Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Movie Review: Avatar 3D (2009)


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James Cameron's Avatar 3D has to be the most stunning movie experience ever! It is also getting some Christians up-in-arms.

Jake (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic ex-marine, is sent on a mission to the planet Pandora. Pandora is inhabited by a race of human-like natives called Na'vi. The Na'vi live right on top of a rich mine deposit and the military have been sent to arrange the removal of the Na'vi so that the mineral deposits can be accessed and mined.

Technology has been developed by the corporation which allows an individual to inhabit an avatar of the Na'vi in which human DNA is combined with sample DNA of the Na'vi. This allows Jake (and his colleagues), while located in a unit at the military base, to roam around Pandora in the body of a Na'vi. His job is to infiltrate the Na'vi  to survey their culture, develop their trust, and identify strategies that would enable the corporation to persuade the Na'vi to move their village away from the potential mining site. As Jake learns more about the culture of the Na'vis and is mentored by a Na'vi princess,  Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) he gradually comes to identify with the people and a romantic relationship develops between him and Neytiri. This, of course, creates serious tension between Jake and his employer.

Avatar is an absolutely outstanding movie experience, particularly if seen in 3D (which is a must!). The viewer is truly immersed in the world on the screen and the special effects break new ground in cinema. The world of Pandora is dazzlingly and realistically rendered with startling flora and fauna. James Cameron waited for ten years to bring Avatar to the screen so that the technology could be developed to enable him to realise his vision. Special cameras were developed for the movie which, for the first time, enable facial expressions to be captured and used as part of the CGI generated characters.

The story is, in many senses, not new. But the way the package is delivered is so innovative that the story becomes fresh and truly alive. Apart from a short period in the middle of the movie where it became a bit bogged down, and a couple of cheesy, overdone scenes "preaching" about environmentalism, Avatar is a completely absorbing, edge-of-the-seat, never-to-be-forgotten experience.

A review of Avatar  would not be complete without mentioning some of the themes that dominate the story. One of these is the concept of an avatar. I mention this because some Christians, who seem to have a need to find evil behind every frame of a good movie, have suggested that Avatar is part of a plan of  'the Evil one [who] is preparing and grooming a harlot at an alarming speed by using technology to wow people and to deposit his filth'. (This was actually said by a Christian, in an email that was forwarded to me.) Part of this criticism is based on the definition of avatar from Wikipedia cited by this emailer. The definition cited was:

In Hinduism, Avatar or Avatāra (Devanagari अवतार, Sanskrit for "descent" [viz., from heaven to earth]) refers to a deliberate descent of a deity from heaven to earth, and is mostly translated into English as "incarnation", but more accurately as "appearance" or "manifestation".[1]

The term is most often associated with Vishnu, though it has also come to be associated with other deities.[2] .... the Divine Mother principal in Hinduism, are also described as avatars or incarnations by some scholars and followers of Shaktism.[4][5]

On the basis of this definition, the writer of the email has concluded that this movie is a deliberate attempt by Satan to delude the world. The problem is that this definition is only one of a number of definitions of the term avatar. The dictionary I consulted listed these meanings:

    1. A new personification of a familiar idea (synonymous with the ideas of embodiment or incarnation)
    2. The manifestation of a Hindu deity (especially Vishnu) in human, superhuman or animal form
    3. An icon or animation to represent a participant used in Internet chat and games

Clearly, the religious meaning is not the only one and, in fact, more commonly in Western culture, at least, the word avatar is very well known to anyone who plays electronic online games or participates in virtual worlds such as Second Life. In these cases, whatever icon or image is used to represent the player or the user is called an avatar. Obviously, because of the science fiction element of the movie Avatar in which a human can operate virtually embodied in an artificial body, it is an appropriate term for the movie and for the activity at the heart of the story. To assume that the film maker is deliberately foisting Hindu religion on to his viewers is a very unfair representation of the movie. There are a number of reasons the movie is not about the Hindu concept.

Firstly, I can't find anywhere that James Cameron, the director, has claimed such a thing. Secondly, Jake Sully, the main character in the story, doesn't act with the same purpose as a Hindu avatar. According to Maxim Osipov, a student of Sanskrit and Indian philosophy and a follower of the Hare Krishna movement, states, 'an avatar always descends from a higher realm into the lower, restores prosperity, wisdom, and happiness — and moves on unchanged after the mission is accomplished.' This, in no way, describes what happens to Jake Sully in the movie. Just the opposite, in fact (I won't say anymore about this in case I ruin the story for someone).

Thirdly, some Hindus are actually protesting at the possibility that 'Cameron could be using the ... Sasnkrit word "Avatar" in a way that would be deemed insensitive by those to whom it has a lot of meaning.' (See here for full article) It seems that they are worried that Cameron's use of the word avatar could be so far away from what Hindu people understand it to mean that it could be a problem. In fact, accordinig to the Entertainment Daily website, 'Hindus have urged James Cameron to attach a disclaimer in the starting and end of his upcoming film ‘Avatar’ explaining that it has no relationship with Hinduism or its concepts.'

The only reason for promoting the idea that the Devil is behind the movie Avatar, then, is the simplistic paranoia and poor thinking of some people who, the moment they see a "connection" between two things, believe the worst and stir up controversy without proper investigation.

There may be some Christians who would like to capitalise on the idea of incarnation associated with the word avatar and allude to Jesus being the incarnation of God. But this would be just as misguided. There is little in Jake Sully's story that parallels that of the Christian idea of the incarnation of Christ. The initial aim of Jake Sully's character was to enter the Na'vi culture to deceive it — the very opposite of Jesus' purpose in entering our world.

Other themes in Avatar include cultural diversity, environmentalism, cultural imperialism, asymmetric war, and many more. Avatar, while it has its problems (eg, the romanticising of non-Western culture and lifestyle), has so much richness that it will make an interesting springboard for lots of discussion. It's not to be missed!


Positive Review
'It’s been twelve years since "Titanic," but the King of the World has returned with a flawed but fantastic tour de force that, taken on its merits as a film, especially in two dimensions, warrants four stars. However, if you can wrap a pair of 3D glasses round your peepers, this becomes a transcendent, full-on five-star experience that's the closest we'll ever come to setting foot on a strange new world. Just don’t leave it so long next time, eh, Jim?' - Chris Hewitt/Empire

Negative Review
'It is a very expensive-looking, very flashy entertainment, albeit one that groans under the weight of clumsy storytelling in the second half and features some of the most godawful dialogue this side of "Attack of the Clones."' - Stephanie Zacharek/

Content Advice
intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking

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  1. I also loved it! Some of the dialogue was so cheesy, but oh man, overall it was amazing.

  2. i was very entertained by it....but there is an underlying philosophy in the film,basicaly shamanistic,which CANNOT be reconciled with Scripture.
    like so many films of its type,it was squarely aimed at the young.