Jake, a paraplegic soldier set free to run crazy in his new avatar body, derails all of this careful planning. He falls for the people of Pandora and in particular Neytiri, the beautiful daughter of the tribal chief who – with shades of Pocahontas – is assigned to teach him the Na’vi way. I knew I was going to love Avatar when Neytiri first encounters Jake and one of those tiny jungle spirits drifts onto her arrow, staying her hand from killing him.
As this storyline suggests, there is something else that Cameron has in common with Tolkien, Herbert, and Lucas. He understands very well how to harness the power of myth. Don’t expect overly complex characters and don’t expect to see the greatest story never before told.
Avatar has big bold heroes, villains, and romantic challenges. It’s about crossing difficult thresholds between ordinary and special worlds, guys who leap before they look and learn lessons the hard way, moments where all seems lost, and messianic scenes of rebirth. This kind of myth-making is all about locating the source of stories we’ve always loved, even needed, to be told and then drawing them out by the bucket.
Cameron has also tapped into a timely subject. The soldiers have departed from a dying Earth – no “green” remains – and plan to mine for ore, destroying Pandora’s ecosystem in the process. A soldier even mockingly refers to the Na’vi as “tree huggers.” After Miyazaki’s Ponyo, Avatar is the year’s second great cinematic plea to save our planet. I expect both movies to be in Al Gore’s top ten.
The ‘50s had Middle Earth. The ‘60s had the planet Dune. The ‘70s had Tatooine. Now, finally, the ‘00s have Pandora, and it’s a box that we’ve waited far too long to finally see opened.