The verdict from the Vatican is in: "Avatar," the game-changing 3-D adventure flick that could become the top-grossing movie ever, is "bland."
The Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, also finds fault with James Cameron's creation on theological grounds, opining that the movie "gets bogged down by a spiritualism linked to the worship of nature."
Or, as Vatican Radio summed up what it deems the film’s message: "Nature is no longer a creation to defend, but a divinity to worship."
The Vatican's pan follows a recent Los Angeles Times article noting that some conservatives are slamming the film as anti-military and even anti-American. Meanwhile, The Associated Press reports that some believe “Avatar” promotes an offensive "white messiah fable" with the Caucasian Sully saving the day (though one can make a strong argument Neytiri is the real hero).
An anti-smoking group is upset that Sigourney Weaver’s tough-talking character puffs on cancer sticks. And the 3-D film is even being blamed for causing motion sickness in some viewers.
The first impulse is to say, lighten up, "Avatar" is just a movie – but the reality is that it's movie like no other.
Thanks to the groundbreaking 3-D and computer-driven special effects and its fully realized fantasy world setting, “Avatar” is a uniquely immersive experience – perhaps explaining some of the powerful feelings and multiple interpretations the film has generated. Anyone who’s seen "Avatar" feels like they've visited Pandora, without having to get a passport stamped.
The film’s overwhelming success and its tackling of issues – environmentalism, the evils of colonialism, the historic plight of Native Americans are some surface readings – also have set it up as a convenient blue bogeyman for various interests looking for some publicity or to make a point. Not that the gripes are going to stop the few remaining non-“Avatar” customers (beside the vertigo-afflicted) from seeing the movie.
“Avatar” is proving the rare big-budget flick to achieve both audience and critical acclaim. If the somewhat familiar story line wrapped in a new, unforgettable viewing experience gets people thinking and talking a bit, that’s not a bad thing.
Cameron clearly did something right to spark such strong reactions and box office success. Hardly the hallmarks of a "bland" movie…
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.