After wanting to see James Cameron’s new film Avatar since its premiere in December, I finally did get to the theater this weekend, and I now understand why there is so much talk about the film (as well as why it is nominated for nine Academy Awards). Simply stated, going to see Avatar is not so much seeing a movie as it is an overwhelming visual and sensory experience. The film scores on so many levels, and the visceral and kinesthetic connections literally and figuratively transport the viewer into another world.
Some people might be tempted to identify Avatar as something else, or maybe even call it Titanic in space, but then they would be missing the whole point. Yes, we have the haunting music of the remarkable James Horner to remind us of that film, and there is a strong love story at the core of Avatar, as in Titanic; and yes, the lovers are from different worlds and have the odds stacked against them, but Cameron has taken Avatar to a deeply complex level, and the 3D experience drops the viewer into a different time and place where he or she can almost reach out and touch the detritus of an explosion, feel the pulse of an alien world, and understand the universal components involving the sacred nature of the individual spirit.
The story centers on wounded Marine Jake Sully, in a solid performance by Sam Worthington who left a powerful impression in Terminator Salvation as a machine with a soul. We see paraplegic Jake transported to the moon Pandora where he will be part of an exciting experiment originally intended for his twin brother Tom, a scientist who recently passed away. Since the twins are a genetic match, Jake is an ideal replacement in the body of an avatar, a living creation of one of the indigenous Na’vi people of Pandora.
The conflict is quickly established as Jake understands he has two jobs to accomplish. One is explained by hard as nails Colonel Miles Quaritch, played with fierce intensity by Stephen Lang. Quaritch wants Jake to infiltrate these people as a covert operative with the express purpose of bringing them down. The other job is explained by Dr. Grace Augustine, played by Sigourney Weaver as a chain-smoking scientist with a heart. She wants Jake to bond with the Na’vi, become one of them, in order to better understand them and establish a cordial relationship between them and the humans who have invaded their world.