AVATAR – a sumptuous feast for the senses!

Caught Avatar on IMAX 3D in a packed auditorium. Sitting next to me was an 8 year old wriggling in his seat with excitement – waiting for the film to begin. Down the row three teenagers were taking pictures of themselves in the 3D glasses, and people had lined up 2 hours before the show started to grab the best seats in the huge theater. By standing in line for an hour I managed to score reasonable seats that were not in the front row side! So what did Cameron and IMAX serve up?

From the word go the moon Pandora sucked me in! There was lush tree life and we soon saw hexapods of every shape and size that vaguely resembled animals we see on earth. There were flying dinosaurs, lumbering terra-bound dinosaurs, six limbed fierce canines, and the Na’vi. These BLUE “people” were pure of heart and connected in a giant Gaia-like web to all other living creatures – animal and vegetal – on the planet. Did Cameron deliberately make them take on the BLUE hue of our avatars of Rama and Krishna? But of course the real Avatars were the hybrid bodies created with evil earth technology by fusing the Na’vi and human DNA. These AVATARS are controlled by the human mind that shares DNA with them. Strangely enough, in an environment with this technology of ESP or non-physical connections, people still scoff at Na’vi minds being connected through a large network of “nerves” that run through trees!!

Since many have poked holes in the story of Avatar, I want to talk about that first. Yes, it is all we expect from a big budget Hollywood studio film. The corporates have fucked up the home planet and Earth is not even green anymore. Now they are at Pandora and want UNOBTAINIUM, the mineral that will change semiconductor business, and are aided by the evil military types who are now guns for hire. (Unobtainium makes it sound more like a radioactive element!) Into this mess is co-opted Jake Sully, a paralyzed war veteran whose twin brother shared DNA with an Avatar but died in an accident. The scientists are the usual Hollywood geeks but Cameron does them a favor but not casting them as evil doers who have destroyed the planet. The love story is subdued but works as the reason why Jake Sully decides to let go of his military loyalties and protect the Na’vi way of life.

Cameron also gets a surprising amount of the science right, except for the floating mountains, and the fact that most of the imagined life on Pandora was very Earth-like, particularly the Na’vi. Even more scientifically troubling is the idea of melding genetic material from the Na’vi and the humans. This suggests that all life has chemically similar genetic material, a panspermia or Chariots of the Gods type of scenario! But giving the animals 6 limbs does make them unique and a different evolutionary trajectory from that we see in large earth life. The glowing life that responded to tactile stimuli was a great touch and here Cameron seemed heavily inspired by ocean life – the floating seeds of the “mother” tree were like jellyfish, and the glowing extensions of vegetation like see anemone tentacles! The animal-vegetal neural networks on Pandora are a flight of the imagination that is a little breathtaking! And dragons and horses that need to bond with their riders goes with the theme and seems a little less outrageous in comparison.

All in all Avatar soars into flight and is a breathtaking ride that keeps one engaged for the almost 3 hour run time. The cliched story is still several notches above what Titanic served up, and the no star cast does a good job of keeping us engaged in the characters they play. The exception (to the no name bit) is Sigourney Weaver, and she can never be less than engaging! Even the bad guys are not cardboard cutouts. The wrench I felt in my heart as the giant tree went down, was more than what I felt as DiCaprio drowned among the debris of the sinking ship. And the exhilaration one shared with Jake Sully as he soared on the orange red dragon was worth the price of admission.

The IMAX 3D was a little patchy in places where the depth of field was preset and made things out of the field hazy and blurry. But the thunderous sound system and the gigantic screen gave one no time to ponder on anything but the show going on and to be completely immersed in it. A rewatch is needed to catch all the nunaces, but for now, Avatar was a phenomenal film, a wonder and an experience!

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