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!


Steven said...

“So, what’s not to like besides the lame writing and acting? Absolutely nothing!”

Yup, that’s about right. I really enjoyed the movie, and I had the same thought; kinda standard story, but really amazing visually...

Either way, I’m moved.. I’m not going to criticize, but I’m probably going to have to start obeying the call of mother earth..

satire and theology said...

'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.'


thekingpin68 said...

'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.'

I have not seen the film yet, but at least it appears to cause a thinking person to ponder.

Good review.

Great Googly Moogly! said...

Hey Steve,

Thanks for the comment.

The writing and acting aren't anything to write home about, and's a "standard story"; but I really thought it spoke to spiritual/humanity (image-bearing) issues in a powerful way. The visuals, while almost overwhelming at times, not only didn't detract at all (in my opinion) from the "righteous" (Right-ness) message of the movie, but I think they actually strengthened the effect of the message.

I haven't really listened, but if you can figure out what "mother earth" is calling you to do, let me in on it! Personally, however, I'll probably just let the Spirit direct my dealings with His creation.... :-)


I think that's the problem: too often the "Christian Right" (which is too often very wrong) doesn't think past their self-appointed, fundamentalistic Chrisitan/non-christian distinctions. And because of this, the mainstream "conservative Christian" has been effectively brainwashed into following these blind and ignorant guides such that they can't appreciate or discern God's grace and goodness in the "world".

They are effectively saying: If you ain't one of us, then you're one of "them" (a false dichotomy if I ever heard one!)--and we don't want to have anything to do with "them".

Well, I'll follow my Lord and rather be counted with the "sinners" than with the self-appointed "righteous".

Neither Pat Roberston nor Jerry Falwell (RIP) et al. speak for me...thank you very much!

Thanks guys!


satire and theology said...

Well said.

Greg said...

Hey, GGM. We are going to wait until Avatar comes out on DVD, so we can watch it on ClearPlay. You see, we're part of the "self-righteous Christian Right", and we want to at least avoid the bad language and excessive violence.

Actually, I get what you're saying about the vocal conservatives. But as responsible Christians, we should always view our world (even lush, colorful, CG ones) through the self-correcting lenses of our Biblical world-view. Hollywood is dominated by hard-left atheists, whose counter-Biblical views nearly always leak into their big-screen projects. If we do not keep a discriminating mindset, we are almost sure to become desensitized to their corrupt messages. I'm not being paranoid; I've experienced it first-hand, and I see it all around us.

When you scrounge through a dumpster, to find the few treasures that people toss, you cannot help but get dirty yourself, with all the rest of the muck that's also in there. Stay on your guard, my friend. :)

satire and theology said...

Nothing is perfect in this world (although the perfect God works within).

All material whether secular or labeled Christian should be looked at critically.

Jason does well at this.

Great Googly Moogly! said...


I appreciate your conscience and have no problem with Christians exercising discernment as they feel led. It is good to know (or at least suspect) one's own area(s) of difficulty and potential temptations so as to keep oneself pure in heart and conscience before our loving Father.

Having said that, however, I do believe that when we as Christians always divide life (whatever that entails at the moment) into Christian/non-Christian (or even Christian vs. non-Christian) we risk losing much of the enjoyment and edification of seeing the work of the Spirit in and through His creation (whatever that may look like).

I've come to be able to appreciate much in the "secular" or even non-Christian religious realm because, as Paul says, there really are no other gods in the world...only what we have created in our own minds. But, as image-bearers, all people, as Paul also says, know God and cannot help but express this knowledge and their creativity as "image-bearers" whether they glorify the true God or not.

This is how I (personally) can enjoy and even "see" God at work in many "secular" enterprises and glorify Him because of it.

My main problem with the "Christian Right" is that they too easily manifest an "Us vs. Them" mentality without recognizing the reality that as human beings we all share a particular relation to one another and to the Creator God. We too easily cut ourselves off from potential blessing because we think blessing can only come from something or someone with a "Christian Label" on it. As I stated in my review, I find much to commend in Avatar and because I'm not personally offended by certain language (I know where this language comes from and am not aversely affected by it) I am able to appreciate many aspects of the movie's message.

...not to mention the outstanding 3D special effects!

To each his own, I guess. If your conscience is telling you otherwise, I respect that; but if you wait for it on DVD you will be missing some excellent creativity and a thrill ride you won't soon forget.

Thanks again, Greg. I really do appreciate your words and the reminder to be careful. I realize what you are trying to say and a friendly reminder is always appropriate.

Thanks, my friend.


Great Googly Moogly! said...

Thanks Russ,

I appreciate your words of encouragement.

Greg said...

Hey, GGM! I'm so glad you did not take my comments the wrong way. :) As you pointed out, there is much to be gleaned from the non-Christian world. After all, the same God reigns over all. We do, in fact, enjoy many movies and video games, though we are very selective.

But I am always reminded of the Israelites experiences in Canaan. God had warned them to not mindle with the indigenous nations, to not let their children marry them, and to not follow after their idols. They did, and that led them away, far way, from God.

Secular entertainment has a tendency to desensitize us to the sins of this world, to dull our sense of discernment, until things that we once perceived as black-and-white, become gray or even acceptable.

A great litmus test is to ask yourself, "Would Jesus be watching this?"

satire and theology said...

Re: Avatar

Some guy named GMM decided to leave a s&t comment...hmmm.

thekingpin68 said...

I should state that I did see the film. Excellent imagery and special effects. Decent story, but not all that original. The 3-D worked pretty well. Happy Easter.

thekingpin68 said...

Friendly warning:

Wonderful Blogger fixed my Edit Posts function on my blogs finally (after several weeks). Blogger also removed comments from some of my archived articles.

Great Googly Moogly! said...

Thanks Russ,

I've been out of the loop again for quite awhile. I'm not even going to suggest that I think I'll be back soon--I just don't know.

Sorry I haven't been commenting over there. I've been lacking in all my blog activities for the past month or so. I hope to get back to it at some point, but you know how that goes....

Yes, the story wasn't original, but I still think it has a great opportunity to speak to Christians who have an open mind. We are a part of this creation whether fundamentalists like to think so or not. Our "home" is not some ethereal "heaven" in the sky with pink rainbows and streets of gold, etc. This creation will enter into its own "renewal" at the return of Christ and we (along with the rest of Creation) will once again be free from the curse to enjoy God and this world "The Way It's Supposed To Be", as Cornelius Plantinga would say! :-)

Thanks, Russ.


Farrah said...


Should I have unlimited resources, perfect health, and the luxery of time, I could not experience all the wonders of this world. As such, it's no big deal to me if I miss out on those things that are questionable (to me) spiritually.

This is not to say I go 'round thinking ill of all who do experience them. That would be a major downer, as most of the folks I know are less discriminating in their entertainment choices. I either needed to accept that or be continually grieved. I chose to accept it many a long year ago. :-)

Key for me: "Let every man be persuaded in his own mind."

It would have pricked my conscience to see Avatar in the theater. That should be good enough for you. You don't know my weaknesses. You don't know what rules God has placed on me in order to address those weaknesses.

And vice versa. If you're at peace with what you watch, I'm at peace with what you watch. :-)

Perhaps my experience with debilitating illness has provided me with a somewhat unusual perspective? (Don't think I flatter myself. I'm sure lots of people have realized this, but I haven't seen it mentioned in my travels.) At some point, people with extreme physical limitations must come to grips with those limitations. How is it fair for me not to be able to do this or that?

It is but a short amble down the line past my own limitations . . . and on to other's. A life cut short by death, a child born blind, a young man paralyzed from the neck down. Dreams dashed to pieces . . . never to get the chance to marry, have children, see a sunset . . . and then I saw how it all makes sense.

Heaven evens up the playing field. For Christians this is only the testing ground. The most fantastic experiences here will be amplified a hundred times over in eternity. Of that, I am certain. There is no such thing as "missing out," only a postponing. When something superior arrives, the inferior becomes negligible. Forget sugar -- try chocolate cake. Try warm chocolate cake with homemade French vanilla ice cream, hot fudge topping, whipping cream, and well . . . you get the idea!

I expect great things from eternity. Avatar, with all its special effects and breath-taking imagery, ain't got nothing on heaven. I know you'd agree. :-)

Great Googly Moogly! said...

Hi Farrah,

"As such, it's no big deal to me if I miss out on those things that are questionable (to me) spiritually."

"It would have pricked my conscience to see Avatar in the theater. That should be good enough for you. You don't know my weaknesses. You don't know what rules God has placed on me in order to address those weaknesses."

And of course that is good enough for me. I am of the same mind. I have no regret about "missing out" on anything that I find spiritually questionable. I think this is an honest and mature expression of the Christian life and I fault no one who thinks this way. I think we all should all have this same attitude.

My main issue is the (seemingly) constant refrain from certain segments of "Christianity" that we should so separate ourselves from this world that we end up bringing a false dichotomy into God's good Creation. These people (as sincere as they may be) tend to see "evil" in everything that doesn't have the Christian stamp on it without realizing (in my opinion) that God and His truth can be understood and appreciated even through those who haven't come to Christ. Human beings cannot get away from who they are as image-bearers and even in their unregenerate state they can (and often do) testify of God's goodness in Creation. And as a Christian, I find it encouraging when I "see" the truth of God emerging from "the world" even though they don't necessarily give the glory to God.

Too often, I think, Christians can "throw out the baby with the bathwater" when it comes to how we view our lives in this world. What I mean by that is we (speaking generally) tend to spend so much time, energy and effort critizing "the world" and trying to avoid "the world" that we effectively remove ourselves from the world (sure we are not of the world, but we are certainly called to live our lives in the world). Rather, I believe, we should be interacting with the world from a Christian perspective and thereby showing people that the reason they love (for instance) is because they are made in God's image; the reason they have a conscience (flawed though it may be) is because they are image-bearers; the reason they want to protect the earth is because they are image-bearers; the reason they have a concept of justice (whether informed or not) is because they are image-bearers, etc.

We have an opportunity to take what is geniunely "right" in the world as expressed by the unregenerate and show them from where this "rightness" originates. By positively interacting with "the world" (and even enjoying the world), we have a point of contact with unbelievers. Without condoning "evil", we can show them their inconsistencies and begin to lead them to see that apart from Christ they are not fully who God created them to be! We have a way of showing them how sin has affected them and this world in such a way that although they know what is right (and even that they do "know God" innately because they are image-bearers), they fail to live into the reality of who they were created to be because they refuse to know themselves in Christ. We can agree with them that the "goodness" of their actions (when they are doing good) and the "rightness" of their beliefs (when they are promoting what is right) are really "good and right", but that these qualities are only true because of who they are as image-bearers. They are expressing qualities of LIFE, though they are actually DEAD in trespasses and sins. As I said in an earlier post, the unregenerate can and often do express some aspects of true humanity (true image-bearing), but are not fully and authentically human apart from Christ.

Does that make sense? I tried to write about this in one of my post series about "How to Live" or something like that.


Great Googly Moogly! said...


But also, not just as a point of contact, oftentimes "the world" can teach us (Christians) something of God simply because they are expressing truths about God and His purposes without realizing it by the very nature of their being "image-bearers". And this can be a good "conviction" to us when we see, for instance, in Avatar the idea that we should be responsible "stewards" of this good Creation. Now we don't worship the Creation, but I do think that as Christians we sometimes find ourselves so living for "heaven" (which I have different view of than many, I suppose) that we fail to remember that God wants us to treat His creation with respect as well as one another. When we see the unregenerate thinking or behaving as we know we should as Christians, we can not only appreciate God's truth in them and try to help them see it as well, but we can also be moved to repentance by them--know what I mean? Plus, I really do think it is beneficial for Christians to be able to appreciate the "image-bearing" qualities as expressed by unbelievers in a non-Christian context because it reminds us that God is indeed Creator and Lord over all and I think it helps us to see our lives in this world holistically rather than with the false Sacred/Secular distinctions that are simply not biblical categories.

I believe that God wants us to enjoy His creation (including humanity) as we see Him in and through it.

So, to make an already long post longer :-) , I appreciate those whose conscience directs them away from certain activities and such because the only way to be an authentic human being in Christ is to follow your Spirit-led conscience in personal decisions. I would hope that we would all live this way. My problem is with organizations or movements at large that are always critical of all things "non-Christian" (as if they have the market on truth and God) and who teach others to avoid the world and all tings in it because it is evil. I don't think God is honored by this and I do think that Christians miss out on much truth and beauty with this attitude.

I too expect great things in eternity. But that's because I understand the Bible to speak of the final and complete restoration/renewal/redemption of this present creation at the return of Christ. At that time, to borrow my favorite phrase from C. Plantinga, things (all things) will, "Be The Way They Are Supposed To Be"--they way God has designed, intended and purposed! :-)

Thanks for the reply, Farrah!