Avatar is set in 2148 and revolves around Pandora, one of the three moons orbiting Alpha Centauri A. It is inhabited by a tribal species called the Na'vi. The conflict is immediately shown at the beginning: a precious multimillion dollar mineral sits at the bottom of the Na'vi home tree and the humans want it. This means that they need the Na'vi out of the way and they are not averse to either using science or brute force to get it.
While the military have employed mercenaries, the scientists have constructed the avatars, which are expensive humanoid bodies that have the shared DNA of humans and Na'vi. These avatars are mentally and genetically linked to their "pilots". These are the researchers' peaceful approach to co-existing with the Na'vi. Our protagonist, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a permanently injured former marine, was asked to take the place of his twin brother Thomas, a scientist who worked with the Avatar project before he was killed. Jake starts out clumsy at first, with everyone underestimating his abilities, but his interaction with the Na'vi changes his life and his mission forever. In the end, he finds himself stuck between completing his mission as a loyal member of the human race and embracing his new life as a member of the Na'vi family.
The concept certainly isn't new, story-wise. We've seen this happen throughout the history books of every colonized third world country. In fact, a lot of it hit home. We can even go local, if we sift through every corrupt government official's records of driving away indigenous tribes that sat on top of gold. Parts of the movie made me weepy and I was hoping that the primitive Na'vi, with their bows and arrows, would win against the highly advanced humans -- unrealistic though that would seem in the real world.
I was simply entranced. I didn't even notice how long the film was. I completely immersed myself in this fantasy world, laughed and cried with the natives and partly wished we were as attuned to our own planet the way these people were. I also wouldn't mind being 10 feet tall, having the ability to plug into the memories of my ancestors, and spiritually bonding with my pets. Honestly, when the movie ended and I got back (mentally) to the real world, I suddenly felt so bleak. The world, as we know it, was suddenly so dull, lackluster and overly commercialized. I would gladly trade places with the Na'vi. No other movie -- sci-fi or otherwise -- has ever made me feel like that.
I'm not going to demand for realism or originality. Nothing is completely original these days as we are all using tools that are merely buildup of earlier intellectual discoveries. Why else are we still studying Shakespeare? So to harp about where James Cameron "stole" his concept from is an exercise in futility. Heck, he even tells everyone which creative works he got inspiration from. The point is, he had a vision, he waited for technology to catch up with that vision, and he was finally able to execute that vision 15 years later. I'd say this to all those naysayers: Start criticizing when you can accomplish what this man has achieved.
For someone like me, who sees 3D images being rendered on a daily basis in our campus laboratories, Avatar was a visual treat. The technology has taken digital entertainment to a whole new level. In fact, I even found myself admiring the Na'vi's lithe form and beautiful cat-like eyes, almost believing they were real.
Watch it with your friends and enjoy geek coffee-table discussions afterward. Goodness knows, my former student Mark Cham and I wouldn't stop arguing about the composition of the Pandora atmosphere. Of course, I had to find out later on that the satellite is rich in carbon dioxide, methane, and ammonia.
UPDATE (December 24, 2009, 4:47 New York Time. Don't ask why I'm using New York Time. LOL.): I watched it again on 3D and I forgot to mention that the 3D Dolby shades being used in Ayala Cinemas aren't as precise as the shades I've used in Disneyland, Anaheim, California. For one thing, it feels as if it's designed for large Caucasian people with high nose bridges. For another thing, I get distracted by the glare.
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