Main Cast: Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver

Director: James Cameron

After my less than successful stop in Cleveland at some political convention or other where my performance was rudely cut short, Leah and I (along with a truck full of newly made red white and blue GlamourPuss gowns and a couple of talented seamstresses) headed back across the country.  I elected to take the southern route and we were soon barreling along Interstate 40.  All went well until my luxurious motor coach burst some sort of gasket in rural Arizona.  We had to make an unscheduled stop in the little town of Holbrook where we were able to find lodgings at a roadside inn while waiting for a local mechanic to complete repairs.  It took us all of about twenty minutes to explore the town which seemed to consist of several roadside stands specializing in petrified wood and Native American jewelry and a not very good Mexican restaurant.  It was then that I had one of those flashes of brilliance for which I am famous.  We would sell my extra ball gowns to the local women who are definitely short on Hollywood glamor.

Quick as a flash I and my entourage occupied the disused Wigwam trading post that looked like it hadn’t had a successful occupant since the heyday of Route 66.  I had my seamstresses, Kim Dee and Mary Gee, set up their machines out front so potential customers could see yards of chiffon, organdy and brocade be transformed into simply stunning creations right before their eyes, and waited for customers to flock.  In the first hour, all we got was a local sheriff’s deputy wondering about our permits.  I turned on the charm, gave him a free sample of a Bombalurina from the GlamourPuss gowns collection in a simply stunning shade of teal and he promised that we would be undisturbed.  Things remained slow until a truckload of Navajo ladies of a certain age pulled up.  They were simply open-mouthed at my fabulous creations and they soon departed resplendent in their new finery.  I made sure everything fit correctly and gave them all beauty tips using my finest Lesterne cosmetics.  I told them to send their friends as I would only be open for business for a short time as I needed to get back to Casa Maine and my issues with its simian haunting.   Word must have spread quickly as pickup after pickup of Navajo and Hopi ladies began to arrive and business remained brisk until sundown when it was time to retire to the motel.

For a wind down film for the evening, I went looking for something that addresses cross cultural issues hoping to catch a tip or two for my dealings with the locals. I seemed to be doing a splendid job with the ladies of the desert southwest but as they spent much of their time conversing in their native tongues, I was not always certain of their true thoughts.   The movie that caught my eye was James Cameron’s 2009 epic, Avatar; the natives in the film may be nine feet tall and blue, but there might be lessons for dealing with cultures different from one’s own.  Leah and I queued up the DVD, plugged the machine into the motel TV and settled in for a watch.

Avatar takes place on the distant planet of Pandora, a unique ecosystem full of fluorescent reptiles and Day-Glo botanicals.  The dominant species are the intelligent humanoid Na’vi, a sort of nine-foot-tall blue thing modeled after Nastassia Kinski in her Cat People phase.  The Na’vi have the misfortune of building their ancestral homes on top of rich deposits of the mineral unobtainium (subtlety has never been Cameron’s forte as a screenwriter).  Humans want and need it and there is a military installation on Pandora to make sure they get it.  Enter Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), an ex-Marine, paraplegic from an injury and making the trip in the place of his recently deceased scientist identical twin.  When he arrives, he finds that he is basically to become a driver for a Na’vi body, an avatar, which is matched to his genetic code.  Sully finds his ability to run through the jungle landscape in a fully functional body intoxicating, freed from his own imperfections and limitations.  Soon he finds himself in the middle of a three-way conflict.  There are the militarists led by a living GI Joe doll, Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) and the weasel industrialist Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) who want to wipe out the natives and strip mine their habitat.  There are the scientists led by an acerbic Sigourney Weaver who want to use their avatar bodies to establish better relations with the Na’vi and there are the Na’vi themselves who act like the noble savage Native Americans in revisionist Westerns complete with a Sitting Bull (Wes Studi), Crazy Horse (Laz Alonso) and Pocahontas (Zoe Saldana) who teaches Sully the ways of her people leading to the two of them falling madly in love.  Needless to say, these forces with their varying objectives come into conflict and there are many explosions and combat scenes until the inevitable conclusion is reached.

The film was an enormous hit at the time of its release and confirmed Cameron’s self-proclaimed title of ‘King of the World Box Office’.  It’s epic scope, beautifully realized alien landscapes, and simple storytelling had audiences flocking to it for months and its use of premium pricing for the burgeoning IMAX and 3-D formats for epic adventure films led to a healthy financial success.  However, despite all of this, it didn’t have the cultural impact of previous fantasy epics such as Star Wars or even Cameron’s own The Terminator, perhaps because audiences recognized just how derivative a work it is.  Cameron is a competent director with a fine visual eye and beautifully composed shots, but he is not particularly well known for pulling good performances out of actors.  Sam Worthington, in the central role, looks a bit like a military man and is handsome enough but he’s a bit of a black hole in the middle of the film, sucking in the charisma of the other better actors around him.

Cameron the writer does himself no favors.  He has always been very good at story structure, but his ear for dialogue is clunky at best and a number of the exchanges, especially in the base scenes, are risible at best.  Good actors could rise above this but the likes of Giovanni Ribisi and Michelle Rodriguez are not particularly gifted.  Only Sigourney Weaver with her chain smoking sarcasm, consistently rises to the task of creating a fully fleshed out character with whom we can identify.  As for the plot, let us just say that ‘Dances with Flying Lizard Thing’ sums it up pretty succinctly and it wasn’t that great a plot when it was done by Kevin Costner.

The major reason to sit through nearly three hours of the saga of the blue man group is the inventiveness of the production in fleshing out the ecosystem of Pandora.  There are plants that rapidly disappear.  There are bulldozing hammerhead things.  There are quite lovely glowing floating seed pods.  Somebody had fun putting this all together.  This, Sigourney Weaver injecting occasional life into otherwise flaccid scenes, and the occasional amusing bit by supporting comic relief (Joel David Moore as a junior scientist) keep the evening from being a loss.

Poisonous atmosphere.  Golf putter.  Gratuitous Na’vi basketball.  Big tree.  Weird symbiotic tentacle things. Holy grove. Flying lizard things.  Gratuitous CCH Pounder.  Multiple violations of laws of physics.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

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