James Camerons' AvatarThanks to YaMBA, we have James Cameron’s next masterpiece.  Unfortunately, no, it’s not Aquaman starring Vincent Chase and Mandy Moore.  It’s Avatar, a sci-fi epic that wishes to teach you a lesson or two while at the same time blowing your mind.  Oh, James Cameron, doesn’t the movie going audience just want you to cause massive destruction and explosions without the inner messages?  I mean, that is why we have been watching Michael Bay movies in your absence – he is a poor man’s version of you.  In any case, take a look inside for a full SPOILER-filled synopsis and review of the Avatar script.  Keep in mind that this is a script treatment, with most of the character dialog not fully implemented at this time.

Avatar opens up to introduce up to protagonist Josh Sully’s world.  A century from now, Earth is a cesspool, overpopulated and riddled with the effects of pollution and nuclear warfare.  Josh himself is paralyzed from the waist down as a result of fighting in a war.  He’s an angry vet, ignored by society with whom he has to fight for space to live and work.  And worse, his twin brother has just died of asphyxiation in a Boston subway fire.

After cremating his brother, Josh runs into some associates of the RDA.  The Resources Development Alliance (RDA) is a major conglomerate who’s purpose is to search other planets for resources.  Josh’s brother Tom had signed up with RDA (aka the “Consortium”) for the Avatar program to do work on Pandora, a planet in another star system.  The Consortium has started an ambitious project, taking DNA samples from the alien locals of the planet (The Na’vi) and a sample from a selected human volunteer.  The DNA samples are used to create an embryo of mixed DNA signatures here on Earth.  The creation has rapid growth in the test tube, due to the nature of the Na’vi DNA, and is fully grown by the time the incubation unit has been sent from Earth to Pandora.  The creature resembles more closely a Na’vi but, through a psionic link technology, its mind can be controlled by the human volunteer.   Through this program, humans would have a better success rate of communicating with the alien race and teaching them about the basics of our culture.  Plus, the Na’vi can show these “avatars” unforeseen wildlife that could be helpful to humans (medicines, disease cures, etc.).  Tom was one of these human controllers, or was set to be until his death.  Josh, due to the obvious DNA similarity, decides to step into the program to finish the mission that Tom signed up for.  Josh’s reasoning for such a hasty move: the psionic link will make him believe that he is walking again.

James Cameron and Sam Worthington on the Avatar setCameron, at this time, spells out the true reason for this program.  It’s not a research project, it’s smart business.  The air is on Pandora is deadly to humans without a breathing apparatus.  Colonization is costly (those damn air travel miles cost a pretty penny).  What’s the next best thing?  Civilize the natives so that they’ll do all the work on the planet.

Furthermore, Pandora volcanic rock, jokingly referred to as “unobtanium”, is a precious item for Earth companies looking to generate electricity at much lower costs.  The rock formations float about the mountains of Pandora due to the magnetic force between the planet and others it orbits.

Upon arrival on the planet, veteran controller Dr. Grace Shipley is assigned to train Josh through his avatar sessions.  Grace has been a part of the avatar program for years, and her Na’vi body has been close to the tribe during that time.   Josh’s first experience in the avatar is much like a first person videogame, Grace trains Josh to look around, walk utilize items around him, and fire weapons.  After getting a little too used to the body, Josh and Grace, after an altercation with an escort trooper during their avatar link up, are sentenced to an isolated research site outside the main facility.  They are still provided the ability to link up to their avatars at this station and report back to the main compound about their progress.

During an excursion with Josh and Grace’s avatars, the former is attacked in the woods by a large “octopus”.  He is separated from the rest of the group but survives.  He begins his trek to through the woods to discover how truly violent this world can be (at first).  A Na’vi girl, named Zuleika, saves Josh’s avatar from a pack of viperwolves.  Zuleika is the princess of sorts for her local tribe, and within a short amount of time her trust is gained by the brave Josh avatar.  Josh is soon brought into the village of the local Na’vi tribe, which Grace is already a part of, and begins to fall in love with Zuleika.  Josh sees through clearer eyes, while in the tribe, that the colonization and exploitation of these sacred grounds is hurting the planet and its wildlife.  His human counterpart attempts to negotiate with his supervisors to find a better way of living with the Pandorians, but they would hear nothing of it.  The Consortium is dropping the avatar program and just plain strip mining the entire damn planet.  It’s up to Josh and his avatar to stage a war against the human colonists before the tribe is wiped out by lead security officer Quaritch.  The climax of the film has Josh-avatar riding flying creatures and attacking the excavator machines and mechs ravaging through the rainforest.

The Na'ViAccording to this script, if man attempts to fight nature, man will lose.  Man must live in harmony with nature and its other beings.  A better comparison for this script would be to say that it’s a big budget morality lesson, a sci-fi epic that mixes the plotlines of FernGully: The Last Rainforest and Dances with Wolves.  Cameron is mainly trying to go for that “wow” visual factor, all the while slipping in a “GI Joe-esque” public service announcement at the end of the picture.

The story is nothing new and the sci-fi genre is, honestly, paid better respect by other novels littering your local Barnes and Noble bookstore.  But, if anything, Cameron is a master at execution, and all the described visuals on the page will most likely elevate to lengths beyond of my wildest dreams.  What may make people groan is the aspect of Gaia.  The planet has a spirit, the forest is its brain and their people/wildlife is the governing populace.  Gaia can even be spoken to in some way, though it is a LITTLE bit more “realistic” way than say….a Disney movie where Pocahontas talks to the willow tree for advice.

For those that want to know, the aliens themselves look like Geonosians from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, albeit more cat-like.  The spots on their body glow and change color based on their mood.  Unfortunately, the Na’vi sexual practices seems no more interesting than watching two Vulcans rub each’s ears.

MAJOR END SPOILERS I had hoped that (though I knew it was coming) there would be a more logical explanation of Josh and Grace leaving their human bodies for their avatars.  However, its simply up to Gaia to make that choice and that heart and soul transfer.  Otherwise the script is competent enough for Cameron to tool with and make his big sci-fi epic attached to a lesson.  END MAJOR END SPOILERS

Since this is a treatment, I will not give the script a score as much of the dialog that make these Cameron creations memorable is missing.  Plus, the names have changed around a bit in the final product.  Josh has changed to Jake, Grace Shipley has changed to Grace Augustine, and so on.  Plus, Trudy Chacon does not die in this script treatment, which is against what actress Michelle Rodriguez had hinted at in one of her recent interviews. One final thought on the script – it is a nice surprise that actress Sigourney Weaver gets such a meaty role after so long (she plays Grace).  It seems that she will have the second largest part next to lead actor Sam Worthington (Josh/Jake).

After reading this script about people jumping on flying creatures and slapping their @$$es to tell them to go, I can only think what Cameron could do with a higher octane story concept.  Where is my Dino Riders movie?

Tune in next week for my script review of HALO!