Landmark films literally change the face of the art form itself and are rare indeed. The Great Train Robbery, the first big hit silent film; The Jazz Singer, the first talking film; The Wizard of Oz, one of the first huge family movies; Jaws, the first summer blockbuster; Star Wars, the first science fiction epic of the new technology era; and now Avatar.
Avatar is simply unlike any other film ever made. The experience of Avatar in 3D is a glimpse into the potential of film to literally immerse the viewer in the story. We actually materialize in the onscreen world. Even more amazingly, the spirituality of the story of Avatar is on a par with its technology. We truly aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto. We’re on Pandora.
Pandora is the distant planet on which Avatar plays out. Humans have come to Pandora to mine the most valuable mineral in the universe. Standing in their way are the N’avi, Pandora’s blue, 10 foot tall, deeply spiritual, indigenous race. To infiltrate the N’avi, humans create biological Avatars of the N’avi into whom the consciousness of human beings can be transferred. The Avatars can then interact with the N’avi, even though the N’avi can easily detect the difference. One particular human Marine is sent in as an Avatar and falls in love with a N’avi, ultimately transforming both himself and the world around him.
The spiritual metaphors of Avatar are truly dazzling. Aren’t all of us as humans truly Avatars — spiritual beings inhabiting human bodies that our consciousness adopts as a temporary home while our spirits evolve.
The N’avi are a deeply spiritual race, fiercely devoted to family and their environment, choosing mates for life, and worshiping the beauty and power of their natural world. “We are all one” is taken to its highest zenith on Pandora. Not only are the N’avi connected to each other, but also they have learned a way to bond, both physically and spiritually, with the magical and glorious creatures of Pandora. Furthermore, all of nature itself on Pandora is connected in a very tangible and communicable way, something that humans encounter in the denouement of the film.
Nothing can prepare you for the visual and visceral wonder of visiting Pandora in 3D. Fortunately, the film uses none of the old and cheap 3D tricks of scaring you out of your seat with arrows or bullets coming straight at you. You just feel like reaching out and touching the wonders of Pandora.
The genius behind Pandora is writer/director James Cameron, whose last film, Titanic, became the highest grossing film in history. As in Titanic, Cameron gives us a magical love story in Avatar, tender and fierce, loving and comical, challenging and engrossing. Cameron has mastered a new 3D technology that literally catapults us into a new era of film wherein we as viewers truly inhabit a whole new world.
Cameron also created the Terminator films and, unfortunately, the final confrontation between the N’avi and the marauding humans is quite violent, as are some earlier sequences. For that reason, I do want to warn those of you who are sensitive to onscreen violence that Avatar very well might be a bridge too far for you. Normally, my wife and I feel the same way but we were so immersed in the drama and wonder of the story that we made it through the violent scenes of the film, knowing that the spirituality and goodness of the N’avi would ultimately rule the day. (Not to be a spoiler, it does). Still, I would be remiss in not waving a caution flag about the violence in the film. It’s there and it’s significant.
The violence aside, Avatar has birthed a new method of movie storytelling. Some day, the technology of Avatar will be used (sans violence) by filmmakers to take us much further into the spiritual journey of our souls. Into the dreams we call illusion and the illusions we call reality. Into the awe and wonder of this majestic, mysterious, and mystical adventure that we call life. Into a new world of Spiritual Cinema. And we will look back and thank James Cameron for bringing this new vision to us for the first time.
See Avatar in 3D while it is still in theaters. You just may want to be able to tell your children and grandchildren that you were there when everything changed. And then please join us at Spiritual Cinema Circle and discuss the film on our message boards!