Strike up the band. Light up the fireworks. Bake the cannoli. Yes, everything you heard about Avatar is true. James Cameronâ€™s epic fantasy trip is as wondrous and engrossing as his Titanic was over-praised and ultimately silly.
Utilizing the latest computer innovations, many of which he seemingly spearheaded, Cameron has created a multidimensional, imaginary world in 3D, one that is peopled by hunky, barely attired creatures that will no doubt spark long-lasting desires in the teen-boy/teen-girl side of each of us. Yes, itâ€™s bye-bye to Han Solo and Princess Leia, and hello to Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (ZÃ¶e Saldana).
With a screenplay that is as deliriously and gloriously leftist as the one for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was right-wing in its depiction of the U.S. military leadership, Avatarâ€™s action takes place on the planet Pandora. On an outpost situated there, "a corporate consortium [plans on] mining a rare material that is the key to solving Earthâ€™s energy crisis." To do so, Pandoraâ€™s indigenous inhabitants, the Naâ€™vi, must be uprooted and their holy sites and way of life decimated.
The villainous man in charge of these tasks, Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephan Lang), intones early on to his troops: "We will fight terror with terror." Of course, the terror is all on his side.
To aid in this upheaval that would have made Margaret Meade quiver in her heels, and because Pandoraâ€™s atmosphere is toxic to Earthlings, the Avatar Program is begotten. Quoting from the production notes because Iâ€™m lazy, avatars are "genetically engineered hybrids of human DNA mixed with DNA from the natives of Pandora." Each avatar, "a remotely controlled biological body that can survive the lethal air," has a human "driver" whose consciousness is linked to one of these artificial beings.
Sully, whose murdered twin brotherâ€™s DNA was employed to "breed" an avatar, is asked to replace him in this venture. Sully agrees, and suddenly, although he has spent the past few years confined to a wheelchair, in his mind, when connected to his avatar, he can run and jump and, no doubt if the need comes up, tango.
If none of this makes sense, it will when youâ€™re viewing this romantic thriller. Yes, Sully, when connected to his avatar body, falls for Neytiri, whoâ€™s sort of the warrior princess of the Naâ€™vi, and she for him. Along with the love, thereâ€™s betrayal, greed, spirituality, miraculous creatures and fauna, and a possible satire on Blackwater Worldwide (now Xe).
Cameronâ€™s magic is that you forget you are watching "animation." (Thereâ€™s currently an ongoing ado on whether this film is animated or not.) Everything here, no matter how bizarre, converts into a startling reality. With one fell swoop, one that has taken 15 years to realize, this impassioned director has pushed aside Peter Jackson and George Lucas to become cinema's visionary leader. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is featured in Rosa von Praunheim's forthcoming documentary New York Memories. In the spring, he'll be teaching "The Image of the Jew in Post-World War II European Cinema" and "Gay and Lesbian Literature" at The City College of New York. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi).