Who would have thought that "Avatar", this year's computer-generated masterpiece, would be a narrative taken from real-world conflict? Or that the stars would be a "people of color"? Yes, in the "Avatar" screening, I sat in the dark with my Mr. Magoo 3-D glasses and was so thoroughly immersed in the special effects that I forgot that they were special effects. You've heard all about it -- how this film is a technological leap in movie-making, how it heralds a whole new way of how we experience cinema.
But I was more impressed with the fierceness of the narrative.
"Avatar" written and directed by James Cameron, follows a corporate-military operation on the far-off moon of Pandora, which has an abundant source of a rare mineral that sells for $20 million a kilogram back on earth. Say no more! A corporation, accompanied by mercenaries, is intent on harvesting the mineral and, if necessary, eliminating the planet's humanoid race, the Na'vi, in the process.
The Na'vi are tall, deep blue, have tails and have some type of braided or locked hairdos. Everything about their hue, voices and lives peg them closely to an African or Native American people on earth. Their world may not be covered with concrete, steel and glass, but they have a sophisticated connection to and reverence for their green planet that the head scientist for the corporation (Sigourney Weaver) thinks is more intricate than the human brain. But this connection and reverence has no place of importance in the corporate world. Ultimately, there is a battle between the Na'vi and the corporation, for the sake of natural resources. Sound familiar?
Of course there is also the fact that both the head of the corporation and the military disparage the Na'vi as "savages" and "blue monkeys." The Na'vi have not just laid down their poison-tipped arrows and let the invaders take over their land and so all the propaganda of war is used to prepare the soldiers to possibly lay down their lives in this war against "the enemy."
This bigger narrative is told through the story of a disabled ex-Marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who is recruited to go among the Na'vi as an avatar, a remotely controlled hybrid of human and Na'vi DNA. On the first day of his mission, he is nearly killed but is saved by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), the daughter of the chief of the Na'vi. We follow Jake as he learns the ways of the Na'vi and then, as an epic battle looms, he must decide what side he on and what he will fight for.
The theme of "Avatar" is worth a mention and worth supporting when it is being bashed in some quarters. Some critics like to pretend that they are making "fair and balanced" reviews unrelated to their political or world views. So, there it is. As it turns out, Neither "Precious" with its gross excess nor "The Frog and the Princess" with its fairytale diversions is the signature "Black" movie of the year. "Avatar" might be the biggest, latest thing in special effects but it is also the biggest, latest thing in speaking truth to power--and fighting the power.