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REVIEWS  from globaltopia
Could Avatar pave the way for a new green revolution?
by Jefferson Pepper

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After a twelve year dreamwalk, James Cameron has emerged from the desert with a widely accessible eco-parable that is visually, aurally and emotionally stunning. Cameron and his staff of two thousand spent four years and $237 million (plus $150 million in promotion) producing the film, which opened December 18, 2009. It took only seventeen days to top $1 billion at the box office, setting a new record, silencing naysayers and exposing a whole new generation of moviegoers to this futuristic diatribe against corporate-military imperialism and environmental destruction.

Set in a dystopian 2154 AD, the film begins with RDA, a leviathan multinational corporation from Earth, setting up a mining colony on Pandora, a moon of the planet Polyphemus, in the Alpha Centauri star system. The reason for RDA's interest in Pandora is the rare mystery substance, Unobtainium, (a humorous reference to mankind's greed and folly), which is valued at "$20 million a kilo". They have come to plunder. Only trouble is, there is a peaceful, indigenous tribe of primitive humanoids, the Na'vi, who live in a thousand foot tree directly on top of the biggest deposit of Unobtainium around. We are told that Mother Earth has been reduced to a resource-starved, dying planet, which has spiraled into biological collapse. Humans are therefore forced to go elsewhere for the resources they need to survive. The tree's gotta go. The Na'vi are just going to have to move.

In an obsequious attempt to win the hearts and minds of the Na'vi, RDA develops a group of Avatars, human-alien hybrids that are remotely controlled through the brain waves of human drivers. The head of the science department is Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), who nurtured a friendship with the Na'vi, only to have it severely strained by company-hired, trigger-happy ex-military mercenaries, led by the macho and malevolent antagonist, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang). The secondary antagonist is the operations manager of RDA, the profit-obsessed Parker Selfridge, played by Giovanni Ribisi. Selfridge would like to get the Na'vi to move before the bulldozers arrive ("bad press isn't good for RDA stock, but those savages are threatening our whole operation"), but he's more than willing to "fight terror with terror" if necessary. It's the age-old story of colonialist aggression. And he's got plenty of fire power at his disposal; futuristic helicopters and gunships going up against the Na'vi's bows and arrows. The story closely resembles the plight of Native Americans and Iraqis at the hands of plunderers in other, earlier times.

Enter the protagonist Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington), a paraplegic ex-marine who is to take the place of his dead scientist-identical twin brother in the Avatar program. Colonel Quaritch promises Sully that he'll put in a good word with the corporation to get his legs back if he can infiltrate Na'vi society as a spy for the military operations. Jake tries out his new avatar and finds that it is liberating,
freeing him from his withering body. During his first foray into the jungle of Pandora, he becomes separated from his team and must spend the night in the jungle with a menagerie of ferocious fauna who mean to eviscerate him and eat his eyes for jujubees. His life is saved by Neytiri, a sexy (yes, sexy even though she's cerulean blue and twelve feet tall) Na'vi and daughter of the chief and high priestess. Neytiri reluctantly teaches him the ways of the Na'vi although, as she tells him "you Sky People will never see". The Pandora forest looks like a Doctor Seussian coral reef on acid, complete with mountains that hang in mid-air, bioluminescent plants, floating jellyfish-like spore-creatures and flying dragons. It is here that Avatar really shines. It is, quite simply, the most vivid and convincing imagery of an alien world ever to grace the big screen.

As with earth's biosphere, Pandora itself is a living being, with connections between all living things. Here though, is a utopian, bio-botanical network that all Pandoran organisms are connected to. The Na'vi are able to tap into this through nerve-like tendrils at the ends of their pony tails. They worship a bio-spirit called Ey-wa (what, in the present day, we might refer to as Pantheism; wherein nature and God are identical). They live in complete harmony with the world around them and have a profound respect for the land and all of it's creatures. The Tree of Souls, their most sacred site, is where they go to gain wisdom from their departed ancestors. Sully comes to appreciate the beauty of Pandora after falling in love with Neytiri, and becomes repulsed by the predatory nature of his own species. As the bulldozers and gunships roll in for the preemptive strike, destroying the Na'vi's HomeTree in an unholy firestorm of Armageddon-like proportions, he gets caught in the crossfire between the tree huggers and the money grubbers. 

At ComicCon 2009, Cameron said that he wanted to make "something that has this spoonful of sugar of all the action and the adventure and all that..." "Maybe in the enjoying of it makes you think a little bit about the way you interact with nature and your fellow man." He also said "the Na'vi represent something that is our higher selves, or our aspirational selves, what we would like to think we are." The humans "represent what we know to be the parts of ourselves that are trashing our world and maybe condemning ourselves to a grim future." Cameron also acknowledged that the film criticizes America's pre-emptive war in Iraq.

At the end of the day, Avatar is a socially conscious Western, an allegory about contemporary politics. In this story, as long as greed exists, it could be that peace is the true Unobtanium.  As Jake observes late in the film: "when people are sitting on shit you want, you make them your enemy." In the end, Ey-wa prevails, uniting all of Pandora against their common enemy, the world-destroying humans. In the real world though, the enemy is ourselves. Hopefully we'll be smart enough to take care of our Mother before it's too late.
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