In Between Sermons, Avatar a Stunning Experience

Director James Cameron set himself up to fail with Avatar, his first feature film since 1997’s Oscar-winning Titanic.

Cameron all but promised Avatar would reinvent the way we look at 3-D movies. And darn if he didn’t live up to his own hype.

Avatar is a thing of beauty, a 3-D movie of clarity and power. And, at a time when the special effects bar is raised with every new blockbuster, Cameron’s film sends that bar rising through the rafters.

So why did he retrofit his film with an immature Iraq war meme and, much worse, politically loaded dialogue that rips you right out of the movie time and time again?

The futuristic film stars Sam Worthington as Jake, a partially paralyzed Marine who agrees to go back onto the battlefield in order to glean information about the Na’Vi, a blue-skinned race living on the planet Pandora.

Their planet is loaded with a mineral called unobtainium that doubles as a energy source. The military -- and its corporate tag team partners -- need to retrieve the mineral because the Earth’s resources are depleted.

You’d think by the year 2154 we’d have solved those pesky green solutions like solar power, hydrogen cells, and wind-driven turbines.

But before you can say “no blood for unobtanium,” Jake starts to identify with the tall, elegant creatures who agree to teach him their culture for less than clear reasons. He’s particularly fond of Neytiri (voiced by Zoe Saldana of Star Trek), a beautiful 10-foot-tall humanoid whose gruff exterior quickly melts away.

Suffice it to say, the creatures respect nature to a fault, going so far as to apologize after killing a creature for sustenance or survival. That probably means little to the slain creature, but it makes the Na’vi feel so much better.

Jake is a Marine on a mission, but after becoming enmeshed in the alien culture he starts to question the military’s plan for Pandora.

The film echoes the war in Vietnam when the military starts strafing innocent Na’vi from above, but the biggest ideological sights are set on this country’s adventures in the Middle East.

Phrases like “shock and awe” pour out of the actors’ mouths, instantly ripping us out of the story and back into the last op-ed column we’ve read.

Why a filmmaker as smart and gifted as Cameron would use reportedly $300 million to immerse us in a unique fantasy only to yank us out of it is a mystery for the ages.

Then again, in Hollywood, ideology too often trumps all.