A life's work: James Cameron's Avatar deposition


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The Independent Culture


1. The science geek

Growing up in Ontario, Canada, writes Cameron, he had ambitions of becoming a scientist. He “made collections of leaves and flowers” and became president of his high school science club. His favourite movie was 2001: A Space Odyssey.

2. Teenage kicks

As a teenager, Cameron made a drawing that he still owns, “Spring on Planet Flora”. The picture, he explains, is essentially the same in concept to the alien jungle on the moon Pandora, on which much of Avatar’s action takes place.

3. Short story

In 1974, he scripted a sci-fi short called Chrysalis, “about a cosmic journey of self-discovery and transcendence taken by a wheelchair-bound man... who is able to stand and finds himself in an alien landscape.”

4. New beginning

In the late 1970s Cameron wrote a draft script, Xenogenesis, “the saga of the voyage of Cosmos Kindred, a mile-long spaceship. 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.” One of the planets the scientists explore, “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.”

5. The Spielberg problem

In 1980, he wrote a treatment for a sci-fi film that he called “ET”, before he learned that Steven Spielberg was working on a film with the same name, at which point he changed his title to “Mother”. The film featured “an international and interplanetary consortium called Triworld Development Corporation, or ‘the Company,’ which sets up mines on another planet.”

6. Brotherly love

Cameron was inspired to make a US Marine his hero after his youngest brother John fought with the Corps in the first Iraq War. “Thankfully he returned in one piece, but my anxiety over his well-being during the US liberation of Kuwait, in which he saw active combat (his unit re-took the airport in Kuwait City), left an indelible impression… The values of the Marine Corps, as I had learned them from my younger brother, greatly impressed me, especially their motto of ‘adapt, improvise and overcome’.”

7. Colonial cousins

Avatar “is a science fiction retelling of the history of North and South America in the early colonial period… Europe equals Earth. The native Americans are the Na’vi. It’s not meant to be subtle.” Cameron says he hopes to begin a sequel in 2013.