Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Avatar's Script: Derivative?

by Anne Thompson
January 6, 2010 4:54 AM
46 Comments
  • |
Thompson on Hollywood

Just to prevent James Cameron's head from swelling too much from the astonishing global Avatar phenomenon, folks keep reminding him of how derivative and clunky his script is. It's been compared to everything from Pocahontas, The New World, The Last Samurai and Dances with Wolves to Ferngully. Truth to tell, most screenplays are derivative, and this one's more "original" than all the knock-offs, remakes and sequels everyone makes now.

Of course many of Cameron's ideas came from somewhere. He grew up steeped in sci-fi, and at some point probably read Poul Anderson's story "Call Me Joe," first published in 1957. He says he doesn't remember it, and that they scanned his script--that's industry-speak for checking to see if some other published work shares aspects of his story--and didn't find anything. "You can't go back more than 50 years," he says, with some exasperation.

Thompson on Hollywood

But at some point the story took root in Cameron's mind: the image of a grumpy invalid in a wheelchair and helmet able to telepathically (via esprojector) commune with a wild, crazed creature thousands of miles away on one of Jupiter's moons. That creature has a "slate blue form" and a tail. He's able to withstand the ammonia gales of the planet's atmosphere, eat raw meat and drink methane. In one harrowing night scene he is wakened by attacking dark creatures. Anderson writes: "Anglesey drew the wild morning wind deep into his lungs and shouted with a boy's joy." In the end the miserable guy in the space station realizes that his soul wants to be one with his primitive alter ego, and he unites with it as he dies.

Like The Terminator, Avatar grew out of the rich smorgasbord of material Cameron had ingested: sci-fi, New World mythology and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Martian novels.

It's pretty easy for someone to write up a synopsis of Disney's Pocahontas and annotate it. (The official Disney synopsis, which I have, is quite different.) This synopsis from Matt Bateman is pretty accurate. And the joke works well up to a point. But there's much more going on than this in Avatar.

Cameron must be doing something right. Avatar introduces moviegoers to an immersive new world, a Utopia (or Oz, as Steven Spielberg describes it--hence the conscious reference to "we're not in Kansas anymore") where they indulge the fantasy of being one with nature, able to swoop and fly. I can't wait to go back there.

46 Comments

  • banton | January 21, 2010 5:34 AMReply

    Way to go Cameron!!Absolutely wonderful! Patiently waiting for another one! Let see you top this!

  • Aquafina | January 19, 2010 7:48 AMReply

    You forgot to mention Pathfinder written by the same screenwriter for Avatar; a little seen 07 movie about a young Viking who becomes part of Native American tribe, falls in love with the daughter of the chief and fights other Vikings to protect his adopted village. It's the same plot down to the "you've betrayed your race" speech, which was of course ripped from Dances with Wolves. It is mind boggling to see Avatar make a billion dollars using the same identical script as Pathfinder, a movie that flopped completely at the box office. More proof that production values outweigh crappy scripts.

  • John P. McC. | January 10, 2010 9:33 AMReply

    The fact Cameron didn't invent the term "unobtainium" -- and was referencing its coinage in the 1950s' and tipping his hat to past sci-fi literary and screen works -- doesn't make its use or his script any less clunky.

    Granted, how much it detracts from one's overall enjoyment of the movie is debatable.

  • jamais | January 10, 2010 8:05 AMReply

    Just wondering - has anyone actually read the screenplay released recently by Fox? Because all is there. Character development, subtleties, backstories, characters' drives and motives, complexities... all these things some people complain they didn't find in the film. Yes, most of them ended on the floor of the editing suite, but just because the film couldn't be longer than 166 minutes and something had to be cut it's a bit unfair to call Cameron a lousy writer. The story IS good. And the film which is lurking somewhere in the script could have been way more mature if it was cut differently.

  • zyg | January 9, 2010 1:37 AMReply

    ex dgirl -- agree. i get the feeling cameron would prefer the 'silent action' movie...if such a thing existed

    trent -- yeah. i wouldn't give two cents for the 'story' in the latest star wars movies. those damn things barely...barely, have plot, forget story. forget character, or character arc.

    and, what the hell? you can't find stories that star wars emulate? please.

    the backlash against huge mega-blockbusters is a curious thing. cameron puts millions of butts in seats and he gets shit on for it...? wtf

  • Trent | January 8, 2010 11:38 AMReply

    I love reading all this "Avatar" backlash. There's nothing Hollywood abhors as much as a failure ... except a success.

    Lots of bitter, angry people out there upset that they can't seem to get their own derivative, Syd Field-structured, sci-fi-actioner screenplay produced.

    Cameron made a film people like. Pure and simple.

    One thing you've gotta admit, it's better than the last four "Star Wars" films put together.

  • Brian | January 8, 2010 10:11 AMReply

    AVATAR needed some comic relief. Some laughs might have sweetened the deal for me. TRANSFORMERS, 300, and PLANET TERROR (from GRINDHOUSE) are good examples of effects movies that didn't lose their sense of humor. PUNISHER: WAR ZONE and the CRANK movies are all funny, too. Even RED CLIFF had some welcome humor. I'd re-watch either one of them any time before tackling AVATAR again.

  • Ex-DGirl | January 8, 2010 9:54 AMReply

    Cameron IS a pretty poor screenwriter. It's hard to keep a script's pace rushing forward and he deserves some props for that, but he is not (nor ever has been) interested in using words beautifully - the script is always in service to the film and in his case, in service to the FX. I cringed when Jon Landau chided the Academy for not giving Cameron the oscar for the "Titanic" script, too... a show of ass-kissing that deserved it's own oscar (but that's another story - let's just hope there won't be a sequel)... Avatar is by far the best film Cameron has made and what's more, has pushed the medium forward - an amazing accomplishment. So let those plagiarism suits come and if they have substance, he'll pay out. I don't think any nuisance lawsuits will cow Cameron. And either way, he'll still take home enough money to make Mel Gibson his bitch, should he be so inclined.

  • Izzy | January 8, 2010 3:05 AMReply

    "One word exemplifies its clunkiness: “Unobtainium.” JC couldn’t spend five minutes thinking of a better name for the substance that makes the whole thing necessary?"

    Cameron didn't invent the term, it stems from the 1950's, used for materials that are either unusual or costly.

  • Izzy | January 8, 2010 2:59 AMReply

    To Yojimbo_5
    "One should recall that Cameron was sued by Harlan Ellison (successfully)"
    Wrong, it never went to court. Orion settled against Cameron's wishes, and by Harlan Ellison's own admission, the similarities between the two stories [The Terminator & Soldier] are in the very beginning:

    1. Both The Terminator and Soldier open with exposition describing a future full of warfare
    2. Both stories then have characters travel in time through a circular visual effect.
    3. Finally, both stories have the protagonists from the hellish future arrive in the present day in an alley.
    That is all. "But the most memorable and important elements of The Terminator – the romance of Kyle and Sarah, the fact that Sarah's unborn son will save humanity in a war, and, most of all, the title character cyborg and his culturally iconic chrome endoskeleton – don't even have the most remote analogs in Soldier." -- http://www.jamescamerononline.com/Ellison.htm

    "It’s merely speculation to suggest that might have been why he sold the “T” rights for $1."
    Wrong again, he sold the rights to Gale Anne Hurd to ensure tat Orion would allow him, essentially a first-time director, to direct the movie himself. The Harlan Ellison controversy came AFTER the movie was complete, not before.

    "The difference with “Avatar” is that Cameron is taking things from so MANY sources that it would be hard to nail down a true “inspiration,” while also fending off the inevitable arbitrary “nuisance” suits. It is steeped in such a polyglot of material (not unlike “Star Wars”) that, other than “Call Me Joe” (as I recall, the Jovians were quite a bit bulkier), that one could point to a form of “cloud inspiration” to defend oneself."

    The same accusation can be leveled at Alien, which Dan O'Bannon willfuly admitting to plagarising -- "I didn't steal from one thing, I stole from EVERYTHING". And let's not let Shakespeare off the hook, Romeo & Juliet was taken from Romeus & Juliet, which in turn was inspired by one of Ovid's tales. It's not the story - it's the execution, which is why Shakespeare's rendition is held in high regard, why Alien is so esteemed, and why Avatar has the 8-80 year olds pouring $1billion+ into the movie.

  • Doodie | January 7, 2010 11:29 AMReply

    100% agree, I also posted up this Pocahontas book report. Awesome!

    Did you see the Avatar Movie trailer rehash?
    http://doodiepants.com/2010/01/07/avatar-is-a-pocahontas-ripoff/

  • Phoenix | January 7, 2010 10:28 AMReply

    This movie was a good movie, and visually it has the best cgi ever;

    That being said, it is still CGI and nothing more. No matter how good CGI is it still feels like a video game, and not real.

    There are way better films from this decade in terms of their plot. Just look at Memento, The Dark Knight, Inglorious Basterds, District 9 (a movie that Avatar somewhat copied), Up, Wall-E, 28 Days Later, Lord of the Rings, and many others.

    The plot of this film is too much like other films to make it a masterpiece, however it was executed intelligently as to not make it feel too much like a rip off.

    There is some ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE acting in this film. When the villain says, "Come to papa!" I almost threw my popcorn at the screen.

    That being said, it was a simple, familiar, understandable story that had impressive visuals, the best 3-d eve r(completely immersive, and the best visual quality of the film), and a fantastic musical score. Its like Iron Man: Not the greatest movie, but very likeable. That is why it is going to be remembered.

  • alan green | January 7, 2010 7:42 AMReply

    another way to put it: if a movie's plot bore no resemblance whatsoever to any other plot (in the history of storytelling) it would not be understandable.

    this is why all correctly executed plots belong to some established type and, therefore, are derivative.

  • alan green | January 7, 2010 7:38 AMReply

    in other words: if pocahontas never existed and the disney movie was pure fiction, completely made up, it (the movie) could still be called derivative because it would bear a resemblance to every other story of its type. it would adhere to a story archetype.

    that pocahontas was a real person does not change this.

    and therein lies the rub: everyone's life bears a resemblance in certain key ways to everyone else's life. that's why, when you create a story, it has to adhere to an archetype in order for the audience to relate to the plot events and for the story to be engaging and understandable. the plot has to, in some way, resemble real life. therefore, all plots are derivative. and, while avatar bears a resemblance to pocahontas (the disney movie), pocahontas (the disney movie) bears a resemblance to many other movies and stories.

  • alan green | January 7, 2010 7:27 AMReply

    a plot may be derivative despite the fact that it is based on real events or a real person's life. this is the relationship between fiction and life. fiction must appear in some fashion to resemble real life in order to make sense.

    as such, the plot points of a real person's life, when incorporated into a movie (or any other form of storytelling) may be considered, theoretically, derivative in that, had the plot been made up -- a completely fictional piece, it would be just as derivative of every other similar (fictional) story.

    a person's life is not derivative but the events of their life, when presented as a story, will bear a resemblance to every other (correctly executed) story whether it's fictional or based on real events.

  • alan green | January 7, 2010 7:19 AMReply

    yojimbo

    i didn't say her life was derivative. i said the "events of her life" which were compiled and put in a given order created a story which was derivative

    further, we're not talking about the person. yes? we're talking about the movie. well, i am at least

  • Yojimbo_5 | January 7, 2010 6:46 AMReply

    Mr. Green
    Life may indeed imitate art (as you glossed over) if there is an art to be imitated. But Pocahontas (the person, not the Disney movie) had no art to imitate except that art handed down from her tribe. So unless you want to pull a Jungian lateral and say that she gleaned one of your "Hero of a Thousand Faces" stories from the zeitgeist, I'd say your argument was specious.

    It's also gibberish. You're done, son.

    And while we're piling on, Jim Emerson went even further when he pointed out that the floating Pandora landscapes looked like "Yes" album covers.

  • Judith | January 7, 2010 2:50 AMReply

    Could someone who LOVED this movie please answer the plot questions Wray posted above? I have the same questions, and I spent too much time during the movie wondering about the plot holes to become fully immersed in the world Cameron created. When a movie makes so many technical advancements it seems to me that it helps to tell a simple story, maybe one we've already heard before. I have no problem with Cameron doing that.

    What took away from my enjoyment of this movie was wondering what the heck the original mission of the Avatar program even was? And then once Sigourney Weaver was banished, what was the point of continuing?

  • John P. McC. | January 7, 2010 1:29 AMReply

    DavidC,

    Thanks for the reference to Wikpedia. I rest my case.

  • Matthew Gordon Long | January 7, 2010 1:20 AMReply

    "Originality" is overrated, but "Narrative Risk" is underrated. I would have adored Avatar if James Cameron had really thrown himself off a cliff and approached his plotting with the the same radical spirit he applied to crafting the world onscreen and the technology. Wouldn't his heartfelt environmental themes hit harder, and with more truth, if he dared to take his massive audience outside of their narrative comfort zone? Pull a Psycho and kill Jake Sully off a third of the way in, leaving us with just the Navi point of view?

  • John Harden | January 7, 2010 12:48 AMReply

    While we're making a list of sources from which "Avatar" was derived, how about Jim Cameron's earlier, better films? He borrowed the marines-in-space milieu from "Aliens", and also recycled his climax from that film (Ripley in the mechanized loader-suit fighting the alien) - only this time he made the human the bad guy. Giovanni Ribisi plays the corporate slimeball, standing in for Paul Reiser's character in "Aliens." Toss in the glow-in-the dark extraterrestrials, and general hippie-dippy vibe from the last 20 minutes of "The Abyss" and you've got "Avatar."

  • Hank Graham | January 7, 2010 12:47 AMReply

    What's interesting is that while "Call Me Joe" is getting mentioned a lot, there are several other obvious places Cameron is cribbing from that are not getting mentioned.

    The dragons that bond with the Na'vi for life? That's as direct a copy from the Anne McCaffrey dragon books as can be had.

    The general plot, about the conflict between the forces that want to colonize this planet, thus marginalizing the natives, and how they got beaten off? That's so close to Ursula LeGuin's "The Word for the World is Forest" as to be identical.

  • Brian | January 7, 2010 12:44 AMReply

    Lincoln was right: James Cameron can fool all of the people some of the time. And two times in a row ain't bad.

    (That's Sam Lincoln, who runs my local video rental shop.)

  • alan green | January 7, 2010 12:05 AMReply

    yojimbo (or should i say 'mr. yojimbo'?)

    i'm referring to the plot of the disney movie 'pocahontas', not the events of the pocahontas' life. unless you're suggesting the plot in the disney movie is historically accurate in every detail. either way, the story is still derivative even if it's based on real events or real people's lives.

    while pocahontas was a real person the events of her life will fall in line with established story archetypes and, therefore, will be derivative. (however, not every person's life makes a good story). this is the way of things. art imitates life, or, vice versa.

    in other words, it doesn't matter whether we're talking about the plot of a movie or the events of a (real) person's life. all stories are derivative. however, not all plots -- that is, successive events -- will make a good story.

  • Edward Wilson | January 7, 2010 12:04 AMReply

    The problem isn't that the plot is unoriginal. It's that it's so spare. And the characters are so spare.

    This was all intentional. Cameron was making a big budget movie and wanted to ensure everybody could understand it.

    Ultimately, Avatar is like a 3-hour Disney cartoon with guns. That's about the level of sophistication.

    That's the problem.

  • aspect ratio | January 6, 2010 11:31 AMReply

    What has started to irk me about the criticism of the script is that the sole focus is on the (fairly) simple plot. Yes, it's a lot like Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, etc. but what is blindly ignored is all the things Cameron dreamt up surrounding this straightforward plot. He invented a new planet, a new world, creatures, a race, a whole language that actually wasn't just gibberish but thought out. I am by no means an Avatar #1 person, I think it could've been a better film in many ways, but I also think it's unfair that there's such backlash based on the plot when everything surrounding it was in many ways new (as new as anything can be in this day and age, that is) and refreshing. We've had way too many films this past decade with ridiculously exaggerated and complicated plotlines, why burden this with more plot than it needs?

  • JRM | January 6, 2010 11:20 AMReply

    I personally loved Avatar more than any of those movies that are being mentioned. I know Avatar has flaws -- many -- but I don't feel a need to point them out. I loved the film. Everything worked for me. The simple story helped was perfect as it didn't distract from what was happening on screen. I didn't want to "think" while I was immersed in that world. I saw the movie two times, and I'm planning to go once more -- IMAX this time around. I could understand why there are people who don't like the movie, but it's far from terrible, and judging from consistent ticket sales and the overwhelming positive feedback from the general public, Cameron must have done something right.

  • Alan | January 6, 2010 11:13 AMReply

    "Cameron, like Peter Jackson, is suffering from epic-itis.

    I’d love to see him do a $60 million budgeted R rated 90 minute sci-fi actioner. "

    Well, Peter Jackson produced a $30 million R rated 112 minute sci-fi actioner, is that good enough for ya?

  • Yojimbo_5 | January 6, 2010 10:18 AMReply

    Mr. Green:
    Pocahontas is not a derivative story. Pocahontas was a real, live person who lived a real, live life and didn't base her life on books, screenplays, or radio shows. She was a First person at the time the colonialists made ground here and was unfamiliar with all of those things. She did not have the media to base a life upon. Look it up.

    And "nonsci-fan fan:" "critics always say bad things. their intention to watch the movie was not to enjoy the movie at all but to be able to make lame criticisms." You're wrong here. My intention was to watch the movie and enjoy it. I didn't, mainly because it was so familiar to me from its different sources. If I'd only seen James Cameron films, it would have seemed derivative. I found the visuals inspiring, but at the service of a "white guy saves the Natives" story. There are, I am sure, writers whose sole purpose is to merely write lame criticisms—I've read some of them, and they stink of hackery—but the vast majority of us LOVE the movies, and anticipate and root for them to be good. When they disappoint, we're honest about it. Perhaps, given your criticism, it's a disadvantage to have seen a lot of movies and thereby spot the "steal's" but it allows me to appreciate an original thought, when I see it. My hope for you is that you find another movie sometime in your life that will replace "Avatar" as "the best movie (you've) ever seen."

    And as for the "all stories are derivative" claim, tell it to Pocahontas. Seriously, though, the art of something is to bring new inspiration to it. Cameron brought a "new" technology and his considerable directing skills to it, but new inspiration? Not from what I saw.

  • Script This! | January 6, 2010 9:59 AMReply

    @ Jake: You are so right!

    Statistically a lot of complainers are looking through the telescope the wrong way. Try to think! Ask some questions and come up with some answers! Why do so many people enjoy this film? Is it just because of the 3D? Why has James Cameron produced 2 of the highest grossing films of all time and pushed the boundaries of movie-technology time and time again? Is this due to random probability alone? If you could redo the script what do you think you would include/exclude/change/improve/emphasize/diversify or develop in different ways to the current script that would improve it? And equally important how would you make a strong case for why it improves it? How would you obejectively measure this improvement? Suddenly you realise you are at the bottom of a mountain with no clothes on.

    Small story: These lists of where the movie was copied from this source or that source just keeps growing until it looks like it fills an entire encylopedia!! Reminds me of the "next iphone killer" candidate that keeps on coming out and after 3 years Iphone is still not "killed". It's part of the process... in fact I had a fairly original and quirky idea for an iphone app and you know what? I was amazed when I found someone else had done the exact idea into an app on the app store already after a few years without me ever telling anyone my idea.

    Very interesting article on the issue of Originality, Anne Thompson, you summarise only a few aspects of the success of this story/film but I entirely agree with you that James Cameron does appear to be a Polymath.

    Perhaps the answer is that James Cameron was "MORE ORIGINAL THAN HIS ORIGINALS"?! A master artist is my opinion on watching this work of art: Avatar.

    One last thought, there are plenty of "detailed" (this word seems to be the operative phrase or keystone in the criticisms of this film which seems to to come up a lot here even though it's exact usage is very vague and not backed-up) movies out there if you look for them? Secondly Film as a medium is and never will be as "detailed" as other mediums can be if this search still proves unsatisfactory.

  • alan green | January 6, 2010 9:49 AMReply

    here's a rundown on plot types:

    http://www.ipl.org/div/farq/plotFARQ.html

    "People often say that there are only a certain number of basic plots in all of literature, and that any story is really just a variation on these plots."

  • alan green | January 6, 2010 9:35 AMReply

    of course the story for avatar is derivative. however, it's critically important to remember that all stories are derivative. you can't have a story that hasn't been done before. you can have unique plot elements -- setting, twists, unique or bizarre events -- but you can't have unique story. if you presented such a beast no one would understand it. that is to say, you can't have a completely unique, never been done before story without losing your audience.

    stories (plots, for simplicity sake) must bear a resemblance to what has been done before. otherwise, the audience will not be able to recognize it as a story.

    now for the other critical point. pocahontas is not an original story, either. it is based on every similar plot line that preceded it. how many is that? counting all the stories told verbally, going back, say, 2000 years -- millions. maybe more.

    while there are parallels between avatar and pocahontas, there are also parallels between pocahontas and countless other similar stories. it's just that no one has gotten around to finding these stories and drawing comical comparisons between them and posting it on their blog.

    yes, avatar is derivative. so is pocahontas. so is every other story (that makes sense to the viewer).

    ps -- the pundits have varying theories as to how many plots there are. some say 3, some say 7, some...11, etc. it depends on which film school you attend

  • DavidC | January 6, 2010 9:21 AMReply

    Whatever other problems the Avatar script may have, "unobtainium" turns out to be a clever in-joke name for the substance in questions.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unobtainium

  • Jake | January 6, 2010 8:37 AMReply

    To those that are complaining about the "problematic script"......what specificlly is wrong with the script?.....how would you fix it? I hear a lot of complaining but yet I don't hear your ideas for improvement.....ohh, and don't give an idea that's been used before.....ever! Rememeber, you have to be completely original......ok, I'm waiting?

  • John P. McC. | January 6, 2010 8:35 AMReply

    One word exemplifies its clunkiness: "Unobtainium." JC couldn't spend five minutes thinking of a better name for the substance that makes the whole thing necessary?

  • Crow T Robot | January 6, 2010 8:15 AMReply

    Cameron, like Peter Jackson, is suffering from epic-itis.

    I'd love to see him do a $60 million budgeted R rated 90 minute sci-fi actioner.

    Something lean and mean... like a guy who has to replay the last minute of his life (a chaotic shoot-out) over and over again until he finds a way to not die.

    Or something. Anything. As long as there are no big cry moments at the end.

  • Ann | January 6, 2010 8:01 AMReply

    Just read your comment, Anne, and I guess I don't share the love for Mr. Cameron, either...obviously. One last point: I see a little irony in the fact that "Avatar" is precisely the sort of 'big, effects-laden' film that steamrolls throughout the world, bringing the new, simple, basic denominator vision that tends to further decimate local film industries and stories which then do not get seen or heard. I dunno....I think there's a script there somewhere...

  • Anonymous | January 6, 2010 7:53 AMReply

    The "ignore" the script thing is fine if the whole goal is just to get people into the theater and to get that $150m ticket price boost from the 3D gimmick. It was fine for a movie like "Transformers" which at least isn't trying to be Oscar bait. It knows it is a popcorn movie and its proud of it.

    But it isn't fine when we are talking about "best picture of the year" awards. It's pretty clear that James Cameron didn't spend the time on the script that he should have because he was too busy dicking around with his green screens. The script sat around and got stale for more than a decade. Scripts are like fish, they go bad pretty fast.

    The devil is in the details. Not just the CGI ones. This also could have been fixed later in the process when a lot of the stupidity could have been edited out or rearranged. But if the editor and the director are one and the same, that's pretty hard to do! How is he going to be hard on himself? A lot of mistakes will slide because he can't be objective, and that's why you have these complaints. Clearly he is a good and able director. So if James Cameron wants to hire a real screenwriter and a professional editor next time, instead of doing everything himself, maybe he won't have this problem. Because its a shame that all this money was spent on such a problematic script.

  • Manuel10589 | January 6, 2010 7:45 AMReply

    Totally agree with Wray. A lot of things didn't make much sense. Somebody should have scanned Cameron's script also for some kind of logic.

    But to use a quote by Sigourney Weaver's character: To fully enjoy Avatar, you need to let your mind go blank...

    I did.

  • Ann | January 6, 2010 7:41 AMReply

    Not to mention the furor over Cameron's drawings for Titanic. Another Durer he is not. Agree, not a problem with derivative regarding story if he betters any of the originals. Disagree that he does. Don't see anything that makes this story-line 'more original.' The magic of this movie lies only in it's visual world and depth, at its best in the flying sequences. He certainly has a team that has used 3D effectively. It will be followed by a lot of films that don't. Piranha 3-D anyone? Most awful in Avatar - the kumbayah moments of "generic indigenous peoples" dialogue and rituals, which I guess puts Cameron just a step behind Disney. Speaking of swelled heads, I, for one, will not be able to bear another "king of the world" moment, after solemn one minute remembrance - this time, no doubt, of environmental destruction - if he takes the stage at the Oscars. As I'm not at one with the love for Avatar - the Na'vi figure at the edge of screen hissing at the Marine invader "Go home, peanut-head, and tell your leader we don't read comic-books.." - I will regretfully stay away until the phenom is somewhat played out.

  • Anne Thompson | January 6, 2010 7:34 AMReply

    Cameron created this world. I'll argue that without the story, there is no Avatar. Now he may have pulled it off in masterful visual way--which partially accounts for its huge success. There are many reasons why this thing is working so well, including the 3D immersion.

    1. People crave something they have not seen before. This is an original world, with new characters and rules and language and artifacts etc.

    2. People crave escape to an idyllic pastoral past as we (and Cameron) embrace technology. (Yes, there's conflict and war and fantasy warriors etc.)

    3. Mythic storytelling. Cameron may be a bricklayer, a solid craftsman as a writer, but he knows what he wants and he is in touch with his 14-year-old creative muse. That flow is there between his personal spark, the mulch of great stories he's absorbed, and his desire to pull large numbers of people into a universal experience. That's writing. That's what's so amazing about him: he's a writer, artist, engineer, inventor, organizer, daredevil, leader, tech whiz. And yes, he keeps things simple and accessible and fun.

  • nonsci-fan fan | January 6, 2010 7:27 AMReply

    you know what's the secret why some movies get into the box-office because movie viewers can easily understand the story. stories that are hard to understand because of the depth of the story and the language itself, can't fully understand by some (especially by foreign language speakers). even titanic was easily understood just like avatar. so you can't blame a blockbuster movie to be loved by many (especially by non-USA viewers).

    critics always say bad things. their intention to watch the movie was not to enjoy the movie at all but to be able to make lame criticisms. or are these bad criticisms are only made up by contemporaries in the movie industry?

    most of the people i know, every time i ask them of the comments of avatar, there would never be an instance that they will not comment "Best movie I've ever seen" or "Best movie of the decade". if only all who've watch the movie would comment on every article about avatar, more real criticisms would come out.

    i've watch the movie twice already because for me Avatar's the best movie i've ever seen.

  • Wray | January 6, 2010 7:20 AMReply

    Forget derivative.

    Who is in charge, the mercenaries or the corporation? What is this "Unobtainium" anyway and why do we never see them mining or having mining conflicts (except the end)? Do the Na'vi even know that it exists? Why in the world does the corporation go to all the trouble to grow these fantastic avatars to obtain "secrets" that they already know? Why is it that the injured white male becomes the Best Na'vi EVER?!

    That being said, I loved the experience of Pandora and liked the movie a great deal, but the story is NOT why people love the movie.

  • Shawn Levy | January 6, 2010 7:00 AMReply

    Of course, this all begs the question of whether the FIRST version of a story is the BEST version. I'm not comparing Cameron to Shakespeare, heaven knows, but virtually everything Shakespeare ever wrote was taken outright from prior sources (Holinshed, Plutarch, Bocaccio, etc.). The idea that a work of art only has value if it is utterly original is a very modern (and, I think, very dubious) one, stemming, near as I can tell, from the fine art criticism that sprung up around the Impressionists in Paris in the 19th century. Bottom line is that "Avatar" is better than most, if not all, of the films it's meant to be ripping off -- in large measure because movies are, after all, only partially comprised of scripts.

  • Alan | January 6, 2010 6:52 AMReply

    The problem with Avatar's script isn't that it's derivative... the problem is that it's lame.

  • Yojimbo_5 | January 6, 2010 6:20 AMReply

    Of course it's derivative. Cameron's films usually are.

    One should recall that Cameron was sued by Harlan Ellison (successfully) for cribbing the ideas for "The Terminator" from Ellison's "Outer Limits" episodes. Now all prints and copies of the first "Terminator" have "an acknowledgement."

    ("Cameron vs. Ellison," said a friend of mine. "No one to root for in that fight.")

    It's merely speculation to suggest that might have been why he sold the "T" rights for $1.

    The difference with "Avatar" is that Cameron is taking things from so MANY sources that it would be hard to nail down a true "inspiration," while also fending off the inevitable arbitrary "nuisance" suits. It is steeped in such a polyglot of material (not unlike "Star Wars") that, other than "Call Me Joe" (as I recall, the Jovians were quite a bit bulkier), that one could point to a form of "cloud inspiration" to defend oneself.

    But, I won't be seeing "Avatar" again. Sitting through it, I'd felt I'd already been.

Free Indie Movies and Documentaries    

Email Updates

Most "Liked"

  • Which World Premieres Did Venice La ...
  • Parker Posey and Jamie Blackley Will ...
  • Get Tied Down With First Trailer for ...
  • Not Into 'Hercules'? Here Are 6 Alternatives ...
  • Not So Fast: David Lynch Says No New ...
  • Robert Downey, Jr. Starrer 'The Judge' ...
  • Laika Unveiling 'The Boxtrolls' at ...
  • WATCH: First Trailer for Dazzling Festival ...
  • Colin Firth and Mark Strong Spook Nicole ...
  • Aronofsky, Favreau and Murch to Talk ...