I love Jim Cameron. I think he’s the most exciting and creative writer/director filmmaker around. When I head Avatar was opening in December, I couldn’t wait to see it and I was filled with fantasies and expectations about what it was going to be and what it was going to be about.
I had known about the script for years. As a matter of fact, when I did an interview with Cameron for my book Four Screenplays, about the making of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, he mentioned the only reason he consented to doing an interview with me was because after he read my book Screenplay, he knew he could write a screenplay. Screenplay showed him what a screenplay was, that it was a craft that could be learned, just the way he learned how a camera worked.
It was during this interview that he mentioned that he wanted to write a sci-fi screenplay called Avatar but at that moment, it was still in the thinking stage. This was many, many years ago, back in the late 90’s. A few years later, he went on to make Titanic, then spent several years doing his underwater documentaries about the Titanic. When he wanted to go back to making movies, he knew it was a time when he could create the software for the special effects that would make Avatar such an extraordinary cinematic experience.
Because that’s what James Cameron does – he makes extraordinary movies that are a totally engaging movie experience. People talk about his screenplays as being more on the romantic/melodramatic side, but that’s not what Cameron is about: it’s about an extraordinary cinematic experience. That’s why Titanic was most financially successful film in history, until it was recently surpassed by Avatar.
So, on a rainy afternoon, a few days after it opened, I went to a screening of Avatar in 3-D. As I expected, I was totally engaged in the story and cinematic effects that were so phenomenal.
It took me a few minutes to adjust to the 3D glasses, but grabbed my attention immediately was the fact that the main character, Jake Sully, has lost both his legs before the story began. How do you have a main character that has lost his legs? Wouldn’t that limit the action and his involvement so much that he would be a passive, reactive character?
That question was answered immediately, because there was so much exposition and background and visual imagery thrown at me I really didn’t have time to hold onto that thought. Needless to say, it didn’t matter.
It didn’t take long for me to settle down and drink in the story and become immersed in the extraordinary visual effects of the planet Pandora. I began noticing things: first, despite what many people were saying I found this to be a very personal film. That surprised me. I’ve read any number of things about the political environment of the film and how “anti-American” it is. For me, nothing could be further from the truth. We can’t ignore our history where events like this have happened since the Spanish-American war. So, I don’t buy that – it just reflects where we are as a country now – and that it has parallels to our invasion of Iraq is obvious and totally coincidental.
Another thing I noticed: Cameron (at least in my interviews) had an awareness of trees (and the context of roots spreading across the landscape searching for water) that was insightful and engaging. Sure enough, the concept of Hometree spreading its roots across the entire planet of Pandora, brings together an intellectual unity of personal thought, feeling and emotion. All living things are connected, Cameron says – we are the many in the One. It is one of the unifying ideas that forcibly attract Jake Sully to the Na’vi. When tails entwine, a connection is made; a unity of Life. Nature and Being. If you think about it, we do the same thing, differing only in form, not in thought or idea or content: we shake hands, kiss cheeks, hug, embrace, gestures that are meant to connect the bridge between us all.
I was also impressed with his portrayal of women – Neytiri is a model of feminine strength, maturity and wisdom, ready and able to hold her own against any man or woman. She is free, spirited, a complete individual, something I think we all aspire to.
Many people have commented on the story – it’s not original in the sense of new ideas – but has its roots in films like The Last Samurai and Dances With Wolves. I noticed that immediately.
So what? These ideas of someone giving up his/her native culture to join another with cultural contexts that are more compatible with their own beliefs, has been part of humanity’s growth from the very beginning of recorded history. One of the key things about our “humanness” is our ability to adapt to various conditions for our survival.
And that certainly is the case with Avatar. This is a choice for Jake Sully, something he’s comfortable with, a way of life that is compatible to his own. And for me, that is what makes Avatar such an extraordinary film experience.