VATICAN CITY — The Vatican newspaper and radio station have called the film "Avatar" simplistic, and criticized it for flirting with modern doctrines that promote the worship of nature as a substitute for religion.
L'Osservatore Romano and Vatican Radio dedicated ample coverage to James Cameron's big-grossing, 3-D spectacle. But the reviews were lukewarm, calling the movie superficial in its eco-message, despite groundbreaking visual effects.
L'Osservatore said the film "gets bogged down by a spiritualism linked to the worship of nature." Similarly, Vatican Radio said it "cleverly winks at all those pseudo-doctrines that turn ecology into the religion of the millennium."
"Nature is no longer a creation to defend, but a divinity to worship," the radio said.
Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said that while the movie reviews are just that — film criticism, with no theological weight — they do reflect Pope Benedict XVI's views on the dangers of turning nature into a "new divinity."
Video: The 'Avatar' message: Are we the enemy? Benedict has often spoken about the need to protect the environment, earning the nickname of "green pope." But he has sometimes balanced that call with a warning against neo-paganism.
In a recent World Day of Peace message, the pontiff warned against any notions that equate human person and other living things. He said such notions "open the way to a new pantheism tinged with neo-paganism, which would see the source of man's salvation in nature alone."
The Vatican newspaper occasionally likes to comment in its cultural pages on movies or pop culture icons, as it did recently about "The Simpsons" or U2. In one famous instance, several Vatican officials spoke out against "The Da Vinci Code."
In this case, the reviews came out after a red carpet preview held in Rome just a stone's throw from St. Peter's Square. The movie will be released Friday in Italy.
The story of the tall blue creatures who inhabit Pandora and contend with humans intent on grabbing the resources of their planet has made over $1.1 billion at box offices worldwide. Partly boosted by higher 3-D ticket prices, "Avatar" looks well on its way to becoming the biggest grossing movie of all time.
"So much stupefying, enchanting technology, but few genuine emotions," said L'Osservatore Romano, which devoted three articles to "Avatar" in its Sunday editions.
L'Osservatore Romano said the movie's plot is unoriginal and its message not new. It faulted Cameron for taking a "bland approach."
"He tells the story without going deep into it, and ends up falling into sappiness," it said.
Vatican Radio did say, however, that "really never before have such surprising images been seen," while L'Osservatore said the movie's worth lies in its "extraordinary visual impact."
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