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‘Avatar’ peaks into garden of Eden

By Staff | Dec 29, 2009

 Deep blue tweaking the old cowboys versus Indians genre with the white hats battling to drive the natives off their own land, director James Cameron has essentially won a cinematic battle of the century. His “Avatar” evolves as essentially a confection of the greatest grossing scenarios — dinosaurs (“Jurassic Park”), jungle tree houses (“Tarzan”), interplanetary space travel and battles (“Star Wars”) — with two essential elements: 3D and symbolism.  

Although 3D has enjoyed popularity previously, the newest so-called stereoscopic process (now digital Real D) has matured, complimented by computer generated animation, high definition camera, and digital projection. Still, the medium often relies on awkward, predetermined shots to maintain audience stimulation (you know, the knife pointed at the screen or a torn body part).

Animation has dominated this revival, which has stuck with ‘family friendly’ and an occasional horror re-make. 

Maintaining seamless depictions has been challenging until Cameron wrote this script, which enlists all of the medium’s benefits without resorting to crude exploitation or cliches. 

First, we’re on a flight in outer space where the immaculately detailed ships evoke one or two gasps. 

His challenge, though, comes when the crew lands on Pandora. The planet contains a valuable fuel (symbolically, think of all the earthly wars for oil and the violence during the early coal mining eras), but a major vein of it runs through the home of the Na’vi. Their untouched by human hands world contains spectacles that rival the New River Gorge. One scene, in fact, has a main character plunge over a waterfall.

 Pandora’s trees have grown so tall that they have spawned an upper level system, which contains a network of Tarzan or Swiss Family Robinson houses, bridges and repositories. Since it’s a whole new world, the most vicious creatures resemble dinosaurs and the beautiful, yet snarling, giant, flying, dragon-like creatures that double for transportation (i.e. a cowboy’s horse).

 If you have seen the musical, “Cats,” the inhabitants of Pandora resemble the costumed felines from the play. Watch closely, too, they are ‘natives’ so clothing norms do not reflect our morality. Many of the females have seemingly body-suited, concealed, small (like those of women in a Vegas chorus line) breasts, which during close ups find their caters covered by a flower or other vegetation. Don’t get excited, guys, none of the women in these costumes are buxom either, which, allows their chest to not be equated as an erotic object. 

Since earthling’s are attempting to ‘persuade’ the Na’vi to leave through diplomacy, blue bodies have been created for those from the third planet from the sun. By lying in a chamber (that looks like an MRI or tannin bed), the Earth person’s mind connects with their blue body much like that of an interactive game character. 

Previously, attempts to dramatize and visualize substitute human beings have been unsatisfactory. They have not found enough realism. Cameron’s characters do. In fact, though, they ‘act’ before a blank set, he took them to the jungles of Hawaii to gain both an appreciation and the precise hiking moves. 

Attempts to assimilate allow for meaningful scenic and romantic type scenarios. These dominate the early to middle phases of the picture. Following viewer acceptance of the blue cat-like Pandorans, the battle for their home simmers then explodes. 

Scenes rotate from a more benign hand to hand styled combat to ones involving air strikes. 

The beauty of the planet — part of which has been inspired by scenes from the ocean depths — nearly overtake the shock and awe of intricately choreographed battles. 

You will root not for those that herald from the Planet Earth. Likely, even the youngest viewer will observe that men are attempting to steal and commandeer space to which they have no claim. Some critics have suggested a “Dances with Wolves” comparison, but that’s too narrow a scope — the theme of stronger, greedy, and supposedly more intelligent people taking from the weak and uneducated dominates this planet. For that matter, humans deplete environmental resources in the same manner. 

“Avatar” does not represent perfection, but it is visually immaculate. You feel empathy for the natives and the view from the back of a flying dragon resembles that of a soaring roller coaster.

This science fiction fantasy could easily be relocated to jungles of the Congo or the virgin soil of America before the British landed. The time is about 2050, but it’s about 2010, 2000, 1940, 1920, 1863, 1776, and the time of Romans, Greeks and Christ’s walk. It’s as close to a Garden of Eden that you’ll ever see or experience.

Contact Tony at trutherford@graffitiwv.com