Saturday, January 02, 2010

Who am I?

Hubs and I saw Avatar last night in 3D. Wow.

Here's the basic plot line:
Jake Sully's twin brother, a PhD with dreams of space exploration, dies shortly before "shipping out" to explore Pandora, a remote new planet. Because Jake (a former Marine who's now a paraplegic) shares identical DNA to his brother, he's the perfect replacement for him on this particular space mission. Why? Pandora's atmosphere is toxic to humans. It is, however, inhabited by a humanoid race, called the Na'vi. In order to enable humans to operate in the planet's atmosphere, the government invests millions of dollars in an avatar program. The program creates alien bodies, which contain both alien and human DNA, so that human "drivers," who can link only to their customized avatar, can move freely on Pandora's surface.

Because Jake's DNA is identical to his brother's, he is the only person who can help the government recoup on the investment they've made in his brother's avatar. Only Jake can control this particular avatar body.

So, Jake ships out. He enjoys inhabiting his avatar, particularly because when he does so, he can regain the use of his legs. On his first scientific mission into the Pandora's dense jungles, he gets separated from his group. He is found (and saved) by Neytiri, who is the next spiritual leader of her Na'vi tribe. He is adopted, in a way, by the alien race, gaining their trust.

There are, however, darker forces at work. Humans are only on Pandora because they are in search of a rare substance which is key to solving Earth's energy crisis. And where is the largest deposit of said substance? Lurking underground, directly beneath the Na'vi home place.

As Jake becomes more and more enmeshed in the world of the Na'vi, he begins to doubt his mission on Pandora. He begins to wonder who he is really fighting for.

This movie is a technical wonder. Pandora is a gorgeous, brilliantly-delineated world. Bright colors, majestic vistas, imaginative animals and humanoids, it was truly beautiful to look at. As I mentioned before, hubs and I saw it in 3D. I really did feel that Cameron sprinkled 3D gems throughout, so I didn't leave the theatre feeling as if I'd paid extra and worn those stupid glasses for nothing.

Though the film has an environmental message, I didn't feel as if it was a "message film." It didn't feel too heavy-handed or preachy. Like most Cameron films, this movie is about plot and effects. As usual, Cameron does not disappoint. The movie is 2 1/2 hours, but doesn't feel too long at all. There is plenty of action, plenty to see. You get your money's worth with this one.

In the end, the movie is about identity. The word "avatar" is loaded - an alternate identity controlled by a user, a continuing version of the same entity, an incarnation of a Hindu deity, etc. Jake is a twin, so there are already some identity issues there. Twins grow up with more of a need to establish themselves as an individual than most people. And then Jake, who is a Marine, has to let go of that identity when he is injured. Later, he is summarily inserted into the Pandora mission as a substitute for his brother. Then, he establishes the identity of his avatar. As the film progresses, Jake begins to wonder who he really is. Though there are a lot of bells and whistles - effects, aliens, battles - the true story of the movie is Jake's discovery of self.

The only shortcoming in the movie, I felt, was a lack of character development on the "villain" side. Cameron is not known for creating films with complex characters. It's pretty much good vs. evil, cut and dried. I thought this film would have benefited from a touch more development on WHY the alien substance was so vital to the humans, what was at stake for them (besides just money). Ultimately, that would have made the entire film more complex. (As I mentioned before, though, Cameron is not known for doing this. His films are plot and effects masterpieces, not character studies.)

Regardless, that's a fairly small gripe, considering how much I enjoyed the movie. Do not miss this. Get to the theatre and see it in 3D. It's one of those movies that deserves the big-screen treatment.

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