The Battle For Pandora

I love to watch movies.  Jill and our kids love to watch movies.  We have so many good memories of watching hilarious side-splitting movies, and nail-biting action/thriller movies, and well done just-for-fun animation movies.  And of course we all can appreciate a good romance story.  So when they came out with a movie that had all of these aspects, plus fantastic cinematography, there was little doubt in my mind that we had just seen the best movie of 2009.

Which movie do you ask?  Well, Avatar of course.  At least in my opinion it was the best movie of the year.  But then I checked online for what others were saying about the movie, and three of the top movie rating sites put Avatar easily within the top 10 movies of the year.  Here are some of the comments from the movie critics:

  • Avatar is the BIGGEST movie of 2009. There is literally NO other movie that in any way, shape, or form that could conceivably be bigger. Why? First, it’s the first theatrical movie written and directed by James Cameron since Titanic, i.e. the highest grossing movie EVER. Second, by all reports, Cameron has spent the better part of a decade prepping for Avatar and has allegedly completely reinvented 3D technology to make a blow-you-through-the-back-of-your-seat experience that will remind you why watching DVDs will NEVER replace the glory of seeing a movie up on the big screen. Third, it’s a massive scope sci-fi epic, a genre that Cameron does extremely well (i.e., Terminator 2 and Aliens).   (
  • Avatar is the event movie of the decade, a film you absolutely must see in theaters – in digital 3-D – to believe. Cameron employed technology created just for Avatar, and the end result is a groundbreaking, spellbinding, brilliant piece of art.   (
  • You’re probably already tired of hearing about how “James Cameron has completely revolutionized filmmaking” with his 12-years-in-the-making 3D extravaganza. Well, sorry to say it, but he kind of has. ‘Avatar‘ is the first movie in which 3D is seamlessly integrated into almost every scene to eye-popping and, frankly, gorgeous effect.   (

And another thing that I found out about while surfing the net to find out more about how well this movie succeeded, is that it has taken the lead for the highest-grossing film ever produced.  It was in 1997 that Cameron produced Titanic and it grossed worldwide over 1.8 billion dollars.  But Avatar blew right past this record by making almost 2.8 billion dollars so far, and it is still going.

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So why would I write an article about this movie?  What does a fictional story about the battle between humans and the native Na’vi have to do with my life and work as a missionary to Papua New Guinea?  Aren’t we suppose to go to the movie theaters to be entertained?  Or is there a connection between Hollywood and real life?  Well, to help answer these questions, let me copy here a summarization of the movie from IMDB (Internet Movie Database):

When his brother is killed in a robbery, paraplegic Marine Jake Sully decides to take his place in a mission on the distant world of Pandora. There he learns of greedy corporate figurehead Parker Selfridge’s intentions of driving off the native humanoid “Na’vi” in order to mine for the precious material scattered throughout their rich woodland.

In exchange for the spinal surgery that will fix his legs, Jake gathers intel for the cooperating military unit spearheaded by gung-ho Colonel Quaritch, while simultaneously attempting to infiltrate the Na’vi people with the use of an “avatar” identity. While Jake begins to bond with the native tribe and quickly falls in love with the beautiful alien Neytiri, the restless Colonel moves forward with his ruthless extermination tactics, forcing the soldier to take a stand – and fight back in an epic battle for the fate of Pandora. Written by The Massie Twins

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When I saw this movie, I couldn’t help but think about the contrast between the peoples of Papua New Guinea and the powerful industrial companies who have come to the pristine country of PNG and destroyed the land and cheated the people out of their own natural resources.  It is deplorable what some outsiders have done to the land and the people of PNG.

And what about the missionaries?  Where do they fit in?  I’m sure there are always going to be some examples of bad missionaries, but I would like to contend that most missionaries are similar to Jake in that they identify with the people and love the people and want to help them protect their culture and land, not destroy it as some anthropologists claim.

Of course we must also recognize that there are some significant differences when we compare missionaries to Jake.  Missionaries are motivated by the love of God and the desire to help meet the spiritual needs of people, as well as their physical and emotional needs.  And whereas Jake, by the end of the movie, went totally “native”, we as missionaries recognize that while many parts of local culture are good and need to be preserved, there is still much in all human cultures that needs to be challenged and transformed in light of the truths found in Scripture.

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And so I found myself captivated by this movie.  All too soon the theater lights came up.  But for a few hours, I was transported back to the times our family lived in a remote village of PNG.  I loved the people there.  It was a beautiful world, and yet also a tragic world.  Parts of their local culture was evil (with their sorcery and animistic beliefs), but then some of our Western ways are evil too (our commercialism and individualistic capitalism).  I just pray that as the missionary caught in the middle, that I was able to make a difference for good among these people, and that they might have a better life here, but an even better life hereafter for those who turned their hearts towards God.