I wasn’t especially keen to see Avatar (2009) at the cinema, because of its epic running time… but, weirdly for such a popular movie, I’ve never seen a copy of the DVD going s-hand in any of the shops I frequent, so I was actually quite excited when I read that Ch4 would be showing it on Sunday evening.
For those who don’t know, this Sci-Fi/Fantasy flick is set in the year 2154, and stars Sam Worthington as ‘Jake Sully’, a paraplegic marine, whose scientifically-inclined twin brother is killed by a mugger shortly before embarking on a perilous mission to a distant planet called Pandora. Much expense and effort has already gone into breeding his brother’s “avatar” (a sort of remote-control meat-puppet that a person can project their mind into, in order to interact more successfully with alien species, and survive otherwise hazardous environments), and since Sully’s a suitable genetic match, he’s offered the ride in his deceased sibling’s place. Previously the avatars have only been driven by touchy-feely intellectuals, who’ve made very little headway with the native inhabitants, a race of giant blue cat-people known as “Na’vi”, but Sully’s meat-headed arrogance intrigues them, and he proves to be a far better fit for their hunter-dominated culture. The Na’vi’s acceptance of Sully’s avatar, alongside his budding romance with a tribal leader’s daughter (voiced by Zoe Saldana), gives him unprecedented access to their society, which the scientific team (led by Sigourney Weaver) hopes to exploit for diplomatic and xenoanthropological purposes… while their corporate paymasters hope to profit by convincing the tree-hugging Na’vi to abandon their homes, which they’ve rather inconsiderately chosen to build on land loaded with an extremely valuable mineral named “unobtanium”. However, ‘Eywa’, the Na’vi’s mother goddess, seems to have other plans for the new arrival, marking him out as “The One” who might finally rid their world of the pesky, greedy, disrespectful intruders once and for all. Conflict!
I would make a snooty comment about spending so much “cheddar” on telling such a formulaic and cliché story, but writer/director James Cameron more than made his money back, so I guess that point is moot. It’s always a bit dodgy when someone depicts a white, Western male casually infiltrating a foreign tribe/alien race, and somehow becoming their greatest warrior/de facto leader/saviour practically overnight… but I have to say I did rather enjoy immersing myself in this movie. As a hippy-dippy type I appreciated the eco-friendly moral, even if I didn’t get quite as strong a spiritual buzz off of it as I thought I was going to… and the CGI landscapes were all very lush and exotic-lookin’.
Really though, the main draw for me here was M-Rod’s turn as ‘Trudy Chacón’, a weirdly cheerful chopper pilot who is sympathetic to the Na’vi cause, and happily fights for their team in the big finale. Although she doesn’t have very many scenes, it was great to see M-Rod playing such a chirpy character for a change, and I was glad that she turned out to be one of the “good guys” in the end. Apparently Cameron has been wanting to work with M-Rod ever since he saw her in Girlfight, and technically we never see her character die on-screen (as such), so hopefully she might come back to pick up another hefty paycheque if he goes ahead with his plan for a full trilogy. (Idle guess: In the third movie, the Na’vi find a way to seed the ravaged Earth with new life, and teach the human population how to talk to trees and stuff).
Fun fact: One of the commercial breaks actually featured an Army recruitment ad… which struck me as a rather odd choice, considering how this movie depicts most military-types as mindless mercenaries who will happily firebomb innocent civilians (including women and children) whenever their bosses order them to! Then again the gun-ships and mecha-suits did look pretty cool, so maybe it’ll work…