I saw James Cameron’s latest 3D blockbuster, “Avatar” yesterday, at a screening at The Director’s Guild in New York. The Director’s Guild theater is large and comfy, but not too large. It’s got all the bells and whistles insofar as screen, projection, and audio are concerned; always screens a perfect print; always hosts an informed audience; and is free to all members. So it was the perfect opportunity to see this much hyped, long in the making spectacular.
The story is rather juvenile, although that is beside the point. Knowing the plot won’t ruin the film for anyone. The story takes place in the future, on a distant planet, where a mining consortium is digging for a mineral that’s worth untold gazillions. Because the human-like indigenous folks object to the legions of humongous bulldozers ripping up their planet, there is a military contingent accompanying the miners. This is a mercenary group, much like The Blackhawk Corp. armed with all the latest technology, and populated with highly trained killers. There’s also a small scientific unit in this operation, that runs a program, utilizing creatures called Avatars. These are the bodies of the local population (that I guess are created by cloning the local’s DNA), that are somehow controlled by Earthlings who are ‘linked’ to the bodies via lying in an enclosed coffin-like container that contains some sort of mental teleporting equipment. The idea behind this operation is for the Avatars to befriend the locals (called Na’Vi) and convince them to allow their world to be destroyed in the interest of capital profit.
The star of the film is an ex-Marine, who is a paraplegic, having been shot in the spine during an earlier war. This guy has a twin brother, or I should say, had a twin brother (the twin has recently died) who was a scientist, and was supposed to slip off to become an Avatar controller. Because the ex-Marine has the same DNA as his dead brother, he is the only one who can operate the teleporting unit that was built for his brother. The fact that he’s not trained for the scientific, or sociological aspects of the job, are outweighed by the cost saving aspects. His lack of mobility doesn’t matter, because he only has to lay in his coffin in order to inhabit his Avatar.
The film depicts the Na’Vi as lovers of all life, who see all life on their world as interconnected. The Earth contingent (with the exception of the scientists) as depicted as racists and greedy capitalists, who have no qualms about destroying anyone or anything who gets in the way of making a buck.
To cut to the chase: The ex-Marine falls in love with a Na’Vi princess, and the Na’Vi way of life. He leads them in their fight to save their world, turning against his own species. Luckily he’s able to live inside his Avatar/Na’Vi body, so he can live happily ever after.
The film was a visual treat. Cameron created a drop dead gorgeous world. The Na’Vi and all the other creatures were beautifully realized. The 3D was superb. Even the 3D glasses were cool. Dramatically, Cameron knows how to push all the buttons that make you jump, squirm, or rejoice, and he does it well. So I sat through the film going through all of the emotional paces, and being totally drawn in to the visual. However, when the film was over, and the credits started to roll through, a nagging thought crept into my mind: Three Hundred and Ten Million Dollars to make this film (plus another One Hundred plus Million bucks to market it). Where was the moral message in that? In the light of all that’s going on in our world; with the very existence of whole nations in peril, by threats that require huge sums of money to defeat; how can the investment of such an immense sum into entertainment, be justified? What kind of hypocrisy is at play, when the message of the film is to save the world from greed, yet the process of creating the message uses up so much of our world’s precious resources?
On the way home, another thought came to mind. The film’s greatest appeal will be to a younger audience. An audience that probably has some sympathy with the film’s message. If the film is successful, it will reach millions and millions of these young people. If, in some way, the film swayed them to be more active in dealing with the existential problems facing our world, and contributed to the creation of a stronger movement, then maybe, just maybe, all of that money would be wisely spent. I just hope that’s what happens.