He is a gung-ho ex-Marine who will be brave and loyal and serve as a good infiltrator in his avatar body, helping the fanatical corporate/militarist/nihilists realize their nefarious goals.
The animation is stupendous and seamless. The landscape is eye-poppingly dramatic and the viewer goes flying on a breathtaking and exhilarating visual adventure.
Pandora is a lush land of forests and floating mountains, filled with Na’vi and the most amazing wild animals ever seen. We learn to love the Na’vi and their Edenic forest primeval as Sully adopts their ways while under the tutelage of Neytiri (Zoë Saldana), a beautiful Na’vi woman tasked with making a proper Na’vi man out of avatar Jake, who acts like an oafish and ignorant human at the outset.
The cultural and sentimental education of Jake eventually gives way to an epic battle between the forces of good and evil, which tug and pull on Jake’s human/avatar selves, forcing him to make ethical choices.
The blue Na’vi beguile with beauty, sincerity, and sensitivity. They also exude a wholesome sensuality and have Herculean strength. The over-civilized and over-armed earthlings have hearts of stone and seem to have more bombs than brains.
The movie explores a number of high-minded themes, sometimes without much nuance. Such criticism, however, does not count for much because once you enter the world of this extravagantly imaginative film you are engulfed by its tsunamic power and a willing suspension of disbelief overrides such objections.
It is not surprising that a few vocabulary words acquired during the recent Iraq war enter the script. The war is on our minds and director Cameron’s as well. No surprise either that Avatar has been nominated for nine Oscars. It’s just one of those movies that will be praised, remembered, and re-viewed often. The Oscars ceremony is March 7.
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