Here is a collection of some of my favorite lines from the James Cameron movie “Avatar,” the 3-D extravaganza filling up Cineplexes this holiday season, which owes so much to similar spectacles that went before in its groundbreaking status, (like “Star Wars” in the ‘70s, “Jurassic Park” or “Lost World.”)
First, let me say that “Avatar” is an overtly political anti-war movie commenting on the Bush Administration’s war of blood and treasure. It is not that original in that respect, but the cinematic advances Cameron and crew engineered are extremely impressive and original and should garner Oscar nods. Another original touch is the language, created by linguist Paul Frommer, who created about 500 words for the natives to use.
Just listen to these lines (from an old-school military type not unlike Robert Duvall’s character Lt. Col. Bill Kilgore in “Apocalypse Now”): “I need to know how to force their (the natives) cooperation and come down on them hard if they balk.” Later, this same military mind (Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quaritch) will say: “Find me a carrot that will get them to move. Otherwise, it’s gonna’ be all stick.” Colonel Quaritch adds, “It’ll be humane—more or less.” [As with all wars, mostly less.] It’s interesting that Michael Biehn was considered for this pivotal military role of Colonel Quaritch, but, after three meetings, Cameron rejected casting Biehn, fearful that, with Sigourney Weaver already onboard, audiences would think it was “Aliens” all over again.
“Out there is the true world and in here is the dream.” This quote is from Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), the paraplegic marine who becomes an Avatar on the planet Pandora in the year 2154, replacing his brother, who has been killed in battle. When Jake goes native, he has the use of his legs again; he is being taught the culture by Neytiri, who is the daughter of a Medicine Woman of the tribe (Zoe Saldana) who says to him, at one point, “Learn well. Then we will see if your insanity can be cured.”
Jake and the others are there because, as team leader Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) says in one revealing exchange while holding a small gray rock, “This is why we’re here, because this little gray rock (dubbed unitanium) sells for $20 million a kilo.” Could the analogy between oil in Iraq (et. al.) be any clearer?
Through the use of what looks like a cross between a coffin and a tanning booth, Jake and the “good guy” team leader, Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) are transformed into the native Na’vi natives, complete with great height, blue coloring and tails. Grace is on the side of progress and peace and wants to help the Pandora natives, but the military is more interested in getting the biggest bang for its buck. [Or, perhaps, just getting the biggest bang. Period.]
The natives don’t like being invaded (imagine that) by a foreign power, and they say, “The Sky People have sent us a message that they can take whatever they want and nothing can stop them. This is our land.” There is also this line, “Our only security lies in pre-emptive attack” and the term “shock and awe” is used. By this time, only someone living in a cave since 2004 would have missed the point, a point that has been made before.
The natives on Pandora give us a sneak preview of Earth’s fate in 2154 with this line, “There’s no green there (on Earth). They killed their mother.” And the Pandorans note “The wealth of this world isn’t in the ground; it’s in the world around them.”
Supposedly, Director Cameron wanted to follow up “Titanic” immediately with “Avatar,” but the technology was not yet advanced enough to allow him to do all the things he wanted to do. However, when he saw Golum in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, he realized that the task could be accomplished. Forty per cent of the action in “Avatar” was live and 60% of it was photo-realistic computer generated. The 3D version, which I saw, was impressive, especially when the small white feathery dandelion-like floaters from the Tree of Souls (seeds of the Sacred Tree that transmits voices of the tribe’s ancestors) land on Jake Sully and in the battle sequences. I’m not keen on 3D glasses, in general, (although the opening sequence of the “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” film was impressive), but I genuinely enjoyed the film, despite the feeling that, thematically, it wasn’t breaking much new ground. Same formula we’ve all seen before: War is bad. Boy converts from warmonger to peace activist. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. It’s not a rocket science leap to think up these plot lines, but having said that, the plot moves along briskly and there are no dead or dull spots. Something is always happening onscreen and very often that something is extraordinary.
The movie’s concepts are both original and retooled. For example, native Americans (United States Indians) are ripped off, Big Time, even to the point that Zoe Saldana as the Na’Vi love interest, Neytiri, is Pocahontas-like in defending her man (Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington). The rituals and dances, chants and beliefs echo those of Native American peoples (and others), and the comment that “Every man is born twice” in the Na’vi culture smacks of any number of religions…[and I’m not referencing merely Christians who believe in an After-life but Buddhists, et. al.]
The anti-war polemic grew tiresome to some in my party (Republican Bush supporters, no doubt) and as the inevitable love interest/pacifist movement gained steam, Jake Sully utters the sentiment, “I was a warrior who dreamed he could bring peace. Sooner or later, you always have to wake up.” (Please rush that memo to President Obama before we send off those 35,000 additional troops.)
“Avatar” broke opening Christmas weekend records set by “The Incredibles” in 2004, taking in $75.6 million dollars, $212.7 domestically and $600 million worldwide, according to the International Movie Data Base. Although it is estimated to have cost anywhere from $300 million to $500 million to make (I’ve seen both figures, and Cameron was coy during his interview with Charlie Rose on that program), it’s still raking it in at the box office. We’re in for many more 3D movie experiences, if the success of “Avatar” is any indication.