Some of the main line critics have carped about James Cameron's script and story for his uber-expensive fantasy epic AVATAR. Perhaps they miss several points. First, the film is a technical wonder in 3-D in that the viewer is thrust into the environment and not just assaulted by flaming arrows, rocks, and the like as in earlier 3-D films. Also, the story works on several layers. After all, it is set in the distant future when we have depleted Earth of all its natural resources and now we must import them from other planets. Under military "protection," a huge industrial outfit is determined to export Unobtainium from the planet....The richest vein of this energy is beneath a giant tree which the Nihi hold sacred and where the tribe lives. For the USA military/business complex, this is a no-brainer. Blow up that useless tree. So we have obvious attacks on U.S. policies in the past and the present, from Vietnam on. The visuals and words support this idea. In one scene as the military planes begin bombing the Nihi, we are reminded of the visuals we used to see in the 1970's as Vietnam villages were blown away. We also have environmentalists and humanists (bleeding hearts according to the military leaders) eventually standing with the Nihi in an attempt to save their planet. So the layers continue to unfold.
Finally there is the personal story of a tough marine who has lost the use of his legs but is able to find action in his avatar form (blue, ten feet tall, macho yet sensitive). As he learns the way of the Nihis and falls in love with their princess, his loyalties change and we are bombarded with references to earlier films from POCAHONTAS to NEW WORLD. Of course, director Cameron has no hesitation in quoting himself. James Horner's lush score reeks of TITANIC. Some of the military hardware comes from the TERMINATOR films and ALIENS, as do the tough, no-nonsense females. Sigourney Weaver even makes her entrance stepping out of her avatar pod and demanding a cigarette. The battles are impressive, but the world that Cameron creates is the show-stopper. There has simply not been a movie this ground-breaking in technique and freshness since the original STAR WARS. The motion-capture process that seemed so clunky in BEOWULF and THE POLAR EXPRESS has raised the bar for any such techniques in the future. AVATAR may have a few familiar cliches and characters, but its vision is truly visionary.