January 21, 2009

James Cameron's Avatar

Great Expectations

The director reveals how he got Fox to greenlight his $195 million technology-driven motion pictureJames Cameron is finally following up that movie about the boat accident. His new project, Avatar, is an epic, 3-D sci-fi film about an ex-Marine on an inhospitable planet where humans can only survive by projecting their consciousness into genetically engineered bodies (a.k.a. "avatars"). The people of earth want to exploit the planet's natural resources, of course, causing the inhabitants to revolt and a war to break out. The rub for the protagonist, named Jake (played by newcomer Sam Worthington), is that he's fallen in love with a native (Zoe Saldana), forcing him to choose a side in the battle. Fox has gone out on a limb, granting Cameron a whopping $195 million to tell the tale—but hey, what's a couple hundred mil for a guy who racked up 11 Oscars with his last full-length feature?

How did you come up with this story?
Well, my inspiration is every single science fiction book I read as a kid. And a few that weren't science fiction. The Edgar Rice Burroughs books, H. Rider Haggard—the manly, jungle adventure writers. I wanted to do an old fashioned jungle adventure, just set it on another planet, and play by those rules.

Your premise reminded me a lot of the Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter, Warlord of Mars series.
It's definitely got that feeling, and I wanted to capture that feeling, but updated. To be certain, I wanted a film that could encompass all my interests, from biology, technology, the environment—a whole host of passions. But I've always had a fondness for those kind of science fiction/adventure stories, the male warrior in an exotic, alien land, overcoming physical challenges and confronting the fears of difference. Do we conquer? Exploit? Integrate? Avatar explores those issues.

Is it true you have developed a whole culture and even a whole language for the aliens in this movie?
Absolutely. We have this indigenous population of humanoid beings who are living at a relatively Neolithic level; they hunt with bows and arrows. They live very closely and harmoniously with their environment, but they are also quite threatening to the humans who are trying to colonize and mine and exploit this planet.

Sounds like you've crafted a story with a lot of political resonance.
Only in the very broadest sense of how we as a Western technological civilization deal with indigenous cultures; we basically supplant them. If not in an active, genocidal way, then in a passive manner. They just kind of wither away. Our impact on the natural environment, wherever we go—strip mining and putting up shopping malls. Now, we're extending that to another planet.
Comment:  Wes Studi is listed ninth in the cast on IMDB.com. He'll probably play the alien tribe's chief or shaman.

I read a lot of those Burroughs-style SF adventure books when I was young. I'll be impressed if Cameron gives the tribe more depth than those books did. I won't be impressed if he merely replicates the tribes in the books, because they were often stereotypical.

So far I'm not impressed with what Cameron is saying. The tribe lives in harmony with nature but threatens the colonizers, then is supplanted and withers away? If Avatar merely reiterates Euro-American history in another setting, what good is it?

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

P.S. This movie is not to be confused with Avatar: The Last Airbender. The non-Cameron movie may go by the name The Last Airbender to avoid confusion.

Below:  A teaser that tells you next to nothing about the movie.

1 comment:

Dee said...

I don't believe that's an official teaser?

I think it's fanmade.