When I first saw Avatar (2009), I was struck by the experience, and I mean that word precisely. It is kind of a dumb movie and a derivative plot, basically is Dances with Wolves in outer space. If you are unfamiliar with that story, it is about a disillusioned Civil War veteran who journeys to the vanishing American frontier and, as the expression goes, goes native. You could almost line up the two films side-by-side and they would match beat-for-beat. Yet with Avatar, the message behind the film of modern society being bad and indigenous culture being good will stick with you until you are blue in the face.
There is a lot of blue in Avatar. Pandora, the planet on which this story takes place, orbits a much bigger blue one. The Na’vi, the race of humanoids that inhabit Pandora, and blue skinned and are not too keen on the corporation that is there and attempting to strip mine their resources. The stuff the “sky people,” as the Na’vi refer to humans, were looking for is laughably called “unobtanium.” As it turns out, that is a real word for a rare or hypothetical metal, but at the time I thought, “Come on.” Anyway, this tense world is what Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a former Marine, enters. He is there to replace his dead twin brother who was supposed to “pilot,” for lack of a better word, a Na’vi body that was grown from his brother’s DNA. Given that he is also crippled from his service, he takes naturally to his avatar and its ability to do the things he once could as a soldier. He wanted to belong again, and the commander of the mercenaries there to protect the corporation’s interests, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), used Jake’s desire to be of use to collect information on what he sees as a threat in the Na’vi. Where it all goes wrong for the corporation is when Jake falls in love with Na’vi culture generally, and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) specifically. Neytiri is the one who finds Jake lost in the Pandora woods and brings him into the Na’vi village where he acts as a liaison in trying to bring peace between the aliens (in this case humans) and the native population. Where things fall apart, though, is when the corporation decides to uproot the tree in which this group of Na’vi live, forcing Jake to side with his new home. In the process, he unites many groups of Na’vi, and together they manage to defeat the more technologically advanced “Sky People” and usher them off planet.
As mentioned at the outset, Avatar has a clear message that technology is bad. The actions of the corporation, obviously motivated by greed and profit, were heinous. What made things border on silly, though, was how over-the-top evil they behaved. I supposed when dealing with a science fiction story with strange beings with which the audience is unfamiliar, you need to make certain other parameters firm like who are the villains. Interestingly, however, was the fact that Jake used throat microphones to communicate with Neytiri and her brother Tsu’tey (Laz Alonso) during the climactic battle. So, some technology is okay, then, when it is used to fight corporate greed. Either way, a more balanced approach to the story would have been appreciated.
Also, as I alluded to above, watching Avatar is about the experience of being on Pandora, and I must give credit to James Cameron for creating an immersive bit of cinema. After thinking about it, it is easy to see why Jake would fall in love with not just the people, but the flora and fauna. This brings me to the Franciscan wing of Catholicism. There is the famous story of St. Francis of Assisi who, frustrated that his message was falling on deaf people ears, instead began preaching to animals. Since that time in the thirteenth century, the Church has professed a care for all God’s creature, be them sentient or otherwise. That does not mean you need to be a vegetarian to be a Catholic. Lord knows I am not one. But the defense of the planet and all its inhabitants is in keeping with sound Church teaching.
If you have not seen Avatar and are interested in viewing it, try to ignore the message involved, even though every attempt is made to hit you over the head with it. But if you enjoy slick filming techniques, then go for it, and know that it has held up fairly well since its release. There is violence in it, but very much in keeping with its PG-13 rating. And you can find it on Disney +, so if you have that service, you are all set.