As one of the highest-grossing movies ever made, James Cameron’s Avatar enjoyed more attention from media and audiences alike than most releases. The science fiction movie has been criticised for being unoriginal, due to the usage of certain tropes like the term “unobtainium”, and some made legal claims against the story saying it copiees their work.
In an interview with GQ, Cameron reveals that he’s warded off some ten attempts at legal action against his action movie franchise, all by invoking a drawing he did at 19-years-old. “I woke up after dreaming of this kind of bioluminescent forest with these trees that look kind of like fiber-optic lamps,” he recalls. “And this river that was glowing bioluminescent particles and kind of purple moss on the ground that lit up when you walked on it. And these kinds of lizards that didn’t look like much until they took off. And then they turned into these rotating fans, kind of like living Frisbees, and they come down and land on something.”
This happened while he was attending Fullerton Junior College, and soon as he woke up, he sketched the scene down, and held onto it through-out his career. “I actually have a drawing. It saved us from about ten lawsuits,” he states. “Any successful film, there’s always some freak with tinfoil under their wig that thinks you’ve beamed the idea out of their head. And it turned out there were ten or 11 of them.”
In each instance, Cameron claims, he was able to point to that drawing, and the cases stopped. “I pointed at this drawing I did when I was 19, when I was going to Fullerton Junior College, and said, ‘See this? See these glowing trees? See this glowing lizard that spins around, that’s orange? See the purple moss?’ And everybody went away,” he says.
The flippancy of Cameron’s comments aside, there’s a lot about Avatar one can recognise if you know sci-fi. Pandora, and the warrior race that live on it, the Na’Vi, all bear hallmarks of the genre, such as vibrant, colourful wildlife, and inhuman features and skin tone. But the way the adventure movie blends all these facets together feels truly distinctive to Cameron, as it should, given it was decades in the making.
The Terminator movie director is currently gearing up for Avatar 2, a sequel 13 years in the making. That’ll arrive in cinemas Decembeer 16. Have a look at our list of the best sci-fi series for more strange new worlds.