After seeing "Avatar," there was something that seemed slightly familiar.
Cameron has received a lot of flack claiming his beautiful world of Pandora and the Na'vi was nothing more than the equivalent of two '90s animated pictures intertwined.
Since 2009, he and his company, Lightstorm Entertainment, have also received a flurry of lawsuits from others claiming "Avatar" was their idea.
Just in case anyone else wants to stake a claim in what Cameron has described as his "most personal film" to date, he wants everyone to know that he had the idea for his film long before both "FernGully" and Disney's "Pocahontas."
In fact, Cameron claims he's had initial concepts for "Avatar" floating around since the '60s.
In a lengthy 45-page sworn declaration filed at the end of October, Cameron once and for all laid out the details of how he came up with the idea for Hollywood's blockbuster.
In the document which you can read HERE, Cameron details how basically every single element in his film was inspired from previous artwork, themes, and characters from never produced projects and films made before 1991.
Essentially, Cameron claims "Avatar" is the byproduct and combination of four early sci-fi projects: "Xenogenesis,""Chrysalis,""Mother," and "Wind Warriors."
Here are the plot synopses for the four films Cameron claims "Avatar" borrows:
"Xenogenesis is the saga of the voyage of Cosmos Kindred, a mile-long spaceship employing a fusion ramjet interstellar drive unit. In the face of destruction of the Earth, scientists engage in a last-ditch effort to preserve a nucleus of humanity by trying to find a new planet on which to live … "Xenogenesis"explored the concept of actual “linking” between human and machine, or mind-machine interfacing."
"The script describes a cosmic journey of self-discovery and transcendence taken by a wheelchair-bound man who elects to surgically remove all external sensory input, so that he can journey through his own mind."
"Humans have plundered Earth and look to exploit another planet. As I wrote in 1980-81: “It was a … plan, born of desperation. For Earth was becoming hell too, crushed beneath a sea of homo sapiens, and they needed new territory. Not simply a new continent: an entire world was required. And so they came.” This effort is spearheaded by an international and interplanetary consortium called Triworld Development Corporation, or “the Company,” which sets up mines on another planet, possibly Venus or an extrasolar planet or moon such as Titan."
"An aviatrix crashes into the Brazilian rainforest and mysteriously disappears. Her daughter travels to the jungle in order to search for her mother and, together with an archaeologist who speaks the language of the natives, hire a bush pilot to take them upriver in his converted World War I bomber plane. They are attacked by mercenaries under the command of a greedy industrialist, who is seeking a mysterious but extremely valuable metal. The industrialist has an airship, which the indigenous warriors believe to be a god, and he uses the airship to make them dig for more of the metal."
Here are some of the detailed examples Cameron says are borrowed from the films:
His idea for Pandora (the world featured in "Avatar") was modeled after another location featured in the late '70s science-fiction script.
"I modeled Avatar’s Pandora on one of the planets that the characters explore in Xenogenesis. This planet in Xenogenesis, the Luminous Planet, has a beautiful forest with a vast network of interconnected, bioluminescent trees. The human characters cannot survive on this planet because of its deadly atmosphere."
Note that the original idea for Pandora stemmed from a drawing of an alien jungle landscape drawn in 11th grade.
"For example, in the eleventh grade, I did a pen drawing entitled 'Spring on Planet Flora' ... This drawing depicts an oversized jungle environment of an alien world that I conceived, which I called “Planet Flora.”
"The landscape depicted in “Spring on Planet Flora” is essentially the same in concept and detail to the alien jungle landscape on the moon Pandora, on which much of the action in Avatar takes place."
Cameron's "Xenogenesis" provided so much detail for Pandora, down to its "translucent stalks" and pastel colors that pop out at night.
"Just as in Avatar, Xenogenesis’s Luminous Planet comes alive at night. As the Xenogenesis script describes: “The planet’s sunlit side seems Earthlike, but the night side glows softly with reticulated radiance of pastels of blue and green.”
The blue Na'vi people are inspired from a painting Cameron did for the film.
"In or about 1979, I did a large painting which shows a tall, thin woman with blue skin, who is wearing skin-tight purple pants … These tall, slender, blue-skinned, and genetically engineered characters became the basis for the appearance of the indigenous people, the Na’vi, and the genetically engineered avatars in 'Avatar.'"
The giant willow tree referred to as "Tree of Souls" in "Avatar" appeared in the script.
"Xenogenesis’s Luminous Planet has a unique sort of willow tree, which is described in the script as “a glorious hybrid of a fiber optics lamp, a sea anemone and a willow; a fountain of gossamer tendrils swing from each delicate stalk.”
The fact that the plants in "Avatar" are all-knowing.
"In Xenogenesis, the Luminous Planet itself is sentient – i.e., it can sense and react to others – like Pandora in Avatar. In Xenogenesis, the Luminous Planet reacts to the arrival of the main characters and seeks to trap them and keep them on the planet by lulling them into a state of bliss, like the “Lotus Eaters” of Homer’s epic The Odyssey."
The "purple dire-horses" in "Avatar"? Yes, those were also in the "Xenogenesis" script.
The idea for Jake Scully originated from the early film concept which also dealt with a disabled, wheelchair-bound man, going through a transcendent journey.
"In or about 1973, I wrote a story called Absense for a college project, which was developed in 1974 into a short film script entitled Chrysalis … The script describes a cosmic journey of self-discovery and transcendence taken by a wheelchair-bound man who elects to surgically remove all external sensory input, so that he can journey through his own mind. In this mental journey, the man is able to stand and finds himself in an alien landscape and a forest full of giant trees."
The idea of a company setting up mines on another planet they plan to exploit.
"I used this same scenario in Avatar: The international consortium called the Resources Development Administration (RDA) sets up mines on Pandora, a moon that orbits an extrasolar planet, whose atmosphere is toxic to humans."
Cameron's idea for creating a duplicate of an alien life form on another planet (aka an "Avatar") was first seen here.
"Because the planet’s environment is dangerous to humans, a “xenomorph,” my term for a genetically engineered alien creature, is created based on a local life form in order to serve the needs of the Company. As my notes for Mother show, I conceived the idea that these genetically engineered aliens could be used as workers in the mines."
The psychic link to control the Avatars:
"As stated in my notes for Mother, these xenomorphs are controlled via a '“psychic link w/ an ‘adept’ or an 'electronic link w/ a trained controller.' In Avatar, I combined these two ideas to create the technology called “psionic link,” which encompasses both the natural mental power of the individual to link with his genetically matched avatar and the idea of technology used to focus and project that connection over great distances."
"Wind Warriors" elements included in "Avatar":
Villains searching for a rare metal who were willing to destroy whoever and whatever (the natives and their jungle) to obtain it.
Natives fighting with simple weapons as opposed to the powerful machinery of the military.
The air battle that takes place over the jungle.
Despite all of this, near the end of his declaration, Cameron acknowledges references to outside films and stories including "FernGully" and the story of Pocahontas among others ("Medicine Man,""The Jungle Book," and the sci-fi novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs).
On page 20, Cameron full out tells us "Avatar" is essentially his own retelling of "Pocahontas":
"Avatar is a science fiction retelling of the history of North and South America in the early colonial period. Avatar very pointedly made reference to the colonial period in the Americas, with all its conflict and bloodshed between the military aggressors from Europe and the indigenous peoples. Europe equals Earth. The native Americans are the Na’vi. It’s not meant to be subtle."
Since Cameron wrote his first treatment for "Avatar" in 1995 – the same year "Pocahontas" debuted, and three years after "FernGully" was released – we imagine he began to see his ideas coming to fruition on the big screen and he needed to finally put them to work.
Cameron held off on production for another decade though after deciding the technology to create the film wasn't readily available.
So, yes, "Avatar" may have been based on Cameron's ideas, but it was also inspired by the beloved animated classics.