Reviewed by Adriano V. Autino
I saw the movie in 2D, in the original language. Maybe I'll be curious to enjoy the 3D version later. By now I was more interested in understanding the actual cultural quality of this film that is already being called, by many, a true masterpiece. And the exceptional audience turnout, since the early days, seems to confirm such an opinion.
In fact, the film certainly deserves medium-high ratings on several valuation metrics.
The photography, if we can still call it so, seen that it is nowadays a sublime multimedia art, can just earn the highest marks: beautiful pictures, from beginning to end, immersive, wonderful pictures.
A great Sigourney Weaver is Dr. Augustine, chair of the scientific detachment of the Pandora team, contributes to an extremely accurate and convincing recitation, also enhanced by the degree of extreme sophistication and mastery achieved by the digital cinema art. The remainder of the cast are less known names, but all of them offer a passionate and highly professional interpretation. Moreover the previous James Cameron's works all stand for excellence in direction and for the ability to interpret various topics including, but always with passion and great talents. Just think about the terrific "Alien" series, the excellent "The Abyss", and "Titanic".
The story is beautiful and captivating, and it is easy to forgive some evident naivety - or poetic license: a moon in orbit around a giant planet cannot have an Earth-like day-night cycle! However the Pandora's night ignites by fantastic blue lights and a kind of vegetable optical fibres, and we never want to be deprived of such images in name of a better realism!
The theme, well tested, is the one of the rebellion against an empire - well known by the lovers of the Star Wars series, by George Lucas - empire that, this time, adds the extinction of the Planet Earth's nature to their sins.
From the philosophical point of view the story is therefore, so to speak, up to date. But it only looks at the today pre-Copernican concepts, and it portrays, though in a very sophisticated and convincing way, the after all proven American Filmography clichè.
The quantum of social criticism that can be expected is present, in the movie: the main character - in the excellent interpretation of Sam Wortinghton - is a young ex-marine forced into a wheelchair by a tragic accident. He cannot afford the advanced neuroregeneration technology that would restore the use of his legs. And when in his video-diary he records his impressions, the young man is asking: "why should the natives of Pandora allow us to exploit the resources of their planet? for some light beer and some jeans? we have nothing they may want, it is wasted time".
There is a rebellion against a chauvinist and fascist power that, in order to exploit the natural resources of a world, tramples with pragmatic indifference its own excellence in science and philosophy, and perpetrates its disruptive technology violence against an "enemy" that fights by means of bows and arrows.
But the "savages" - very similar to the native Americans, especially in their great respect for nature and their indomitable character - will win in the end (no doubt about the happy end, do not panic :-), thanks to what?
It is here that the movie enters the fable.
Meanwhile - another meme dear to the over- Atlantic cinema - the violence and killing, however, can only be opposed by violence and killing. And they have a possibility to win only by beating the tyrants on their own ground, the violence. As if Gandhi had never existed. By a Terrestrial director, living in our globalized time-country, we could now expect something more.
For example what? I would like very much to see a philosophical and humanistic , morally superior technology, which allows the good ones to win without killing the bad ones nor the "collateral" goods.
But the Na'vi win thanks to their ability to relive their myths and even more, thanks to a kind of philosophical technology of the planet itself, Eywa - metaphor of Gaia, the living planet. In this case we are faced with a sentient Gaia, endowed of intelligence, and of communication media, a kind of neural interface, with its own people. Eywa feels the impending destruction, and uses his power (I will not say too much to not spoil the suspense) in support to the Na'vi warriors.
What is then the philosophical message? Basically the following one: humans failed, setting out on the path of the Neolithic revolution, they had to remain hunters and gatherers (such as Native Americans), and then live in harmony with nature.
Nature would then have rewarded them by developing, herself, the "technology" required for defending itself and them from possible attacks. Obviously, the references to the ancient shamanistic beliefs, tied to a mystical and metaphysical nature, are anything but random (btw I don't mean of course deny their undeniable charm, nor their ancient wisdom).
Taking the road of agriculture - and of the technological culture - a people can only reach to the destruction of nature, then being constrained to venture on other planets, in an obsessive repetition of the massacre: it is well known that when we fail, we tend to keep on repeating the same mistake, in order to show that we are not stupid, and that we were right!
We are therefore fully immersed in the pre-Copernican metaphysics of the closed world, though, in the Avatar story, the worlds are more than one: the inhabitants of each world are better to stay each ones at their own home, trying to make peace with their "own" local nature and, live in harmony with it. The only problem is to defend against possible invaders.
No mention about a more mature understanding of a cosmic ecology. And technology - our poor heavy and "unnatural" technology - is once again showing as the devil, embodying the evil. None awareness of the number and of the vital cultural relevance of growth - for an intelligent species that shall travel the road of knowledge and ethic evolution by their own forces, inevitably making mistakes, and trying to recognize them and learning from them.
No, Avatar doesn't envisage and doesn't call for a transcendent fusion between humans and nature - according to the excellent concept expressed by Robert M. Persig - but imagines an "intelligent nature", making the whole work in place of humans.
In summary, the above are the messages that anyone will be able to get by this good movie, especially thinking of an audience still aimed to hear that technology is evil and nature is good.
Looking it in its essence, we realize that the narrative solution holds a main weak point. Nature is, yes, magic and mysterious, no one can deny, but her gifts, when she does, are of a different kind. Nature offers no beautiful "technological" ready solutions. Humans, at least on this planet, should always sweat every ounce of knowledge, and when we will come to understand and measure the electrical activity and the communication interfaces of nature, it will certainly be a great goal! Neither we could understand what would be the place in the universe for an intelligent species that are not in the need to use their intelligence to increase their own culture, since nature cuddle them from the beginning, providing an advanced communication technology ... a natural kind of world wide web. While we, poor humans, had to sweat our web... And the fact that our science could someday reach to enable us to use some kind of natural web, does not alter, in retrospect, the dedication and the great humanism, the many mistakes (often disastrous but not less tender) of the researchers who sacrificed themselves in history, in order to allow us to achieve great goals. How not to think about the tender Sigourney-Dr.Augustine when, mortally wounded, while in the care of the Eywa philosophical tree, says, "I should take some samples ....".
Another, perhaps less obvious, message exists in this movie. And that is why I love the American cinema, which is based upon a philosophical environmentalist underworld, but not a radically anti-human one. Humans, of course, lead death and destruction to Pandora, with their weapons and with their imperialist arrogance. But they also lead their science, the avatars technology, which allow to interact directly in a non-breathable for humans air. And also humans bring their capacity for compassion and love, which is essential for the salvation of Pandora and its people.
The ideology of profit, I would say, in my free interpretation, at the end is not the devil. It could be enough, at least in case of conflict or potential conflict, that profit was not always considered the ultimate and decisive authority.
And the ideologues of profit, ultimately, make a very stupid choice by entrusting their fate to the military, since they will then, thanks to that wicked choice, have to renounce to any profit. Had they instead relied on science, communication and compassion, they probably wouldn't have remained with dry mouth ...
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this page last updated 30 January 2010
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