Science fiction and fantasy                                            


directed by James Cameron

Avatar poster  
Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) may have lost the use of his legs in battle, but he's not about to look for pity. In the hope of finding a way to pay for an operation that will give him back his legs he takes the place of his deceased brother on a trip to the planet Pandora. But his brother was a scientist whilst he's just a grunt, and his main virtue for the Avatar programme is the fact that he shares his brother's genetic identity.

Pandora is a new frontier, and humans have moved in to exploit its resources. They're after the improbably-named unobtainium, and they're willing to brave all manner of deadly creatures and hostile natives in order to get what they want. But first they want to persuade the native Na'vi to move their settlements away from the site of this precious mineral.

Jake is given a specially-grown body grown from a fusion of human and Na'vi DNA, which he controls from a virtual-reality bunk. The Na'vi looks a little like him except taller, stronger, and bluer. Through it he gets the chance to walk again. His task is to befriend the Na'vi, learn about their culture, and then convince them to accept relocation. But they Na'vi don't want to move away from their sacred places, and all the other members of the Avatar programme have come up against a brick wall. What chance does an under-educated ex-marine have when talented scientists like Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) have failed?

The forests of Pandora are beautiful as well as deadly, full of strange luminescent plants and alien creatures. It's fairytale pretty, although the military personnel stationed there regard it as hell. The special effects artists have pulled out all the stops on this movie, and the impact is breathtaking. There are even some floating islands for good measure, and the flying creatures that live there look like a cross between pterodactyls and dragons. Avatar may have begun as a science fiction movie, but in many ways it's pure fantasy.

Jake meets Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and tries to befriend her. Their relationship is central to the story. The scientists want him to study the Na'vi and encourage better understanding, but military commander Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) asks Jake to report to him. Quaritch is prepared to use any methods, no matter how brutal, to get what they want. If the natives won't move he'll find a way to make them leave. Pretty soon a fight is on between the Na'vi and the humans who want to exploit their world and lay waste to it. As the main link between humans and natives, Jake Sully must decide which side he's going to take.

The tribal Na'vi are supposed to be hard to understand, but they have a deep connection with nature and a concern with the balance of life and death, and a reverence for their god. They're not that hard to figure out. It's obvious James Cameron is taking aim at the fight that rages between first world greed and people in the third world who always lose out to it. The political message is bold and clear, although it's dressed up with exciting battles amongst floating mountains, colourful people and animals, trees with long memories and other strangeness.

The plot is somewhat predictable, but the characters make up for this. There are some particularly good female characters, such as the passionate Neytiri, the spiky Grace, and the spunky but principled pilot Trudy (Michelle Rodriguez). It's a movie full of action, spectacle, agile blue people, and magic, like an extraterrestrial fairy tale.

29th June 2010

Film Details

Year: 2009

Categories: Films

  Science fiction

Classification: 12

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Review © Ros Jackson
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