Monday, February 8, 2010

Avatar: what's not to like...seriously!?

After watching this movie in 3D at the IMAX Theater I had planned on writing a long, comprehensive review. I wanted to speak to the political and religious themes as well as the movie itself. There has been so much negative press from the right-wing, religio/political fanatics concerning this movie that I thought I’d throw my nickel-and-a-half into the mix. But the more I thought about it the more I realized…it’s a MOVIE stupid! And it’s a Sci-Fi movie at that! Sometimes I get so aggravated with these people who believe that they are commissioned by God to be the conscience of America, who think they know what’s best for the world (Pat Robertson anyone? How about Rush Limbaugh?). For a long time now I’ve been of the opinion that there is a real “dumbing down” of America; but I’m not so sure anymore that it is the “liberal” Democrats that are the guilty party.

Anyway, I better stop that rant before I get too “into it”, as they say. A very nice synopsis of the plot of movie can be found at Wikipedia, so I won’t bore you with it. I will just give you a personal review of what I liked about it.

I found Avatar to be quite exciting and moving. A friend of mine (thanks Roozer) likened the overall story to Star Wars: it is what it is. The evil empire seeks to destroy (for its own reasons) a peaceful people who have not offended their enemy in any way. The story is fairly predictable and the writing and acting are pedestrian at best. We have here the age-old epic battle of good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, the Titanic vs. the Iceberg, Michael Myers (Halloween), Jason (Friday the 13th) and Freddy (Nightmare…) vs. death (or, as we all know by now: Republicans vs. Democrats or Christianity vs. well…everything else) with villains and heroes/heroines, weird-looking creatures and strange “alien” humanoid figures all fighting it out over…something; we have moral conundrums and deep, heartfelt “soul-searching” that brings a tear to your eye (well, someone’s eye…not mine!); and we have (drum roll please)…action: lots and lots of glorious, sci-fi, in-your-face ACTION!

So, what’s not to like besides the lame writing and acting? Absolutely nothing! This was a great ride! And seeing it in 3D at the IMAX was truly a ride, indeed! There was nothing that I did not like about this movie. I do wish they would make wrap-around 3D glasses so that we wouldn’t have so much peripheral viewing wasted, but since the action is mainly in your face the whole time it’s nothing to complain about. I could go on and on about the special effects and the 3D technology, but I won’t. You have to see it to really appreciate it. What I liked the best about the 3D viewing (you can see this movie as a regular movie without the 3D) was that the entire movie was 3D, not just some random moments of stuff flying at you—it really felt like I was there in the action. When I think of 3D movies I think of the cheesy sequences where something is coming at you every now and then and it surprises you…sometimes. This movie, however, doesn’t employ those cheesy tricks. The 3D technology in this movie actually brings the audience into the film itself and doesn’t release them until it’s over. It’s fantastic.

I also really enjoyed the color of the movie and what I believe this signifies. The planet of Pandora itself (well, technically it’s a moon of the planet Polyphemus), all the creatures, and the indigenous “humanoid” population called the Na’vi were drenched in vivid colors throughout. I think the filmmaker purposefully used these vibrant colors for Pandora and its creatures in juxtaposition with the rather dull, gray colors of the “earthlings” and their habitation to intensify our sense of the nature of the conflict. I believe that the movie is telling us something very important with this color juxtaposition: there is no LIFE, no vitality or authenticity of “being” in the kind of self-referential thinking that sees value only in profit or personal utility. The earthlings were rightly portrayed as evil in their raping and pillaging of the land for profit; and as I said there is no life, no vitality of “being” in that kind of thinking. The Na’vi, on the other hand, were shown to be full of life and authenticity of “being” as they lived in harmony with one another and their surroundings; they portrayed, in a sense, the “cultural mandate” of Genesis 1:28-30.

Throughout the movie, we’re confronted with two very different paradigms: Life and Death. And I think these two paradigms are captured by the juxtaposition of color between the earthlings and Pandora. The paradigm of life is depicted with vibrant color. “Life” sees value in all things and seeks to live in harmony with one another and the creation. The paradigm of death is depicted by drab colorlessness. “Death” sees value only in personal utility and cares not what harm or damage is done to others or the creation. Cameron’s pantheism aside, I think this movie has much to say about humanity (as Image-bearers) and our responsibility to one another and the creation of which we are a part. In this way, Avatar is “Christian” in so many ways that contemporary, “Christianity” is not. Rather than simply criticizing this movie as anit-Christian and anti-American (the standard “party line” we’ve come to expect from the religio/political right), the church could learn a few things from Avatar.

Maybe I’m reading too much into the color “thing”; but I really believe it conveys in a powerful way the two different sensibilities we see throughout the movie. At any rate, those who criticize Avatar as excessively political or religious need to lighten up: it’s Hollywood! What do you expect? And if you give it a chance and watch it with an open mind you will be able to enjoy a great movie that also actually speaks to the heart. Forgot about who direct it or wrote it. Forget about what the Religious Right or Sean Hannity might have said about it either religiously or politically. Just watch it and tell me if you don’t feel moved by the Spirit to “love one another” (whoever they are!) and to also care for the earth as we’ve been called to do from the time of the Garden of Eden.

I could say more about other aspects of the movie, but I’ll save that for some other time.

In case I wasn’t clear: I loved this movie!