By the year 2154 humans have taken their first fledgling steps into space in search of resources to keep an overburdened Earth stable and prosperous. Jake Sully is a soldier with RDA, a corporation charged with exploiting valuable unobtanium deposits on Pandora, a lush moon in the Alpha Centauri system that is home to a race of giant blue-skinned natives called the Na'vi. Though paraplegic Jake is still valuable as a replacement "pilot" for his deceased brother's vat-grown human-Na'vi hybrid, which he can control via mental command. Jake's mission is simple: infiltrate the local Na'vi tribe called the Omaticaya and convince them to move out of their village, Hometree, which sits atop a particularly lucrative deposit of unobtanium.
Jake begins to question the RDA's displacement agenda after his first outing with Dr. Grace Augustine when the two get separated and he's rescued in the forest by beautiful Na'vi huntress, Neytiri. After three months of training him in the ways of the Omaticaya the two fall in love and Jake becomes a full-fledged member of the tribe, rejecting the RDA's goals and trying to find an alternative solution. While trying to warn the tribe of the impending military assault Jake admits he was working with the RDA to displace them and is cast out of the Omaticaya. In a brutal show of force the company's military units take down Hometree and the tribe is forced to flee.
|Back at the RDA base camp, Jake and his allies are imprisoned for treason but escape thanks to pilot Trudy Chacon, who has taken a dim view of the RDA's immoral methods. Together they all flee to a remote avatar control base, but Grace is shot during the escape. To regain the trust of the Omaticaya Jake knows he has to think big and ends up taming the deadly Toruk flying creature--a feat only five other Na'vi have ever done. Returning to the tribe at their last sanctuary, the Tree of Souls, the Omaticaya attempt to save Grace, but fail as her wounds are too severe. Jake and the Omaticaya's warriors depart to unite Pandora's Na'vi tribes in the fight against the RDA in preparation for the final engagement.|
A 15-Year Production
James Cameron originally wrote an 80-page script for Avatar in 1994 and announced it as his next project after the success of 1996's Titanic. Even as far back as this his intention was to use motion capture actors in an almost-entirely synthetic, computer generated environment and brought SFX house Digital Domain onto the project to help with the technical aspects. However, as Cameron tried to ramp up production in 1997 he discovered that the technology for such an endeavor had not yet been achieved and set about creating it while working on other projects.
By 2005 the tech finally did catch up to his vision and Cameron began reworking the film's script, doing preliminary casting and fleshing ou t the Avatar universe. Besides the technical hurdles, Cameron's other major challenge was to make the environment se em as realistic as possible to the viewer and, to these ends, he took a number of novel a pproaches. He hired two separate art production teams to bring Pandora to life: one for the alien flora and fauna and an other devoted entirely to the human technology. The Pandoran enviro nment and life forms--Na'vi included--had to straddle a delicate balance between being utterly alien and fantastic while also remaining familiar e nough so viewers could relate. On top of that Cameron dictated that, to an extent, life on Pandora must conform to biological reality as we know it, making strange bedfellows out of creature designers and university biologist consultants. To make the Na'vi as lifelike as possible a USC linguist, Dr. Paul Frommer, was hired to create an alien language for them. The Na'vi language is based on East African tongues and has approximately a thousand words. Human technology on Pandora was no less complex, with conceptual artists reporting that Cameron wanted them to pay attention to design not only on the overall shape of the gunships and AMP suits, but even all the way down to minor objects like the handles on crates.
By mid-2007, with design work and casting finished, Cameron hired New Zealand Weta Digital (of Lord of the Rings fame) to help with the visual effects and began principal photography under tight wraps. Again, in an effort to infuse as much life into the world of Avatar as they could, actors took archery, firearm and hand-to-hand combat training courses in addition to spending time on offshore oil derricks (to emulate the Pandora mining base) and in the jungles of Hawaii. The actors then took these experiences with them to the motion capture green screen studios.
Although official production costs for Avatar are approximately $240 million, add to that the costs of various marketing campaigns and development of the motion capture and 3D filming technology and the total approaches twice that figure, making Avatar potentially the most expensive film project ever developed. Despite that, Avatar's box office take to date tops $2.6 billion and, combined with the licensing fees other studios are already starting to pay Cameron for use of his revolutionary camera technology and the soon-to-come home video sales, the film stands to become the most successful production of all time and a major watershed event in cinema history.