James Cameron does not make a ton of films, but when he does; He does it right. Any director can make a bunch of movies, with a few that turn out to be exceptional. Cameron seems to focus on quality over quantity, and in my mind that makes him one of the most successful movie directors of his time. Titanic will always remain his crowning achievement. Avatar is a very close second.
The film takes place on a moon known as Pandora in the year 2154. Humans have come to this moon to mine a precious mineral known as unobtanium. The name is hilarious in my mind, unobtanium. We have gone there to obtain a mineral who's name suggests unobtainability. Clever. This moon, Pandora, is inhabited by a race of beasts known as the Navi. They are much larger than humans, we look like only children when standing next to one of them. They are a less advanced race as far as technology goes. We get the impression through the film that they are more in tune with nature than they are with technology, which explains why they appear to be less advanced. Money seems to be the driving force behind technology. Without money, one has to wonder how far we would have come technology wise. The main premise is that we are there for unobtanium and the Navi are in the way.
One of the villages happens to be under a giant tree that is growing over the largest deposit of the mineral anywhere on the planet. The mining company has contracted with the military to relocate the indigenous population so that they can begin mining operations. The Navi, though are not willing to leave. Humans have engineered the Navi bodies mixed with human DNA. The DNA of a human used in each body is specific so that the body can only be used by the donor of that DNA. The human who donated the DNA can go into a machine and be linked to the Navi body. The humans use these Navi-human (called Avatars) hybrid bodies to try and gain the trust of the Navi people.
At first this technology was used to study the Navi, to try and understand them better. Thus their is a clash in the film between the scientists running the program and the mining company. The scientists believe their is much more to be learned and gained from the Navi than just the unobtainium. One of the scientists that was to operate one of the Navi bodies dies. Fortunately he had a twin brother, who happens to be paralyzed from the waist down, that can operate the body. They share the same DNA, and so the body should work for him. The problem is he used to be a soldier. The commander of the group responsible for clearing out the Navi sends it in to try and gain Intel. This paralleled soldier is the main character of the film and his name is Jake Sully. While in his Navi body he comes to learn the ways of the Navi. When he realizes that the mining company is willing to wipe out the Navi in order to obtain the unobtanium, he decides to help the Navi fight back.
The story is a bit more complicated than that, but you get the basic plot of the film. I highly recommend it to anyone that has not seen it. The graphics are amazing! Unfortunately the religious community has taken issue with the film. Really people? How ridiculous can we get as a society? Their main problem with the film is the Navi's worship of nature and their god known as the Eywa. I do not even know where to begin with this. We have not made contact with another race, as far as we know, as of yet. If that day comes, do we really believe that they will believe in the same god that we have come to believe in on this planet? If they did than that would go along way to proving that our version of god is right, but that has not happened. That means the jury is still out in my mind on the existence of a god. If we make contact with another race of bees, and their religion turns out to be very different from our own; Than what does that tell us about the existence of a god? I do not want to get into a debate over the existence or not of god, but I do feel that these questions need to be asked.
It is true that in the past humans worshiped nature as a god or gods, the religion is known as Paganism. Since the Navi seems to worship nature in the film, this has some people in the religious community worried. That Avatar will somehow cause a resurgence in the Pagan religion. Would that be a bad thing? I am not sure, but what I am sure of is that we could stand to respect nature a little bit more on this planet.
In the film, the Navi have stricken a balance with nature. They live within nature, as a part of it. Of course in the film, they have a lot cooler connection to the world around them. The Navi are actually able to plug them into the world around them. Their hair ends in a set of nerves. Other life forms have this same trait, even the trees and the Navi can plug into these other living things. When they ride their version of a horse, they plug their nervous system into the animal. The same goes with their flying creatures. They can plug into trees and hear the life forces of the world around them, past and present. This is a brilliant conceptual aspect of the film that really sells the Navi culture. How cool would it be if we could do that? More importantly, what would nature have to say if we could?
It is natural to lash out when you feel threatened by something and that is all the religious community has done with this film. Any time someones belief system is threatened they feel the need to react, so I can understand their beef with this film. What they need to realize though is that this is a brilliant work of art, and nothing more. It takes place on a fictional planet in the Alpha Centauri star system. The Navi are not real, and unfortunately the amazing planet of Pandora is not real. How cool would it be if it was? I would not mind spending a year or two there. The fact that the religious community felt threatened in any way by this films message leads me to wonder just how in danger the belief in a god truly is.
Never mind the fact that the main message had nothing to do with worshiping nature as much as it had to do with respecting it. I do not know if a great pagan revival is going to come about because of this film. I doubt it, but anything is possible. What I do know is that the film is so much more than a simple message. It is a work of art that is meant to amaze our imaginations. The planet Pandora is beautiful, with floating mountains, misty forests, and trees as big as sky scrapers. The variety of plants and animals a feast for the eyes and the imagination. If their is any real message to be had from the film is that greed is bad. I would think the religious community would have focused more on this positive message. The fact that the mining company was willing to kill the amazing Navi and destroy the land above simply to reach a mineral below. A mineral that they are only after, because it will make many people back on earth richer than they already are. In my mind that is the true message of the film, if there is one. That we can not simply destroy for the sake of Greed.
Whatever message anyone of us chooses to come away with, the important thing is that you saw this movie. It is rare that a film comes along that stimulates our imaginations, and gets us to think about possibilities. What fantastic planets may lie waiting out there for us to discover. I highly recommend Avatar to anyone that has not seen this film. It may very well be one of the greatest cinematic feats of our time.