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Avatar (2009 film)

Avatar (2009 film)

Avatar (also marketed as James Cameron's Avatar) is a 2009 American epic science fiction film directed, written, produced, and co-edited by James Cameron and starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, and Sigourney Weaver.

Avatar (also marketed as James Cameron's Avatar) is a 2009 American epic science fiction film directed, written, produced, and co-edited by James Cameron and starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, and Sigourney Weaver. The film is set in the mid-22nd century when humans are colonizing Pandora, a lush habitable moon of a gas giant in the Alpha Centauri star system, in order to mine the valuable mineral unobtanium. The expansion of the mining colony threatens the continued existence of a local tribe of Na'vi – a humanoid species indigenous to Pandora. The film's title refers to a genetically engineered Na'vi body operated from the brain of a remotely located human that is used to interact with the natives of Pandora.

Development of Avatar began in 1994, when Cameron wrote an 80-page treatment for the film. Filming was supposed to take place after the completion of Cameron's 1997 film Titanic, for a planned release in 1999; however, according to Cameron, the necessary technology was not yet available to achieve his vision of the film. Work on the language of the Na'vi began in 2005, and Cameron began developing the screenplay and fictional universe in early 2006. Avatar was officially budgeted at $237 million, due to a groundbreaking array of new visual effects Cameron achieved in cooperation with Weta Digital in Wellington. Other estimates put the cost between $280 million and $310 million for production and at $150 million for promotion. The film made extensive use of new motion capture filming techniques, and was released for traditional viewing, 3D viewing (using the RealD 3D, Dolby 3D, XpanD 3D, and IMAX 3D formats), and for "4D" experiences in selected South Korean theaters.

Avatar premiered in London on December 10, 2009, and was released in the United States on December 18 to positive reviews, with critics highly praising its ground-breaking visual effects. During its theatrical run, the film broke several box office records and became the highest-grossing film at the time, as well as in the United States and Canada, surpassing Cameron's Titanic, which had held those records for twelve years. Avatar remained the highest-grossing film worldwide for nearly a decade until it was overtaken by Avengers: Endgame in 2019, before a Chinese re-release saw Avatar retake the top spot in March 2021. Adjusted for inflation, Avatar is the second highest-grossing movie of all time after Gone with the Wind with a total of more than $3 billion. It also became the first film to gross more than $2 billion and the best-selling video title of 2010 in the United States. Avatar was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and won three, for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Visual Effects. The success of the film also led to electronics manufacturers releasing 3D televisions and caused 3D films to increase in popularity.

Following the film's success, Cameron signed with 20th Century Fox to produce four sequels: Avatar 2 and Avatar 3 have completed principal filming, and are scheduled to be released on December 16, 2022, and December 20, 2024, respectively; subsequent sequels are scheduled to be released on December 18, 2026, and December 22, 2028. Production took place relatively smoothly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic at Weta studios in Wellington, as New Zealand as a whole was much less affected by the pandemic than other countries. Several cast members are expected to return, including Worthington, Saldana, Lang, and Weaver.

Plot

In 2154, humans have depleted Earth's natural resources, leading to a severe energy crisis. The Resources Development Administration (RDA) mines a valuable mineral called unobtanium on Pandora, a densely forested habitable moon orbiting Polyphemus, a fictional gas giant in the Alpha Centauri star system. Pandora, whose atmosphere is poisonous to humans, is inhabited by the Na'vi, a species of 10-foot tall (3.0 m), blue-skinned, sapient humanoids that live in harmony with nature and worship a mother goddess named Eywa.

To explore Pandora's biosphere, scientists use Na'vi-human hybrids called "avatars", operated by genetically matched humans. Jake Sully, a paraplegic former Marine, replaces his deceased identical twin brother as an operator of one. Dr. Grace Augustine, head of the Avatar Program, considers Sully an inadequate replacement but accepts his assignment as a bodyguard. While escorting the avatars of Grace and fellow scientist Dr. Norm Spellman, Jake's avatar is attacked by a thanator and flees into the forest, where he is rescued by Neytiri, a female Na'vi. Witnessing an auspicious sign, she takes him to her clan. Neytiri's mother Mo'at, the clan's spiritual leader, orders her daughter to initiate Jake into their society.

Colonel Miles Quaritch, head of RDA's private security force, promises Jake that the company will restore his legs if he gathers information about the Na'vi and the clan's gathering place, a giant tree called Hometree, which stands above the richest deposit of unobtanium in the area. When Grace learns of this, she transfers herself, Jake, and Norm to an outpost. Over the following three months, Jake and Neytiri fall in love as Jake grows to sympathize with the natives. After Jake is initiated into the tribe, he and Neytiri choose each other as mates. Soon afterward, Jake reveals his change of allegiance when he attempts to disable a bulldozer that threatens to destroy a sacred Na'vi site. When Quaritch shows a video recording of Jake's attack on the bulldozer to Administrator Parker Selfridge, and another in which Jake admits that the Na'vi will never abandon Hometree, Selfridge orders Hometree destroyed.

Despite Grace's argument that destroying Hometree could damage the biological neural network native to Pandora, Selfridge gives Jake and Grace one hour to convince the Na'vi to evacuate before commencing the attack. Jake confesses to the Na'vi that he was a spy, and they take him and Grace captive. Quaritch's men destroy Hometree, killing Neytiri's father (the clan chief) and many others. Mo'at frees Jake and Grace, but they are detached from their avatars and imprisoned by Quaritch's forces. Pilot Trudy Chacón, disgusted by Quaritch's brutality, frees Jake, Grace, and Norm, and airlifts them to Grace's outpost, but Grace is shot by Quaritch during the escape.

To regain the Na'vi's trust, Jake connects his mind to that of Toruk, a dragon-like predator feared and honored by the Na'vi. Jake finds the refugees at the sacred Tree of Souls and pleads with Mo'at to heal Grace. The clan attempts to transfer Grace from her human body into her avatar with the aid of the Tree of Souls, but she dies before the process can be completed. Supported by the new chief Tsu'tey, Jake unites the clan and tells them to gather all of the clans to battle the RDA. Quaritch organizes a pre-emptive strike against the Tree of Souls, believing that its destruction will demoralize the natives. On the eve of battle, Jake prays to Eywa, via a neural connection with the Tree of Souls, to intercede on behalf of the Na'vi.

During the subsequent battle, the Na'vi suffer heavy casualties, including Tsu'tey and Trudy, but are rescued when Pandoran wildlife unexpectedly join the attack and overwhelm the humans, which Neytiri interprets as Eywa's answer to Jake's prayer. Jake destroys a makeshift bomber before it can reach the Tree of Souls; Quaritch, wearing an AMP suit, escapes from his own damaged aircraft, then later finds and breaks open the avatar link unit containing Jake's human body, exposing it to Pandora's poisonous atmosphere. Quaritch prepares to slit the throat of Jake's avatar, but Neytiri kills Quaritch and saves Jake from suffocation, seeing his human form for the first time.

With the exceptions of Jake, Norm and a select few others, all humans are expelled from Pandora and sent back to Earth. Jake is permanently transferred into his avatar with the aid of the Tree of Souls.

Cast
Humans
  • Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, a disabled former Marine who becomes part of the Avatar Program after his twin brother is killed. His military background helps the Na'vi warriors relate to him. Cameron cast the Australian actor after a worldwide search for promising young actors, preferring relative unknowns to keep the budget down. Worthington, who was living in his car at the time, auditioned twice early in development, and he has signed on for possible sequels. Cameron felt that because Worthington had not done a major film, he would give the character "a quality that is really real". Cameron said he "has that quality of being a guy you'd want to have a beer with, and he ultimately becomes a leader who transforms the world". Worthington also briefly appears as Jake's deceased identical twin, Tommy. Cameron offered the role to Matt Damon, with a 10% stake in the film's profits, but Damon turned the film down because of his commitment to the Jason Bourne film series.
  • Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quaritch, the head of the mining operation's security detail. Fiercely consistent in his disregard for any life not recognized as human, he has a profound disregard for Pandora's inhabitants that is evident in both his actions and his language. Lang had unsuccessfully auditioned for a role in Cameron's Aliens (1986), but the director remembered Lang and sought him for Avatar. Michael Biehn, who had worked with Cameron in Aliens, The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, was briefly considered for the role. He read the script and watched some of the 3-D footage with Cameron but was ultimately not cast.
  • Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace Augustine, an exobiologist and head of the Avatar Program. She is also Sully's mentor and an advocate of peaceful relations with the Na'vi, having set up a school to teach them English.
  • Michelle Rodriguez as Trudy Chacón, a combat pilot assigned to support the Avatar Program who is sympathetic to the Na'vi. Cameron had wanted to work with Rodriguez since seeing her in Girlfight.
  • Giovanni Ribisi as Parker Selfridge, the corporate administrator for the RDA mining operation. While he is at first willing to destroy the Na'vi civilization to preserve the company's bottom line, he is reluctant to authorize the attacks on the Na'vi and taint his image, doing so only after Quaritch persuades him that it is necessary and that the attacks will be humane. When the attacks are broadcast to the base, Selfridge displays discomfort at the violence.
  • Joel David Moore as Dr. Norm Spellman, a xenoanthropologist who studies plant and animal life as part of the Avatar Program. He arrives on Pandora at the same time as Jake and operates an avatar. Although he is expected to lead the diplomatic contact with the Na'vi, it turns out that Jake has the personality better suited to win the natives' respect.
  • Dileep Rao as Dr. Max Patel, a scientist who works in the Avatar Program and comes to support Jake's rebellion against the RDA.
Na'vi
  • Zoe Saldana as Neytiri, the daughter of the leaders of the Omaticaya (the Na'vi clan central to the story). She is attracted to Jake because of his bravery, though frustrated with him for what she sees as his naiveté and stupidity. She serves as Jake's love interest. The character, like all the Na'vi, was created using performance capture, and its visual aspect is entirely computer generated. Saldana has also signed on for potential sequels.
  • CCH Pounder as Mo'at, the Omaticaya's spiritual leader, Neytiri's mother, and consort to clan leader Eytukan.
  • Wes Studi as Eytukan, the Omaticaya's clan leader, Neytiri's father, and Mo'at's mate.
  • Laz Alonso as Tsu'tey, the finest warrior of the Omaticaya. He is heir to the chieftainship of the tribe. At the beginning of the film's story, he is betrothed to Neytiri.
Production
Origins

In 1994, director James Cameron wrote an 80-page treatment for Avatar, drawing inspiration from "every single science fiction book" he had read in his childhood as well as from adventure novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard. In August 1996, Cameron announced that after completing Titanic, he would film Avatar, which would make use of synthetic, or computer-generated, actors. The project would cost $100 million and involve at least six actors in leading roles "who appear to be real but do not exist in the physical world". Visual effects house Digital Domain, with whom Cameron has a partnership, joined the project, which was supposed to begin production in mid-1997 for a 1999 release. However, Cameron felt that the technology had not caught up with the story and vision that he intended to tell. He decided to concentrate on making documentaries and refining the technology for the next few years. It was revealed in a Bloomberg BusinessWeek cover story that 20th Century Fox had fronted $10 million to Cameron to film a proof-of-concept clip for Avatar, which he showed to Fox executives in October 2005.

In February 2006, Cameron revealed that his film Project 880 was "a retooled version of Avatar", a film that he had tried to make years earlier, citing the technological advances in the creation of the computer-generated characters Gollum, King Kong, and Davy Jones. Cameron had chosen Avatar over his project Battle Angel after completing a five-day camera test in the previous year.

Development

From January to April 2006, Cameron worked on the script and developed a culture for the film's aliens, the Na'vi. Their language was created by Dr. Paul Frommer, a linguist at USC. The Na'vi language has a lexicon of about 1000 words, with some 30 added by Cameron. The tongue's phonemes include ejective consonants (such as the "kx" in "skxawng") that are found in Amharic, and the initial "ng" that Cameron may have taken from Te Reo Māori. Actress Sigourney Weaver and the film's set designers met with Jodie S. Holt, professor of plant physiology at University of California, Riverside, to learn about the methods used by botanists to study and sample plants, and to discuss ways to explain the communication between Pandora's organisms depicted in the film.

From 2005 to 2007, Cameron worked with a handful of designers, including famed fantasy illustrator Wayne Barlowe and renowned concept artist Jordu Schell, to shape the design of the Na'vi with paintings and physical sculptures when Cameron felt that 3-D brush renderings were not capturing his vision, often working together in the kitchen of Cameron's Malibu home. In July 2006, Cameron announced that he would film Avatar for a mid-2008 release and planned to begin principal photography with an established cast by February 2007. The following August, the visual effects studio Weta Digital signed on to help Cameron produce Avatar. Stan Winston, who had collaborated with Cameron in the past, joined Avatar to help with the film's designs. Production design for the film took several years. The film had two different production designers, and two separate art departments, one of which focused on the flora and fauna of Pandora, and another that created human machines and human factors. In September 2006, Cameron was announced to be using his own Reality Camera System to film in 3-D. The system would use two high-definition cameras in a single camera body to create depth perception.

While these preparations were underway, Fox kept wavering in its commitment to Avatar because of its painful experience with cost overruns and delays on Cameron's previous picture, Titanic, even though Cameron rewrote the script to combine several characters together and offered to cut his fee in case the film flopped. Cameron installed a traffic light with the amber signal lit outside of co-producer Jon Landau's office to represent the film's uncertain future. In mid-2006, Fox told Cameron "in no uncertain terms that they were passing on this film," so he began shopping it around to other studios and approached Walt Disney Studios, showing his proof of concept to then chairman Dick Cook. However, when Disney attempted to take over, Fox exercised its right of first refusal. In October 2006, Fox finally agreed to commit to making Avatar after Ingenious Media agreed to back the film, which reduced Fox's financial exposure to less than half of the film's official $237 million budget. After Fox accepted Avatar, one skeptical Fox executive shook his head and told Cameron and Landau, "I don't know if we're crazier for letting you do this, or if you're crazier for thinking you can do this ..."

In December 2006, Cameron described Avatar as "a futuristic tale set on a planet 200 years hence ... an old-fashioned jungle adventure with an environmental conscience [that] aspires to a mythic level of storytelling". The January 2007 press release described the film as "an emotional journey of redemption and revolution" and said the story is of "a wounded former Marine, thrust unwillingly into an effort to settle and exploit an exotic planet rich in biodiversity, who eventually crosses over to lead the indigenous race in a battle for survival". The story would be of an entire world complete with an ecosystem of phantasmagorical plants and creatures, and native people with a rich culture and language.

Estimates put the cost of the film at about $280–310 million to produce and an estimated $150 million for marketing, noting that about $30 million in tax credits would lessen the financial impact on the studio and its financiers.[ A studio spokesperson said that the budget was "$237 million, with $150 million for promotion, end of story."

Accolades

Avatar won the 82nd Academy Awards for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Visual Effects, and was nominated for a total of nine, including Best Picture and Best Director. Avatar also won the 67th Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director, and was nominated for two others. At the 36th Saturn Awards, Avatar won all ten awards it was nominated for: Best Science Fiction Film, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Writing, Best Music, Best Production Design and Best Special Effects.

The New York Film Critics Online honored the film with its Best Picture award. The film also won the Critics' Choice Awards of the Broadcast Film Critics Association for Best Action Film and several technical categories, out of nine nominations. It won two of the St. Louis Film Critics awards: Best Visual Effects and Most Original, Innovative or Creative Film. The film also won the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award for Production Design and Special Visual Effects, and was nominated for six others, including Best Film and Director. The film has received numerous other major awards, nominations and honors.

Special Edition re-release

In July 2010, Cameron confirmed that there would be an extended theatrical re-release of the film on August 27, 2010, exclusively in 3D theaters and IMAX 3D. Avatar: Special Edition includes an additional nine minutes of footage, all of which is CG, including an extension of the sex scene and various other scenes that were cut from the original theatrical film. This extended re-release resulted in the film's run time approaching the current IMAX platter maximum of 170 minutes, thereby leaving less time for the end credits. Cameron stated that the nine minutes of added scenes cost more than $1 million a minute to produce and finish. During its 12-week re-release, Avatar: Special Edition grossed an additional $10.74 million in North America and $22.46 million overseas for a worldwide total of $33.2 million.

Extended home media release

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment released the film on DVD and Blu-ray in the US on April 22, 2010, and in the UK on April 26. The US release was not on a Tuesday as is the norm, but was done to coincide with Earth Day. The first DVD and Blu-ray release does not contain any supplemental features other than the theatrical film and the disc menu in favor of and to make space for optimal picture and sound. The release also preserves the film's native 1.78:1 (16:9) format as Cameron felt that was the best format to watch the film. The Blu-ray disc contains DRM (BD+ 5) which some Blu-ray players might not support without a firmware update.

Avatar set a first-day launch record in the U.S. for Blu-ray sales at 1.5 million units sold, breaking the record previously held by The Dark Knight (600,000 units sold). First-day DVD and Blu-ray sales combined were over four million units sold. In its first four days of release, sales of Avatar on Blu-ray reached 2.7 million in the United States and Canada – overtaking The Dark Knight to become the best ever selling Blu-ray release in the region. The release later broke the Blu-ray sales record in the UK the following week. In its first three weeks of release, the film sold a total of 19.7 million DVD and Blu-ray discs combined, a new record for sales in that period. As of July 18, 2012, DVD sales (not including Blu-ray) totaled over 10.5 million units sold with $190,806,055 in revenue. Avatar retained its record as the top-selling Blu-ray in the US market until January 2015, when it was surpassed by Disney's Frozen.

The Avatar three-disc Extended Collector's Edition on DVD and Blu-ray was released on November 16, 2010. Three different versions of the film are present on the discs: the original theatrical cut (162 minutes), the special edition cut (170 minutes), and a collector's extended cut (178 minutes). The DVD set spreads the film across two discs, while the Blu-ray set presents it on a single disc. The collector's extended cut contains 8 more minutes of footage, thus making it 16 minutes longer than the original theatrical cut. Cameron mentioned, "you can sit down, and in a continuous screening of the film, watch it with the Earth opening". He stated the "Earth opening" is an additional 41⁄2 minutes of scenes that were in the film for much of its production but were ultimately cut before the film's theatrical release. The release also includes an additional 45 minutes of deleted scenes and other extras.

Cameron initially stated that Avatar would be released in 3D around November 2010, but the studio issued a correction: "3-D is in the conceptual stage and Avatar will not be out on 3D Blu-ray in November." In May 2010, Fox stated that the 3D version would be released some time in 2011. It was later revealed that Fox had given Panasonic an exclusive license for the 3D Blu-ray version and only with the purchase of a Panasonic 3DTV. The length of Panasonic's exclusivity period is stated to last until February 2012. On October 2010, Cameron stated that the standalone 3D Blu-ray would be the final version of the film's home release and that it was, "maybe one, two years out". On Christmas Eve 2010, Avatar had its 3D television world premiere on Sky.

On August 13, 2012, Cameron announced on Facebook that Avatar would be released globally on Blu-ray 3D. The Blu-ray 3D version was finally released on October 16, 2012.

Timeline

2006
Cameron announced that he would film Avatar for a mid-2008 release and planned to begin principal photography with an established cast by February 2007.
February 11, 2005
Cameron worked with a handful of designers, including famed fantasy illustrator Wayne Barlowe and renowned concept artist Jordu Schell, to shape the design of the Na'vi with paintings and physical sculptures when Cameron felt that 3-D brush renderings were not capturing his vision.
August 1996
Cameron announced that after completing Titanic, he would film Avatar, which would make use of synthetic, or computer-generated, actors.
1994
Director James Cameron wrote an 80-page treatment for Avatar, drawing inspiration from "every single science fiction book" he had read in his childhood as well as from adventure novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard.

Further reading

Title
Author
Link
Type
Date

3D Avatar vs. 2D Avatar, and the Importance of Aspect Ratios

Brendon Connelly

Web

June 1, 2009

Documentaries, videos and podcasts

Title
Date
Link

Avatar | Official Trailer (HD) | 20th Century FOX

November 9, 2009

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