Avatar on Earth Day
A blockbuster film showcases the contradictions of organic liberalism.


Thomas S. Hibbs

James Cameron’s record-shattering film Avatar is being released on DVD today. Today is not a Tuesday, the day DVDs normally hit the stores, but a Thursday, to coincide with the 40th annual Earth Day: Avatar highlights the threats posed by an advanced, war-mongering, and artificial society to a primitive, pacific, and organic culture.

Ironically, the film has received accolades for both this ideological vision of a pristine world untouched by industrial man and the high-powered technology evident in its mesmerizing 3-D visuals. The contradiction here is deeper and more instructive than the inconsistencies involved in Earth Day celebrations that leave tons of rubbish behind, or in the hypocrisy of Hollywood stars’ cavorting about the globe in private jets to lecture the rest of us on conservation.

The visual quality of the film is indeed stunning, but mere artistry would have proven tiresome were the world of the Na’vi not such a fascinating one. In the journal Image, Jeffrey Overstreet aptly comments, “Pandora is a whole new world of breathtaking beauty, exploding with wild new life forms that soar, spark, prowl, pounce, gallop, and graze. Borrowing heavily, and brilliantly, from what he’s seen in deep-sea exploration, Cameron has built the most enchanting magic kingdom since Dorothy first stepped into Technicolor Oz.”

In some ways, the film is not so much a departure as a continuation of a trend in recent filmmaking. In the last decade, in the annual ranking of box-office success, large-scale, mythic quest stories have most often dominated: Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord Of the Rings, and now — one mythic blockbuster to rule them all — Avatar.

The hero of the story, and the vehicle through which the audience comes to experience the world of Pandora, is a partially paralyzed marine named Jake Sullivan — who takes on an avatar, an artificial body of the Na’vi, in the Avatar Project. His goal is to infiltrate a tight-knit community, uncover information about it, and perhaps even persuade its people to relocate so that the military can secure a desirable natural resource called “unobtainium.” When Sullivan’s efforts aren’t as successful as hoped, the military commander threatens “shock and awe” and promises to fight “terror with terror.”