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To be honest, I had no real plans to see this movie. But after hearing so much about it, very good and very bad, I very much wanted to see what the buzz was all about. All the reviews seem to have no middle ground. It is either regarded as ground-breakingly epic, or a complete political propaganda movie.
In my opinion, it is both.
In a Dances With Wolves meets Star Wars meets Matrix meets Rambo amalgamation, we find our hero, a Marine, part of a research program called Avatar. Humanity has set up residence on a planet called Pandora, and is researching a indigenous, pantheistic tribe by assuming physical control of fabricated bodies identical to the members of the neolithic people. These bodies, called Avatars, are controlled by their host who is jacked in through a computer/cerebral interface. Matrix, anyone?
The tribe itself, the Na'vi, lives life very synergistic with their otherwise hostile environment, making them very similar to Native Americans during the settlement of America. Although essentially religiously pantheistic (where everything comprises God), they still worship an individual deity, called Eywa, who is the equivalent to Mother Earth. But she is more like The Force in Star Wars than a distinct personality.
The movie has a very good, very original premise. But the movie is rife with politically liberal ideology. Our hero, a wounded marine, has become part of the Avatar program only to find that there was an evil capitalistic agenda wanting to mine a precious mineral called Unobtanium, from the planet. Without thought to the implications of what displacing the Na'vi might be, the military stands ready to do whatever it takes to gain access to this mineral.
I would like to point out three things that really angered me. First off, our marine hero had lost the use of his legs. At their level of advancement, the medical procedure to regain the use of them must have been easily within the scope of medical technology, howbeit a procedure that was very expensive, and consequently reserved for an presupposed elite class of people with connections and status. This supposed caveat was an obvious byproduct of healthcare being in the private sector, where it belongs according to conservative ideology, and which is currently under attack in the United States.
Secondly, they depict the Na'vi as being completely in tune with nature. So much so that they share an almost symbiotic existence. When hunting, they address their prey as their brethren, apologize, and then thank them for leaving their bodies behind so the "the People" may subsist. The Na'vi, and subsequently all nature-loving liberals, are verbally martyred in this movie with titles like "tree huggers". The Na'vi are remarkably similar to Native Americans. Their language is strikingly similar, and there is even a scene that is strikingly reminiscent to the "Trail of Tears". In another scene, Na'vi resistance are referred to as "terrorists".
And thirdly, in sharp relief to the Na'vi, the military is depicted as a bunch of superficial, muscle-bound, greasy, cigar smoking grunts whose only ambition is to perpetuate the agendas of evil corporate gurus wanting the precious mineral, Unobtanium. Forget the idea that a national military is a highly disciplined outfit designed to protect citizens from foreign threats. According to this, the military is for just imposing ourselves on other cultures with military force. This is what many liberals think military operations are doing in the Middle-East today. In my opinion, this movie serves as a perfect look into the mind of liberal ideology concerning the military.
Now I take exception to this. I am a conservative, and also I greatly love nature. Having been born and raised in Appalachia, and hiking woods, exploring caves, and feeling right at home with nature since the time I could walk, I am very offended at the depiction that pro-military conservatism is an idea that means ushering in out-of-control urban sprawl and knocking down forests like they shouldn't exist, for some capitalistic agenda. That is pure lunacy. I love nature, and want more than anyone to see it preserved. I hike when I am able, and even harbor jealousy for friends who are now rangers. I am even among the ranks of those who would prefer a more primitive existence over our current level of technological advance. That is why i find the imagery and ideas in works like Narnia and The Lord of the Rings so compelling. Both books, and their authors, regard technological and industrial advances as detrimental to society as a whole. An idea that I whole-heartedly agree with, in spite of being a free-market conservative.
Liberals consistently paint Conservatives as nature hating SUV drivers with no regard for our environment. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, if you look at a map of where concentrations of political philosophies are, you will find the highest concentrations of liberal ideology in urban areas, while the highest concentrations of conservative ideologies are in rural, forested, areas. At least, that is the way it is in America.
So, while the movie was very beautifully rendered, with stunning visual effects and Real D elements, the outlandish political undertones destroys any possibility of real enjoyment. Other reviewers who cite the political motives profoundly understate their position. I suppose they were too mesmerized by the beautiful imagery.
As far as the movie elements go, it is quite status quo of modern science fiction. No real character building, which is typically sacrificed due to time restraints, and due to the elaborate antagonist vs protagonist plots needing to be set up. We learn of the characters in quick, bullet point, snatches. The plot of the movie is certainly original. In fact, I hate that such an original concept is tainted with such overwhelming political propaganda.
In summary, I thought the movie was very entertaining, and will be doubly so for anyone who is politically ignorant, or who is able to ignore the propaganda, or who agrees with the political statements being made. Unfortunately, I am neither able to ignore it, or agree with it.
On a side note, Stephen Lang, who played Colonel Miles Quaritch, is one of my favorite actors. I always thought him able to bring a real organic quality to any role he was in. I could watch Gods and Generals over and over again, based on his portrayal of Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson in the movie alone. It saddened me to see him play such a prominent role in a movie that paints the military in such a negative light. I hate to see that he was willing to be involved in such a movie, and my opinion of this actor has been greatly diminished by this fact. While I still think he is an excellent actor, and that his role in Gods and Generals is worthy of the highest theatrical honors, my opinion of him has been dealt a severe blow by his incomprehensible involvement in such an prominent political propagandist motion picture. Possibly beyond the hope of fan redemption, at least the redemption granted by this fan.
Another side note, the last movie I saw in Real-D was Beowulf. I must say this rendering is more than an improvement. In a few cases, things appeared to floating right out into the theater itself. Real-D is a new 3D method that is still stereoscopic in nature, but uses light rather than color. Polarized glasses isolates each eye. The projection of the movie alternates, very quickly between each eye. The brain cannot distinguish each eye, so even though each eye is essentially watching its own version of the movie, the brain see one picture with depth. The effect is very profound, and certainly adds dynamic to any film that lends itself to 3D effects. That is, of course, an oversimplification. Unfortunately, at this time, this effect cannot be reproduced on non-projection systems, which means that DVD and Blu-Ray cannot reproduce the effect in home theaters. I am sure this is being resolved in a lab somewhere. Watch, I don't imagine it will be long before it will be available in a home system. If you haven't seen a Read-D movie in a theater yet, I cannot recommend it more highly. It is usually worth the surcharge charged by theaters for the added effect.