Cameron Talks About Inspirations and the Themes in Avatar

August 16, 2009
Source: Hero Complex

James Cameron's Avatar

In preparation for Avatar Day this Friday, I've been reading through the interview that Geoff Boucher of Hero Complex did with James Cameron last week. At least 6500 people have seen footage from Avatar, but the rest of the world is still waiting for their first glimpse, which arrives on Thursday with a trailer and on Friday with 16 minutes of footage. Now that we know what it looks like, it's time to delve deeper into the story. "I think I veer toward classicism, being solidly rooted in the classic stuff. I mean really old-school science fiction. This is a movie I would have loved to have seen when I was a 14-year-old kid in 1968."

For those who still don't really know what Avatar is about, it's being compared to Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves, in the way that Jake Sully (Sam Worthingon's character) starts to feel sympathy towards this race of aliens on Pandora who are being exterminated by the invading humans. Even Cameron admits to that comparison being accurate: "Yes, exactly, it is very much like that." Although, Boucher explains the overall concept of the movie better than I could: "A battered military man who finds something pure in an endangered tribal culture." Here's a great excerpt from the interview talking about the theme in Avatar.

You see the same theme in "At Play in the Fields of the Lord" and also "The Emerald Forest," which maybe thematically isn't that connected but it did have that clash of civilizations or of cultures. That was another reference point for me. There was some beautiful stuff in that film. I just gathered all this stuff in and then you look at it through the lens of science fiction and it comes out looking very different but is still recognizable in a universal story way. It's almost comfortable for the audience – "I know what kind of tale this is." They're not just sitting there scratching their heads, they're enjoying it and being taken along. And we still have turns and surprises in it, too, things you don't see coming. But the idea that you feel like you are in a classic story, a story that could have been shaped by Rudyard Kipling or Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Listening to Cameron talk is always inspiring, no matter what he's saying. This quote below is another one of my favorite parts of the second half of the interview where Cameron talks about how we've reached a point where almost anything we imagine is possible in cinema. After Avatar, that may certainly be true.

Look, right now is a special time because we can basically do anything we imagine. I mean you have to work hard at it, and you’ve got to have the technique and you have to be willing to throw money at the problem. Sometimes you have to be a little bold and go out on a limb. But if you can imagine it, you can do it. That’s why we’re seeing this renaissance of visual imagination. It’s just a growth. Films look better now than they’ve ever looked.

I highly suggest reading the complete interview with Cameron at Hero Complex - Part 1 and Part 2. I hope these quotes have whet your appetite for things to come. I don't want to continue building up expectations, nor does Cameron (as they're probably already as high as they can be), so look at this is simply a bit of context for what you're about to see on Thursday and Friday. As I talked about in my last article - What's Next for James Cameron's Avatar? - at this point I'm just excited to see what happens this week and how Avatar Day plays out. Special thanks to Kris Tapley at In Contention for first pointing out these quotes.

Find more posts: Editorial, Hype, Opinions



yeah well, that's all well and good, but he still sorta lied about the special effects, so.... I'll still see it, but i'm not nearly as psyched about it, even with the great plot.

Marc Giguere on Aug 16, 2009


Like i said before the EFX will be just as good as Jaws 3 3D

LV 426 on Aug 16, 2009


This sounds like a similar theme and character arc we just watched in District 9...

peloquin on Aug 16, 2009


well its certainly worth looking forward to, i hope it lives up to the hype.

Django on Aug 16, 2009


I don't understand how people can call themselves a fan of cinema and NOT be sucked in by James Cameron's passion. He's such an intelligent speaker that his loves transcends simply blowing your juvenile minds. At least he's TRYING to do something new. People talk a good game about if they had the money and opportunity they could do it better, but the truth is it's a lot easier said than done. It's so easy to rip a film down when we can possibly comprehend how much goes into making it or making it look even CLOSE to photo-realistic. No one understands this stuff better than Cameron. And if your minds aren't blown by his dedication, then this movie isn't for you.

Fuelbot on Aug 16, 2009


Fuelbot.....Thank you. Nowadays people just hate on eveything before they even see anything. We should be like China!!! The man has the biggest passion and always sets his bar to the biggest level. That's why he's the greatest filmaker all around. To me at least.

REAL6 on Aug 16, 2009


There is a spoiler in the LA Times article about Sam Worthington's character. Somebody should tell the LA Times to remove that sentence.

Phil on Aug 16, 2009


The film is way overhyped, it will not live up to it. 4 more months of this? The cg doesn't even live up to what he said it would be, just saying.

Han on Aug 16, 2009


#8 - But how do you know? Did you see the footage? Did you see the footage in IMAX, the way it's supposed to be seen? And did you see it after those final four months left of post-production at WETA Digital who made a completely CGI gorilla look absolutely and totally real? No, you did not. I call pwnage.

Fuelbot on Aug 16, 2009


this may be good. no doubt about it. but i'm really growing weary of having to endure more"avatar" stories. they've seemingly been popping up for what seems like the last 10 years. there have been epic movies before..........i doubt avatar "reinvents the wheel", so to speak. i'm sure it will be a good movie and well worth the time to see it..........i just don't think ANY movie is worth the years and years of hype we've had to endure with this one.

dan on Aug 16, 2009


Wow people here are judging a movie based on 1 offical picture and no footage except the footage shown at comic con. Wow most people in this generation are spoiled and have no idea how much work and effort has been put into this. If anyone here willing to do a better job of cgi then by all means do it. If not keep quiet.

Ryan on Aug 16, 2009


If anyone here willing to do a better job of cgi then by all means do it. If not keep quiet. ^This does not make any sense.

ryderup on Aug 16, 2009


To change the subject...great speaker? Man people need to get educated. He's about as talented at speaking is as Helen Keller. He talks about what he loves, which is great but nothing spectacular. People dissing those saying it will suck are just as hypocritical as those saying it'll be awesome. Based on what? You have as little evidence as everyone else so sucked it up that the movie you're hyping up may blow.

Tra la la la la di da on Aug 16, 2009


Can I ask a question: What if the movie is shit?

zwandaba on Aug 16, 2009


I with 14. What if and this is a big what if, but what if this movie just straight up bombs? I'd be disappointed, but I doubt it will, but what if?

Xerxex on Aug 16, 2009


#13 - I'm basing it on the Avatar scriptment I read, which I loved. I'm basing it on James Cameron's talent as a storyteller and on WETA Digital as one of the only FX houses besides ILM pushing the limits of imagination. Their track records speak for themselves. #14 - What if it isn't?

Fuelbot on Aug 16, 2009


Going to go off-topic for a sec: The movie cost $240MM according to an article I read recently (probably the LA Times). By the time they're done working on it 4 months from now, it'll reach at least 250. Add to that another $100-175MM for P&A, which is now the norm for big-budget studio pictures (they spent 150 on G.I. JOE P&A and 175 on TRANSFORMERS II P&A) and the total budget would be around 400. To break even, this movie will need to make at least 730 worldwide. I think the split is about 55% for the studio and 45% for the theatres. The studio's take will be about 400, which is how much the movie cost. Any profit will have to come from DVDs/BDs, rentals, the video game, toys, TV rights, and other stuff. I thought that Fox refused to give Cameron anything more than 190 to make this movie. They must think they have a TITANIC on their hands.

Steven Kar on Aug 16, 2009


^ I'm with Fuelbot... Don't hate on this just to hate on it. A year ago, all of you guys were probably saying "what if District 9 sucks?" And not only did it kick ass at the box office but it's an incredible movie. From the footage I've seen, what I know about the story, all of that, we'll be blown away in December. It's just too early to tell... Maybe all of you guys should just wait until Thursday when the trailers hits, then you have something to go off of if you think this is still really not going to be good... But I have a feeling your minds will be changed then.

Alex Billington on Aug 16, 2009


WAIT. District 9 was an incredible movie? PLEASE!! It was a crash course on apartheid. Plus aliens. Interesting? Yes. Incredible? Debatable. However, my hopes for Avatar are high indeed. Let's give it a chance.

SUPER X II on Aug 16, 2009


Alex...you made the same argument I just killed. We're basing it on the same thing you are save some footage which always means nothing. Not to mention you think that Dorian Gray crap looks good. Never the less, I thought D9 looked good from the beginning so, you lose. We'll see Friday.

Tra la la la la di da on Aug 16, 2009


"A battered military man who finds something pure in an endangered tribal culture." The Last Samurai?

Farris on Aug 16, 2009


I just want to see some damn footage before I believe in all the hype for Avatar.

Daniel on Aug 16, 2009


Seriously, if this hypedup Avatar-Day-Sucker-Punch manages to steals earnings from INGLORIOUS BASTERDS, Cameron's being an egotistical prick to his fellow filmmakers.

Voice of Reason on Aug 16, 2009


So far all we have is Cameron saying that he has ripped off Dances With Wolves and promising a monumental breakhtough that will change the way movies are made. Now, don't get me wrong I am a huge fan of Cameron and sci fi movies and I REALLY want this to be as great as he says it is, but can he pull it off? If he delivers on the goods, then he surely will become a cinema legend, if not, then he become sjust another all talk Hollywood ego. He has really put his reputation on the line with Avatar, my feeling is that it will be as good as he claims.

Hatori Hanzo on Aug 17, 2009


#23 - How's he gonna steal earnings from Inglourious Basterds? It's FREE footage. What the fuck are you even talking about? And Cameron is anything but ego. I don't know if you remember, but the man gave up his paycheck to get his movie made. And this was before Titanic made dollar one. If anything, he's an example other filmmakers can follow. #24 - Cameron's already a cinema legend. Where the hell have you been? Cameron puts his reputation on the line with everything he does. He turned Aliens from a sci-fi horror movie into a sci-fi action movie. He took the first Terminator and created an epic, mythology-based sequel that surpassed it in every way humanly possible. And come on, a three hour romance set against a sinking ship? Cameron doesn't have to prove anything to anyone but himself at this point.

Fuelbot on Aug 17, 2009


Your anger amuses me, Fuelbot; especially your stupidity. Simply put, even if he's bringing people to the theatres to view his stuff for FREE doesnt mean they'll pay to see other movies while they're there. Its also bringing attention away from movies that have been released and will be released that rely on Fridays money to succeed (D-9 & INglorious). Every person taking time in the theatre watching something for free means that time and money is taken away from other quality films by a glossy preview and toy show. Taking money and time away from other fine filmmakers projects is a dick move, hopefully you can look past your Cameron boner to see that.

Voice of Reason on Aug 17, 2009


Hey Fuelbot, in my books it takes more than three movies to make someone a cinema legend. That would be like saying Spileberg was a cinema legend after Jaws, Close Encounters and 1941.

Hatori Hanzo on Aug 17, 2009


To add fuel to the fire, let's look at this from a different perspective: photorealism. Now, in CG - this is the unstated goal of one camp. Make it look real. Another camp - that of the "Uncanny Valley" bent, holds to the belief that it is an unrealistic goal (no pun intended), since the human eye is conditioned to recognize & be repulsed by the slighted deviation from the Real. Another example, Pixar - racks up $$$ & cred by telling unique stories, using CGI not to emulate reality, but to caricature it. Making "Believable" characters out of exaggerations in proportion, entirely believable WORLDS, in fact. To the point that everyday people CARE about a cube w/ eyeballs, posing as an old man (UP). Does James Cameron have what it takes to make us believe in his world? He certainly has the money. He certainly has the passion and yes, he talks a good game. My continued skepticism - as well as everyone elses - will. Still. Compel us. To see his movie. But to care about it? That remains to be seen.

Django on Aug 17, 2009


I have been trying to reserve 2 free tickets for "Avatar Day" since 12... I have gotten through 4 times and given my information and every time I click the RSVP button the site goes down. 🙁

Walker on Aug 17, 2009


this argument is too ridiculous to get into i hope all the haters here don't get to go see this movie and cry about it

MK-Ultra on Aug 17, 2009


ahhhhhh......tired of all the haters out there: #8 and #10: "The film is overhyped" and "years of hype we have to endure".....almost ALL of the hype is propelled by YOU. The fanboys who go out of there way to get Avatar information is hyping up the movie themselves. Most people in the general public still don't know about this movie. If anything, Fox and James Cameron have been keeping things as secret as possible about this project. Avatar Day is just a marketing ploy to generate some interest. #8 and #10....just turn off your computers for 4 months!! and you can avoid the "hype" that you have built in your own head. All you fanboys are feeding off each other and filling in the blanks and blowing things out of proportion yourselves. If the movie doesn't live up to so-called hype IT IS ONLY YOUR FAULT....just shut off the computers. #23 and #26....wow, what an idiot. Are the theaters open on Saturday in your town?...then the few that missed Inglorious on Friday night when they attend Avatar Day can still go...right? heck they can still go during the day or the late show on Friday...right? The minature golf place down the road from me is having a half price round of golf this Friday.....crap, I can't see Inglorious Basterds now....oh, what will I do? What a "dick" move to steal Basterds movie receipts. Avatar Day is not going to make or break Inglorious Basterds. If Inglorius is a good movie word of mouth will get around and it will succeed. That was just your way to make a worthless point that Taratino's film is more important than Cameron's...you need can look past your Tarantino boner to realize that. #24 Cameron IS a movie legend already....and he has made six movies, not three. His reputation is not on the line with Avatar because he is a legend NOT just for making great movies but for his innovations in movie making as well. His reputation is still intact with me even if Avatar isn't the greatest ever....what are you going to do?...take Aliens and Terminator off his resume.

Newt on Aug 17, 2009


Personally, I wish this was kept under wraps more. All of Cameron's & others "hinting" at what's going on is building up hype for the movie, but that can backlash if the story doesn't stand up. I'd rather this be like Cloverfield, and have never heard of it before I get gobsmacked by seeing the trailer for the first time. Instead of artist renditions, or other director testimonials on how groundbreaking it is, it still diminishes the impact of seeing a minute or two of sheer brilliance in a darkened theater, leaving you to turn to who your with going; "What the F#$% did we just witness?!?!?"

jasonmd2020 on Aug 17, 2009


Voice Of Stupidity should be more like it. Is Inglourious Basterds playing in IMAX? NO! WHAT OTHER FUCKING IMAX MOVIES ARE OUT RIGHT NOW? NOTHING! OKAY THEN! How is James Cameron stealing money from Inglourious Basterds? I love how going to see a 16 minute trailer somehow equates to HOLY FUCK IT'S 6:16! WE MISSED OUR WINDOW. WE CAN'T SEE INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS! You have to GIVE money to something to TAKE it from something else, you simpleton. I, for one, will be going to the preview then jetting over to catch Tarantino's film. Cos um. That's how normal people do it. And Hanzo, if you don't think James Cameron is a legend, what kind of fucking movie fan are you?

Fuelbot on Aug 17, 2009


And Hanzo, if you don't think James Cameron is a legend, what kind of fucking movie fan are you? Oh, okay then Fuelbot; please forgive me. Can I be a movie fan again now? .. You fucking moron.

Hatori Hanzo on Aug 17, 2009


i reserved two tickets to the special screening on friday the 21st!!!

casey on Aug 18, 2009


I did end up getting two tickets as well!

walker on Aug 18, 2009

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