Out of body experience

THERE’S been a lot of hype out there around Avatar. It will not go down in history as the greatest movie ever made. Nor can it lay claim to an original story line. Or even Oscar-worthy performances.

But it is a good movie.

Like Stars Wars before it, Avatar has borrowed its storyline from previous movies (think Dances with Wolves), thrown it into a Sci-Fi milieu (director James Cameron also made Terminator 2 and Aliens), added mind-blowing visual effects (Avatar was specifically made for 3D), and chosen enjoyable characters, all of which have resulted in a memorable landmark in film making. It also carries an eco-parable which coincides rather conveniently with last weeks Copenhagen conference on climate change.

But what is it about? In AD 2154 a young marine, Jake Sully, travels to Pandora, a lush planet populated by a blue-skinned indigenous people called the Na’vi but also home to a precious mineral which Earth’s mining companies are desperate to get their hands on. Using some funky science, Sully, a paraplegic, is able to inhabit the body of a Na’vi – his avatar – and so starts to build a relationship with the local people in order to persuade them to accept the mining company’s offers for their land.

But Sully soon falls in love and finds himself having to reconsider his loyalty to the company and its destructive mining practices.

Corporate greed is the clear bad guy in Avatar. The company’s security forces use familiar practices like ‘shock and awe’ and the ‘war on terror’ to help secure the resources which ensure healthy financial quarterly reports. The contrasts between their grimy open-cast mines and the pristine jungles of Pandora are a well-timed reminder to any delegates returning from Copenhagen about the true cost of not preventing the destruction of our fragile biosphere.

The parallels are clear. The Earth is faltering because we are ruthlessly exploiting its assets. We are guilty of being poor stewards of God’s creation. That includes Christians who’ve taken the verses in Genesis 1: 26-28 to mean we can take what we want with no consideration for others or for future generations.

But that attitude has changed and is changing. There is a belief, clearly seen in Avatar’s Na’vi tribe, that it’s only First Nation peoples or hippies who have any concern for our planet’s health. This is clearly not true – The Wave march I was on recently in London was filled with Christian groups campaigning for climate change regulations. Christians are and need to be at the forefront of protecting God’s creation.

James Cameron was clearly passionate about getting his environmental message and vision out there. He spent 12 years and $300 million creating Avatar. That makes it the most expensive movie ever made. Since he made Titanic (the most successful movie of all time) Cameron had no shortage of investors willing to write blank cheques. It was money well spent.

Every penny of that $300 million has been used in creating not only a believable but a beautiful world. The opening 45 minutes feels like a BBC Planet Earth type showcase of the natural highlights of Cameron’s Pandora. Prior to Avatar he had made two films about deep sea diving. The creatures he encountered there (glowing jellyfishes and fluorescent plants) are clear influences on Pandora’s psychedelic flora and fauna. There’s a constant sense of wonder throughout as we experience the thrill of Pandora through Sully’s eyes of exploration.

This was also my first 3D film in a cinema. The visual effects are so incredible I was forever ducking and diving as the film leapt off the screen. Seasoned 3D viewers must have been shaking their heads at me.

Avatar has raised the bar. 3D may be gimmick but when it’s used like this you will want to watch all your movies that way.

As the credits rolled and I removed my glasses I was encouraged by the hope for the future which Avatar clearly wants to inspire. I wish the same could be said of Copenhagen’s rather limp conclusion. Like the Na’vi we’ll have to make sure our governments and big businesses continue to hear our call for a cleaner, healthier and less destructive planet.

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