Year Released: 2009
Directed by: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver. Stephen Lang
(PG-13, 160 min.)
Genre: Science Fiction and Fantasy
"When wild in the woods the noble savage ran." John Dryden
This breath-taking spectacle works best as superlative eye candy, a high tech version of a Saturday cartoon, complete with cardboard villains, flawless heroes, and a storyline built on “standard-issue counterculture clichés.” But this bigger than life Sci Fi Fantasy is such a delightful lark, such a soaring adventure, you might not even notice it’s really just another end of the world flick wrapped in a prettier package than its doomsday companions.
Of course the dying world, our 22nd century earth, is never seen and barely mentioned, a planet long defiled and now almost barren, sending its malignant spores out to seek new life and new civilizations, except not exactly in the noble Star Trek tradition. What they’re seeking, these bottom-feeding remnants of the military-industrial complex, is a mineral that can potentially regenerate their world.
Appropriately named unobtainium, this ore is found on the lush and primitive planet Pandora (Greek for “all gifts”), whose indigenous people, the Na’vi, are ten feet tall, blue skinned, elegant and agile as trapeze artists. They are also completely in balance with nature and not exactly welcoming of the “Sky People,” as they refer to the earthlings who hover above their world in military aircraft that strangely seem of Viet Nam vintage.
Yet the same humans who still rely on helicopters on Pandora are somehow able to travel the light years to get there as well as create genetically engineered hybrids of Human/Na’vi DNA. These hybrids are avatars for their human “drivers” who could not survive in Pandora’s lethal atmosphere.
The newest avatar recruit is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a former marine now confined to a wheelchair. Again, the same world that can engineer space travel, cryosleep, and splice DNA somehow cannot repair a spinal column, or as they explain, Sully cannot afford it on his meager military salary. Of course, this is just a plot device to make Sully’s adventures in his avatar body all the more exhilarating.
And exhilarating they are. In fact, he almost does not survive his first day out, when he is attacked by Pandora’s version of a panther. The daughter of the Na’vi chief, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), reluctantly saves him, bringing him back to her clan with her. Sully tells them he wishes to learn their ways, which is true to an extent, except Sully is ordered to use that knowledge against them, to figure the most efficient way to wrest the unobtainium from them.
His initiation into Na’vi life is the highlight of the film. The Na’vi ride horse-like creatures, but they have an advantage human equestrians lack. Their braided hair connects to the living reins of the creature, sort of like fiber optic cable, creating a link that make horse and rider one. The same is also true of their other rides, the more challenging banshees, dragon-like raptors who choose their Na’vi rider by first trying to kill him, kind of like the King Arthur /Lancelot duel when they first meet.
That Sully falls in love with Neytiri and joins the Na’vi to fight against his fellow humans is so predictable and derivative to earn the film two alternate titles, “Pocahontas in Space” or “Dances with Smurfs.”
Of course, we have a few logical failings undermining the epic battle scenes of the final third of the film. The ham-fisted Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) launches his surprise, precipitous attack on Pandora while Sully is still infiltrated with the Na’vi. As many have suggested, why invest all that high priced technology in the Avatar Program only to override it? And it’s not just that the colonel is verging on maniacal, but he is inept as well, as is the mining CEO, a corporate weasel who wouldn’t make it past middle management in any sane world.
And then there are the abounding ironies. The same high technology that Avatar disparages as impure and inauthentic, is the major source of the film’s wonders. In fact, the film, conceived some 15 years ago by writer/director James Cameron, was not possible until the evolution “a new generation of special effects,” taking some four years in the filming and sucking up an estimated $300 - $500 million to make Avatar the most expensive film in history.
Of course, Cameron hopes to get that capital back, chortling that he anticipates movie goers will see the film four times, quadrupling his profit potential. Once, because they are curious; the second time to make sure they saw the fantastic things they thought they did; a third to just enjoy it; and finally, a fourth time to savor it. And we also have those higher priced 3 D admissions, though some have reported feeling nauseous after the experience. Not to mention the slick marketing tie-ins with McDonalds and Coca Cola -- you know those eco friendly nonprofit entities – as well as ensuing action figures by Mattel and a planned video game. It may not just be the fat capitalist SecFor mining company reviled in the film that we have to watch out for.
And we have a ill-timed recent inconvenient truth, finding that greed and deceit are not limited to those who destroy mother earth, but doled out in generous proportions to its saviors too, our green carbon traders and global warming scientists.
But don’t let these minor inconsistencies spoil your Avatar experience, a fantastic trip to an imagined world of incredible beauty and grace, the adventure of a lifetime. Just don’t think about it too much.
Probably the most exciting parts of Avatar are the scenes where the hero and his lady love ride the dragon like banshees, soaring through the skies and diving straight toward the earth in feats that make the Blue Angels look like amateurs.
In honor of these blue beasts – no relation to the Irish fairy of legend who heralds death – though the ride on their backs is certainly death defying, I’ve found a delicious blue cocktail, originally named the Blue Motorcycle. Let’s just say, on Planet Pandora, the Banshee ride has all the kicks of any motorcycle ride you’ve ever been on and more.
Or you might like a few of these other exotic blue concoctions. Just in time for New Year’s Eve:
Screaming Banshee Cocktail
- 2 cups ice cubes
- 1/2 (1.5 fluid ounce) jigger vodka
- 1/2 (1.5 fluid ounce) jigger tequila
- 1/2 (1.5 fluid ounce) jigger rum
- 1/2 (1.5 fluid ounce) jigger gin
- 1/2 (1.5 fluid ounce) jigger Blue Curacao
- 1 dash sour mix
- 2 fluid ounces lemon-lime flavored carbonated beverage
- 1 slice fresh lemon
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine the vodka, tequila, rum, gin, Blue Curacao, sour mix and lemon-lime soda. Shake vigorously to get a frothy head on the drink. Pour the contents of the shaker, including ice, into tall bar glass and garnish with a slice of lemon.
Recipe Source: allrecipes.com