The Incarnation of Avatar

Is there anything new James Cameron created in Avatar apart from the new technology of facial motion capture for CGI?

Avatar Family Tree
James Cameron's Avatar and his early creations

Avatar was an amazing experience but I just could not help referring to James Cameron’s all previous works while watching it in IMAX 3D. It took me away to the future in Pandora where human was on the mission to harvest a valuable mineral, Unobtanium for energy. However, the natives, Na’vi, and their creatures already occupied the planet. There could be a diplomatic solution to negotiate with them. Avatar program was designed to study and communicate with them by simulating a human’s mind in a Na’vi’s body. Jake Sully, an ex-marine, was on this assignment before they decided to invade the indigenous homeland and got too far then turned his side against the war-thirst military.

The theme about the backfire of human’s excessive technology is pretty much what Cameron has been saying since The Terminator until Titanic. Its story structure is almost identical with Titanic. When the first half of the movies was spent on the development of the character, especially, Rose and the love with Jack Dawson who teaches her to live the life. In Avatar is just a reverse role between Jake and Neytiri.

The parallel of these two scripts is obvious. When the two main characters have mated, the tension between the military and the Na’vi is escalated. Does it sound like the ice burg crashes into Titanic then Jack and Rose have run for their lives just after they do it in the backseat?

Jake’s journey from the beginning as a human soldier and his transformation into a tree hugger through the end is the classic arch story about soul searching you can find in almost every Cameron’s films. Sarah Conner, John Conner, Rose and Jake all confront tremendous challenges and survive those deadly actions. The result is the same, i.e., their worldview has been broadened.

Female action figure is almost Cameron’s filmographic signature. Since Aliens, the image of female version of Arnie has been stuck into all his films to a certain degree. The best example is Sarah Conner in T2 and T-X in T3. Sarah in The Terminator, Rose and Helen Tusker in True Lies learn to be tougher in the end whereas Lindsey Brigman in The Abyss can be strong where it needs to be. Aside from being a CGI, Neytiri is no exception. She fights, kills and makes love.

Not only Jake and Neytiri that have an avatar from Cameron’s previous movies, other main characters line up have been in his creation at least twice, more or less, in different forms.

As a classic action story, someone really close to the main character has to be sacrificed in order to boost his/her motive to move on to the final scene. Usually, in Cameron’s film this function is also a main character themselves: Kyle Reese in The Terminator, The Terminator in T2 and T3, and Jack in Titanic. They are all involved in the final battle scene then leave the other main character the messages of life. However, the death of Dr Grace is less significant than the others and serves as typical mark of the beginning of the final epic battle in Avatar.

Another Cameron’s signature character is the villain. He has always been clever in creating an excusable one-track-minded killing machine: all the robots from the future with the missions to terminate the Conners, Lt Hiram Coffey in The Abyss who has High Pressure Nervous Syndrome and Spicer Lovejoy in Titanic who just does what he is told by his master with a reward. Unfortunately, the rational thinking of Colonel Miles Quaritch falls back into a stereotypical bad guy in a uniform.

Parker Selfridge represents the economic force of Avatar story. He has some resemblances to Rose’s mother, Ruth, and her fiancé, Caledon Hockley. Their drives are Unobtanium, Hockey’s wealth and Heart of the Ocean, respectively. Nevertheless, they never have the blood on their hands and are portrayed a wimpy. Along side with the female action hero, we can track this character back to Aliens which Carter Burke takes the role of cooperate greed.

On the contrary, in Cameron’s films the good guys always have someone who possesses the truth of the story. They are sometimes the wild card to overturn the situation into their favour. For examples, NTIs reveals they have the ability to the ocean in The Abyss, Old Rose has Heart of the Ocean with her all the time in the film and The Terminator escorts the Conners to the safe places. Avatar’s Eyra is a bit different since they are not really a figure character. Even though, they are the divinest being he has created, Eyra has the similar roles to the story as their predecessors.

No doubt that it is one of the biggest cinematic achievements. James Cameron could probably outdo Spielberg with the second strike since Titanic fever in the late 90’s. By this time the movies stands in the second in worldwide box office, thanks to 3D and IMAX releases.

But there are bits and pieces in Avatar I can recall from his prior blockbusters as shown in my Avatar Family Tree. And that annoys me that you go see an expensive film like this then you realise that all the things you experience is just the swapped incarnations of the some-old avatars.