James Cameron took the decision to shatter the Titanic box office record in 2009 by producing a cutting-edge CGI film, which went on to gross $2.9 billion worldwide.
Infusing an adult version of FernGully with breath-taking sights of the moon Pandora, its lush greenery, and interesting species, Avatar marked a significant advancement in cinematic technology. In the movie, former Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) travels to Pandora as part of a corporate team that is trying to extract massive amounts of the moon’s unobtanium mineral for electricity, despite the Na’vi and other native humanoids already living there.
Sully infiltrates the group, but after falling in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldaa), chooses to side with the Na’vi rather than against them. Avatar: The Way of Water, James Cameron’s much-anticipated sequel, is set for release in December 2022 and is expected to do for the water what the first film, which is presently in re-release, achieved for the sky.
Here are 15 interesting facts about James Cameron’s best film, Avatar, as you wait for the follow-up.
1. Sam Worthington was living in his automobile at the time of his Avatar audition.
Matt Damon was first given the part of Sully by Cameron, but he had to decline it due to his obligations to the Bourne series. Cameron then considered using a newbie as the protagonist instead of a well-known actor. In his native Australia, where he had starred with various crocodiles in TV series and at least one low-budget horror film, Worthington was a pretty well-known actor. He apparently lived in his vehicle at the time of his Avatar audition, despite this.
Worthington received the call confirming his employment half a year later. Worthington really impressed Cameron so much that he helped get him a lead part in McG’s Terminator Salvation.
2. Matt Damon passed up the opportunity to earn $600 million from the movie Avatar.
The Oscar winner was aware that Damon had declined to produce the film that would soon surpass all previous box office records and still retain that record. In 2021, Damon jokingly said, “James Cameron gave me 10% of a tiny movie called Avatar.” You will never encounter an actor who turned down more money; therefore, I will go down in history.
How much money are we really talking about? The equivalent of $603 million Damon was astonished to learn the arithmetic, as one would expect. “Stop it!” he exclaimed. “No way! Are you kidding me?
3. James Cameron started writing the script for the film in 1994, but he had to wait for the appearance of Gollum.
Although Cameron had an 80-page treatment for Avatar in 1994, the technology needed to realize his vision was either unavailable or too costly at the time. At the time, it was even included in a trivia book as a movie that was probably never going to be realized due to its anticipated $400 million production cost.
Thankfully, The Lord of the Rings and Gollum showed Cameron that the technology was now capable of producing “compelling photo-realistic, totally CG characters in a photo-realistic universe,” as he put it in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.
4. They used dinosaur-related animal sounds.
Even without paying great attention, Pandora’s repurposed dinosaur noises are audible. The Great Leonopteryx (which they ride) makes baby T. Rex noises; the Thanator Jake runs from makes T. Rex roars; the Hammerhead Titanothere makes Brontosaurus noises; the Thanator Jake runs from makes T. Rex roars; and the Direhorse makes the Velociraptor barks made famous by Jurassic Park’s kitchen hide-and-seek scene.
5. All of those smokes are CGI.
Computers recreated a staggering amount of the movie, including the cigarettes Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) smokes. Cameron reveals in the DVD commentary that Weaver had to mimic smoking; the cigarettes and their smoke were inserted digitally after the fact. The fact that you wouldn’t notice the smokes were fake if you weren’t told the secret is a testament to the animators.
Cameron apparently made the decision to utilize CGI smokes so that Weaver could use a toothpick in place of a lighted cigarette. However, the filmmaker received a lot of criticism for how much smoking was shown on screen. He responded to these concerns by saying, “I intended Grace to be a character that is immediately off-putting and even nasty,” according to The New York Times. She is impolite, curses, consumes alcohol, and smokes. She is not intended to serve as a role model for young people.
Speaking as an artist, Cameron said, “I don’t subscribe to the rigid notion that nobody in a movie should smoke.” Reality should be reflected in films. Why enforce a moral code that is contradictory when it comes to smoking if it’s OK for individuals to lie, cheat, steal, and even murder in PG-13 movies? But personally, he said, “Smoking is a nasty habit that I don’t favor, and I assume Avatar doesn’t either.”
6. A cameo by Dr. Seuss
Dr. Augustine reads The Lorax by Dr. Seuss to the Na’vi youngsters as one of their books. It tells the tale of a vengeful corporate corporation burning down a whole forest in order to generate outrageous profits at the expense of driving all native wildlife off the property.
7. Cameron was told to stop talking in “tree-hugging, hippy bullshit” by Fox executives.
It’s a case of art mimicking reality when Jake quips that he hopes all the “tree-hugger nonsense” he learns in training “won’t be on the final”—exactly what Fox execs requested Cameron to do to the movie’s final cut. The production team was “worried going into Avatar that the environmental themes, which went to a profoundly deep level, would really hinder the picture,” according to Cameron, who also acknowledged this. In the end, Cameron prevailed because the film is overflowing with pro-environmental themes.
8. It incorporates elements from Hebrew, Hindu, and Christian traditions.
The term “avatar” is derived from Sanskrit and refers to divine entities that assume human form in order to bring about equilibrium through virtuous acts. In a tribute to Vishnu, the Hindu deity who maintains the cosmos, Cameron also gave the Na’vi people a blue hue and made them tall. Similarly, the term “prophet” in Hebrew is “navi,” and the Na’vi in the film worship a god named Ey’wa, which is Yahweh—one of the Hebrew God’s names—inverted. Additionally, Cameron followed his own practice of giving heroes Christian names. That includes Bishop in Aliens and Monk in The Abyss, and while he hasn’t verified it, Dr. Augustine could be a nod to St. Augustine, Rome’s envoy to England who brought Christianity.
9. As a result of the movie, China renamed one of its mountains.
The design team for Avatar was inspired by a magnificent stone pillar in China’s Zhangjiajie National Forest Park that had influenced Cameron; after the film’s popularity, China renamed one of those pillars. This gave Pandora’s floating mountains their appearance. The park claims that Cameron was primarily influenced by the Southern Sky Column, which has since been dubbed Avatar Hallelujah Mountain. It’s interesting to note that the Chinese government momentarily banned the movie from cinemas because they were concerned that the Na’vi revolution might inspire similar feelings in people who had also been uprooted for economic expansion.
10. Cameron’s former employer is one of the visual artists.
After getting his start as a model builder on Roger Corman’s low-budget films, producer Chuck Comisky chose Jim Cameron as the film’s art director for Battle Beyond the Stars (1980). Nearly 40 years later, Comisky continued to work with his old employee, contributing his 3D knowledge to Avatar.
11. Instruments were created by James Horner for the music.
James Horner, a late Oscar-winning composer, took the task of writing music for a different planet seriously. He claimed to have created several instruments “from scratch” in an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 2009. They followed a plan. Numerous instruments that resemble flutes of various kinds were present, but they were mixed with gamelan-like instruments. (The gamelan is a Balinese instrument with a bell-like sound.) In order to create sounds that had never previously been heard on Earth, Horner also blended instruments and altered voice sounds using a computer.
12. About 1000 words in the Na’vi language were created by a linguist.
Linguist and University of Southern California professor Dr. Paul Frommer also moonlights as a language creator for motion pictures. He created almost 1,000 words for Avatar before creating the Barsoomian language for John Carter. Despite teaching the cast their lines, he felt like the only one who truly understood the language, and he hoped that the fan audience would be interested enough to learn it, as they had done with Klingon, Dothraki, and other made-up languages.Unofficial Na’vi operas may not exist (yet), but admirers are undoubtedly studying the language thanks to websites and apps that guarantee proficiency in as little as three months.
13. If mobile phones rang while the shoot was going on, Cameron pinned them to the wall.
Fair enough, most of Cameron’s sets have never really followed this guideline, but Worthington acknowledged that this was the standard procedure on the Avatar set. If necessary, Cameron acknowledged that he would use the nail gun, but not in an “emotionally outraged” manner. “I would do it in a planned, dramatic manner.” However, when the story is told again, it comes across as coming from someone who is frequently off the deep end, he told Express.”My reputation has the beauty it has.” Now that the message has spread, I don’t need to yell as loudly.
14. It’s simple to distinguish between the Na’vi and human avatars.
Let’s imagine you see a tall blue individual at a party and are curious as to whether they are a Na’vi or a person masquerading as one. Now what? Easy. The Na’vi have no eyebrows and only four fingers. Humans still retain the fifth finger and the thin hairs above their eyes, even in avatar form. A member of the Blue Man Group is someone who is drumming on a PVC pipe with five fingers, no eyebrows, and no facial hair.
15. There is a Cirque du Soleil production based on Avatar.
Cirque du Soleil has found inspiration for performances from Shakespeare to The Beatles, but the only film on which they have based a production is Avatar. In Toruk—The First Flight, a variety of acrobatic performances tell a prequel tale about two Na’vi hunters collecting five talismans that would give them the ability to ride the Toruk, one of many renowned creatures from the movie that are represented by large-scale puppets.