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Avatar under attack from Vatican, U.S. military, liberals

James Cameron might be laughing all the way to the bank, but his record-setting 3-D film, Avatar , is receiving criticism from a bizarre cast of characters, who accuse it of being everything from a racist throwback to the source of their overwhelming depression.

The accusations range from the comical to the militantly politically correct, with voices on both sides of the right-left political divide weighing in on the blockbuster, which has earned more than $1.1-billion around the world since its release last month.

The movie tells the story of the planet Pandora, where tall, blue, nature-loving creatures called the Na'vi must contend with humans intent on grabbing its natural resources.

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Here on Earth, Vatican commentators have given the film a negative review, belittling the movie's environmental message.

The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano said the film "gets bogged down by a spiritualism linked to the worship of nature." A reviewer for Vatican Radio said it "cleverly winks at all those pseudo-doctrines that turn ecology into the religion of the millennium."

In the United States, conservatives have attacked the movie for being anti-American and anti-capitalist in its depiction of humans as greed-driven marauders. But liberals, too, are participating in the backlash, debating whether the film is racist, as the blue-skinned natives (many of whom are played by non-white actors) have to be saved from extinction by a heroic white man, the former marine Jake Sully.

A campaign called Smoke Free Movies took offence to the fact that Sigourney Weaver's character, Dr. Grace Augustine, smokes cigarettes throughout the film. James Cameron responded in The New York Times, saying he had the character smoking to show that she was evil.

"The same way that I would never show lying, cheating, stealing or killing as cool, or aspirational, I would never portray smoking that way," Mr. Cameron said.

"We need to embrace a more complex set of criteria than simply the knee-jerk reaction 'smoking is bad, therefore cannot be shown.' It should be a matter of character, context, and the nature of the portrayal."

But even the group who can claim the movie's hero as one of their own have taken issue with Mr. Cameron's characters.

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Colonel Bryan Salas, public affairs officer for the U.S. Marine Corps, accused Avatar of taking "sophomoric shots at our military culture" and stereotyping members of the Marines.

"The Marine Corps embraces a warrior-scholar mentality and prides itself on understanding host country narratives and sensitivities in complex climes and places," he wrote in a letter to the Marine Corps Times. "Let's view Avatar for what it is, a leap in the wizardry of cinema, a digital fantasy and a vehicle for a filmmaker to make a statement, but not emblematic of the Marines who honourably fight and fall to win our nation's real battles today."

But perhaps the strangest reaction to Avatar comes from those who say its depiction of Pandora was so compelling that they wish it was real.

On the website Avatar Forums, a topic thread entitled "Ways to cope with the depression of the dream of Pandora being intangible," has received thousands of posts from people experiencing depression after seeing the movie.

The topic became so popular that a second thread was added for members to express their strong feelings about the movie.

"After I finished crying, I was inspired to learn more about how I can try to feel the interconnection better," wrote one visitor, using the online name Merkt. "To live like a Na'vi in my limited human body."

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At least one unusual movie reviewer has offered the film some praise. Bolivia's first indigenous President, Evo Morales, told the ABI news agency that he identifies with the film's "profound show of resistance to capitalism and the struggle for the defence of nature."

His screening of Avatar was his third-ever trip to the movies.

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