I saw the new James Cameron movie last night- AVATAR. I saw it in 3D for $13.50. It was well worth the money.
The movie, as a spectacle, was amazing. The effects, artistry, and seamless interaction between "live" actors and computerized figures sets the new standard. The storyline was pretty good, which surprised me. James Cameron never does anything small scale, this $300 million production is no exception.
The story is set in almost 150 years in the future. Earth has apparently been raped of its natural resources so Earthlings (called "Sky People" by native Pandorans) travel many light years away to a planet (Pandora) to mine it's vast deposits of a particular multi-million dollar mineral. The native Pandorans (10 foot tall skinny blue people called the "Na'vi") have a spiritistic relationship with their planet akin to the Native Americans that once populated North America, and are extremely defensive with the intrusion of Sky People. Many years prior Earthlings visited Pandora as a way of understanding the indigenous people and to see if a peaceful agreement could be reached so some of the minerals could be mined. As part of this process a new technology was developed where a Na'vi body could be "made" in a giant test tube. By way of a computer link up the body could be controlled by a human in a remote location. These controllable Na'vi bodies were called AVATAR's, hence the movies title. An avatar is a computer user's representation of himself/herself or alter ego usually in the form of a three-dimensional model. In this case they were actual physical Na'vi-looking representations of whatever human was controlling them. So as not to alarm the Na'vi, the human scientists would interact with the natives through the use of avatars. The Na'vi were at ease with these creatures, but didn't fully accept them as authentic. The Avatar "program" was a primarily a Scientific endeavor with nerdy Ph.D's controlling the Avatars. Mineral acquisition wasn't very important to the scientific team which started to weary the private companies itching to get at the planet's minerals.
As time went on, a particular private mining company built a military base on Pandora and basically gave the Pandoran's a deadline to strike a deal or have their minerals taken by force. Enter Jake Sully. Unlike the scientists controlling the other avatars, Sully was a former Marine who lost the use of his legs in a prior battle on Earth. He controlled an avatar who was able to infiltrate the main Na'vi village and gain the trust of the natives. Over the course of 3 months he was ritualistically accepted as a true Na'vi and basically married a Na'vi woman (who also happened to be the chief's daughter).
As you might expect, Sully became torn about his allegiance to the mining company that was paying him to talk the Na'vi in to giving up their minerals and his new found tribe and wife. I won't spoil the conclusion, you should see the film (you can read a full synopsis here). This isn't a film for pre-teen kids. There's some harsh language and some goofy sensuality that's hard to categorize- you basically have nakedish tall blue skinny people gallivanting to and fro throughout.
There is a pretty clear theme in the movie, perhaps it's a message or worldview promotion, I don't know. The Na'vi are portrayed as deeply spiritual. Spirituality is defined as being one with all things (living and non living). The planet in some way is God (called Eyra) and all living creatures are united together in a balance. It's kind of a spiritism meshed with animism. Complicating this unusual admixture is an actual physical way for all creatures to be one. It seems that all the creatures (flying creatures, horse-like things, and even a special tree) have a sort of link rope, including the Na'vi. You can become one with any living creature simply by linking your "rope" to theirs. A bit weird, I know.
It's a great movie to analyze with teens to talk about the worldview that seems to underlie the film. It could be used to discuss a genuine, biblical view of creation, among other things. Like Star Wars, the "religion" of the movie is obvious but also fantastical and easily deconstructed biblically- great conversation fodder. I'm glad I saw it.