you can find Avatar – part 1: seeing the film right here.
There has been a LOT of discussion and opinion about the possible sources and influences on Cameron resulting in the plot and look of Avatar. I’ve yet to see Cameron give anything specific, other than to say he’s wanted to make the film for a long time but had to wait for the technology to catch up to his concept.
Much of the discussion is about the storyline for Avatar, and a lot of it is insightful. The first reference I read, just after the first leaks about the film, was that it sounded a lot like Harry Harrison’s Deathworld. My reaction to that was Wow! Great! I LOVE Deathworld , did when I read it in Astounding Science Fiction (January-March, 1960) and loved it when I reread it years later. Later, as people saw the trailers and read more about the film, the most consistently identified source was Poul Anderson’s story “Call Me Joe”, which features the concept of a remotely controlled body on a planet. That’s another favorite story from back when, and recently reread in a Anderson collection I’m working my way through, so that sounded pretty good to me as well. The comparison is apt.
Then I began reading more and more suggestions, most of them fairly sensible, but the longer the list got, the more it seemed to me the comparison could be made to a goodly share of the entire genre. Where do the comparisons end? It has advanced science, spaceships, explorers, a military presence, aliens, a religious/quasi-religious theme, an alien landscape, unknown botany and biology, an advanced – or is it a backward? – alien culture, humans at cross-purposes with each other in the face of a threat… I can go on, but you get the idea.
There are a lot of basic themes in science fiction, and any time a new SF film is made, someone is going to say, “look, they stole this…or that… from (fill in the blank)” It happened with 2001: A Space Odyssey, with Star Trek and Star Wars (Buck Rogers, anyone?). Even THX 1138, Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park (Godzilla, anyone?) and on and on. Fact is, it’s darned hard to find any SF film that isn’t derivative of something in some way. That’s just the way the genre works.
That said, there are some pretty nice tributes in the film, and I’m not going to mention them all – heck, I probably missed a lot of them. I saw the six-legged beasts as a direct nod to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars books, as the Martian men and beasts were six-limbed. There were nods to the bonding and dragon-riding of Anne McCaffreys’ Pern books. There are many others.
The whole issue of cribbing and being unoriginal is really a non-issue, or should be. Sure, go ahead and read the books and stories that are being pointed at, because for the most part they are darned good stuff. I say just get over worrying about where Cameron got the ideas, and look at what he did with them.
The Floating Mountains
This is one particular thing that’s come in for a lot of criticism. Floating mountains? Sure, you say. Right. As if. But like everything else here, there is a precedent. The first one I think of is traditional Chinese painting. There are some areas of China that are very mountainous and misty and fogs are common. Take a look at this sepia toned painting. Not exactly floating mountains, but the look is certainly there.
Then I think of the art of Roger Dean. Take a look at this cover for The Flights of Icarus painted by Roger Dean. See anything familiar, like maybe a floating hunk of real estate? Yep. Dean did a lot more of this kind of thing, but I’m not going to take the space here to insert them.
You want another source for floating mountains? Sure. This one (below) is by Josh Middleton, an artist who said he was influenced by the Dean art for various Yes album covers and other art by Dean. It’s from CrossGen Comics title Meridian.
It’s been suggested that the art of Christopher Vacher and other more contemporary artists have been doing floating mountains, cities, and whatnot for a while. True, but also look at that pretty old traditional Chinese painting.
I could go on with this one, but you get the idea. I guess the point of all this is simply – and I’m repeating what I said above – It’s not so important where Cameron got the ideas, it’s what he did with them.
The final part of this three part look at the film will be on the soundtrack by James Horner. That’s coming on Saturday for my weekly Saturday Soundtrack feature. See you there.