Avatar is the best adaptation yet of the kind of SF planetary romance that we associate with Edgar Rice Burroughs and his John Carter of Mars series, we heard at RpgZorg. This being a Cameron film, it also comes equipped with most of the director’s usual themes and trademarks: strong female characters, a romantic subplot that plays out against an apocalyptic background, the relationship of humanity to its technology, and an almost masturbatory fascination with military hardware. To that, you can add a sincere but not-too-heavy-handed environmentalist message, and an attitude about humanity that harkens back to Kubrick’s 2001: another film that suggests that we’re not yet ready to travel to the stars, or even survive into the future, without fundamentally evolving into something extra-human. And of course, don’t forget, there’s one hell of a lot of top-shelf action scenes. (Hint: don’t even think of getting up during the final thirty minutes.)
Cameron’s story is simple and well-worn — maybe too worn, for some — but sturdy. Mankind, in 2154, having ruined the Earth, is in search of a necessary but rare mineral to keep modern society going (in the film, it’s called unobtainium — that’s scientist shorthand from the 50s for an element that would solve all of our problems, if only it existed), and this mineral has been located in another system on a remote moon named Pandora. There are problems to getting it: most of Pandora’s flora and fauna — even its air — are deadly to humans, and the biggest deposit of unobtainium yet found sits right below the ancestral home of Pandora’s indigenous population, the Na’vi. Standing twelve feet tall, with slim, feline features, and lovely blue skin, the Na’vi are a fierce warrior culture that has endured by living in harmony with their planet’s ecosystem. They certainly have no intention of leaving their home to satisfy Earthly mining concerns — and they don’t particularly care for what they call the Sky People.