Sunday, December 20, 2009


On the surface, it would seem that director/writer James Cameron created an entirely new world, complete with an alien species, mysterious creatures, and a foreign language. Many have refuted that fact on Twitter and in the blogosphere, claiming that it's just a rip-off of the barely-seen Delgo, and the 90s childhood favorite FernGully. The truth is, not only is Avatar far more superior in visuals, plot, and dialogue, but what it does copy isn't previously released tales, but history itself.

The Navi, the indigenous people of Pandora, bear a very obvious resemblance to early century Africans, sporting braids/dreds, armed with spears and arrows, painted with tribal markings, and towering at 7ft minimum. One could say that the blue color chosen for the Navi could be in reference to how very dark Africans are referred to as blue-black.

The Americans, who go to Pandora from their dying Earth, are in search of a very expensive mineral that happens to grow underneath a sacred tree that the Navi live in. Their plan is to negotiate relocation for the natives or to force them out, essentially threatening genocide. This isn't the first time Americans have been portrayed as land-stealing or resource-pilfering tyrants, but it is an interesting depiction of the Earth-pilaging actions of humans in general, from conflict-diamond mining to oil digging. Whereas most people might leave the theater agreeing that America is a highly invasive and capitalist nation, what they should leave with is the overarching idea that it has become human nature to take from the Earth without weighing the consequences.

The Navi believe that everything in nature is connected. They can emotionally and physically connect with anything, from a horse-like creature to even a fluorescent willow-like tree using what appear to be neurological chords that extend from within the ends of their long braids. They use these chords to become bonded with creatures, to gain their trust and share their strength. They believe in giving back to the Earth and showing appreciation for its gifts, apologizing to a creature when they kill it for food, and thanking their planet for giving life to a friend as they bury them. They only mourn unnecessary deaths for they understand the Circle of Life and never question the natural course of things.

Since the Navi had interacted with the humans before and tried to teach them the ways of their people, they were resistant to accepting Jake (Sam Worthington). However, once they realized he was a warrior and not a scientist like Dr. Grace (Sigourney Weaver), who although quite civil and respectful of their culture, didn't fully appreciate their spirituality. Because of Jake they were more willing to try to assimilate the humans one last time. They trained him like they would any Navi child who was preparing to "become a man," working his way up to bonding with a Banshee and earning a spear carved from the sacred tree. They taught him their language, which Cameron had a linguistics professor create, and they taught him what it meant to say "I see you," which could be interpreted as their way of saying, "I love you."

Worthington's character was just as compelling as the Navi themselves. He was a Marine forced into retirement after a spinal-cord injury that left him handicap. He agreed to go on this expedition with his twin scientist brother, but his brother was killed before they shipped out. The mining company had an avatar created from the genetic material of his twin, so they figured not only could Jake replace him, but also act as a mercenary and infiltrate the Navi to gain their trust and map-out their headquarters for future invasion.

"The Navi say that every person is born twice—the second time is when you earn your place among the people." I believe that Jake's rebirth occurred in four stages. The first was the first time he connected with his avatar. Having been handicap for so long, I knew he would leap up onto his new feet the moment he regained consciousness, eager to run again and feel the soil between his toes. Considering how many hours the other avatar users needed to log in before being able to even stand, it was as though Jake were a natural. The second stage was when he bonded with his Banshee and participated in the Navi ceremony that was a cross between a Bar Mitzvah and knighthood. It was as though as a crippled person he didn't really feel like a Marine anymore, even though he was hell-bent on proving that he was. Being inducted into the Navi tribe was like joining a new brotherhood and regaining the respect he once had as a soldier. The third stage [MAJOR SPOILER] was when he did what only five other Navi were capable of accomplishing: bonded with the fiercest creature in the sky, the Leonopteryx. When the Navi, who had previously shunned him for his betrayal, realized the honor that he possessed, they could no longer deny his place in their tribe. He was not only a warrior, but a leader. The final stage was when he chose to become a Navi for real on his birthday and transfer his soul from his human body to his avatar, completing his transformation [END OF MAJOR SPOILER].

However, Jake made an interesting observation when he first met his avatar. He said it looked like his twin brother, which prompted his scientist pal Norm (Joel Moore) to point out that that meant it looked like him. I felt like in getting to bond with his brother's avatar, he was also getting to bond with his brother. So in that sense it felt more like Jake was being completed, discovering his other half, rather than being reborn. In the end, when the final battle occurs, he is riding the Leonopteryx in his avatar-form, while toting a machine gun and communicating with his friends through headphones. He combined his Navi warrior training with his Marine training, creating an ultimate soldier.

While the film does address spirituality, it labels it simply as faith and not a specific religion. However, there are remnants of Hinduism, Greek mythology, and Christianity within it. When I initially searched for Avatar in Wikipedia, it gave me the encyclopedia definition, which is a Hindu representation of a holy being that comes from heaven to earth, and is translated into English as an "incarnation." In Greek, Pandora means "giver of all." She was made out of Earth as a punishment to mankind for stealing fire. She's mainly known for releasing all the evils of the world, but she managed to safely lock away Hope and that is exactly what this planet of Pandora possesses. The representation of Christianity is in the Navi's Tree of Life, which not only gives knowledge but provides guidance. [MAJOR SPOILER] When Dr. Grace is wounded, they attempt to transfer her soul into her avatar using the fluorescent roots of the tree. She is adorned in leaves, much like Eve was. You could say as a scientist, she represented the Eve that asked too many questions and sought too much knowledge. Even as she was being brought to this sacred place that no humans were allowed to visit, she told Jake that this would be a perfect opportunity to get samples. You could even say that the reason it didn't work for her and it did for Jake was because he simply did as he was told and did not question the will of their world. He accepted this Garden of Eden and respected the balance of power that it required. [END OF MAJOR SPOILER]

If this film really referenced the tale of Adam and Eve, then I guess you could say the closest thing to a seductive serpent crawling in those woods was Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who made it his mission to take out the Navi. To accomplish it, he went so far as to bribe Jake with the promise of an expensive surgery that would restore his legs, and suggest that in completing this mission, he could once again be considered a real Marine. Forget the fact that Lang is 57 years old—no really you're going to forget—he was seriously badass. Even though you're not supposed to be rooting for him, you can't help but be in awe. Humans can't breathe in Pandora's atmosphere. They have to always use an oxygen mask. But when Jake tried to escape to warn the Navi, the Colonel busted through the command center's door, barked for everyone to put on their masks, held his breath, and shot off like a hundred rounds before a lackey handed him a mask. Oh is that not enough? Okay, when he almost gets blown to bits by a makeshift grenade and his shoulder catches on fire, he just swats away the flames and springs into action. He jumps into a giant robot, takes control of it, and then leaps out of the crashing plane and lands—I shit you not—like the Terminator. Bad-ass!

Of course, he wasn't the most dangerous thing in the jungle. There were a lot of well-drawn creatures lurking. That's the second reason I feel that this film isn't so much completely original, but a mutation of a world we already know. The Tree of Life's seeds looked jellyfish. The Navi's land transportation were eight-legged horses. The largest land creature seemed to be a cross between a hammer-head shark and a rhino. My favorite was actually the panther-like creature that seemed to have a beetle shell. The Navi themselves were also incredibly beautiful, and—I don't know if it's because of the current vampire mania—but I loved that they had long, portruding canine teeth and Nightcrawler-like tails.

I didn't see the film in 3-D or IMAX, but I can sincerely say that Cameron did an impeccable job of bringing you into this world and making you feel like one of the Navi. It was definitely essential for the film to exceed two hours for not only all of the character development to seem complete but for the viewer to become engulfed. The only change that I would suggest off the top of my head is for Michelle Rodriguez to have been put to better use. Zoe Saldana did a great job as the mediator between both races and as the incredible warrior princess Neytiri, but I know Rodriguez has more fight in her than what I saw. She was wasted stuck in a hovercraft and should've been in the land battle, going head-to-head with all of those gun-toting meatheads. Aside from that, I'd say it's a solid-A film that should totally get cinematography props at the Oscars at least.


  1. I'm totally addicted to Avatar. I've seen it 4 times, twice today in IMAX. I can't get enough. The visuals and the love story induce such strong emotions in me that I keep wanting to go back. I have no idea how many times I'm going to see this, but I know I'm not even close to being tired of it. Thanks for letting me vent.

  2. omg i loved this movie sooo much! i watched it last night with not much expectations from it, and was BLOWN AWAY! the twist between a love story and war and fantasy yet reality captured by interest so strongly, i was mesmerized and unable to loook away (not that i would ever want to even look away from the screen) its was everything i love seeing in movies and i was left breathless and wordless and the AWE of the movie. i didnt want it to end. i felt like it could have gone on for 30 hours and i would have sat right there thirsting for more. netiri and jake made the movie have a major purpose and i liked how they fell in love. and Jake turning into Na'vi wa sthe cherry on top of the HUGE AMAZING cake. i hope they dont make a sequel though. because i am perfectly content no, MORE than content with this movie. and i believe a 2nd movie will just dim the greatness of the first. i am soooo going to see this movie again. who knows how many times i will go to re-see it. and everytime i will be blown away...standing ovation to James Cameron. and Major Appluase to James Horner who i have already bought the CD and cannot stop listening to it, and I SEE YOU is my favorite....I see you. I see you too.

  3. haha will.... same here.... I'm addicted omg XD

  4. I agree Michelle Rodriguez should have been put to better use, as an actress and as a role in that movie she could have been used at the end maybe as an avatar during the battle instead of just being a witty funny pilot.

    But how did Grace get accepted and not killed or questioned when Jake had to fight to prove himself. At some point did Grace compromise with the tribe? of did Jake do it for her?

  5. Answer to the last question:
    I think Jake had to defend himself because he was a soldier/warrior, and Grace didn't because she was just a scientist. They felt more threatened by him. They knew she'd never hurt them. Also, I don't remember if she figured out Jake's true mission: relaying insider intel. I think she just thought he was trying to persuade them to surrender. Plus, she had already been there before, and revealed her harmless botanical and anthropological interests, whereas he pretended that he wanted to be one of them and act as a human ambassador.

  6. OMG....this is so sad, but I'm addicted too! Beyond the obvious ground breaking effects....which are amazing..Neytiri...ugh...what an amazing love story....I thought after watching it for the third hair tingling it would have been to see her carrying his human body from the "shack" back to the sacred tree.