Avatar (1998 Scriptment) by James Cameron
“The history of the aliens they call the sky people is one of blood. For as long as can be remembered, they take what is not theirs. They take the land and hunting grounds of other people, and kill them, or put them in places they cannot live. They call this progress, and it has led them down a path to sickness and death. Their world, their forest, is a dying place. A poisoned place. They have killed their mother. And they will do the same here. They must be driven away.” – James Cameron (AVATAR)
Note: James Cameron’s Avatar scriptment was online for almost a full decade, the length of time it took for the technology to catch up with the awesome imagination at play here. So, I don’t see how I’d be in the wrong reviewing it, but if I am I’ll take it down immediately. Truth is, I could tell you everything about this story and not a spoil a single thing. You’ve seen this movie, but you haven’t. And this particular film hinders completely on the universe James Cameron and WETA Digital are creating, and in making you believe it. I’m sure I’m leaving many things out, but you’ll thank me for it later. The surprise is in meeting the Na’vi, and falling in love with a moon called Pandora.
James Cameron’s Avatar scriptment, dated 1998, starts off as many Michael Crichton novels do — details, details, details — with the action scattered throughout. The story is simple: Earth is dying, we fucked up hugely, and now we’re paying for it. In a search to save our planet we’ve discovered an Earth-like moon light years from our own inhabited by a primitive (or so we think), native culture. Traditional colonization is impossible since the air on Pandora is toxic to humans and the natives have been difficult to communicate and negotiate with. The real breakthrough is in the creation of “avatars.”
The avatars function as living, breathing counterparts for our humans. A human mind in a Na’vi body. Moreover, it helps and allows us to understand the Na’vi, and to a better degree Pandora itself, on a completely different level. As you already know Sam Worthington plays the lead, a quadrapiledgic war veteran named Josh who had a twin brother in the Avatar program. Josh is enticed into joining (his DNA is already compatible with the Na’vi) and with the promise of being able to walk again via his Na’vi counterpart. I don’t think I have to tell anyone he jumps at the chance.
The avatars themselves are a combination of DNA from a human and a Na’vi counterpart. Geneticists on Earth create an in-vitro embryo and the recombinant embryo is grown in-flight from Earth to Pandora. In that time, it reaches near adult size. When they reach Pandora, the humans are able to control the avatar through a sort of brain link. They receive all sensory input and are completely oblivious to their real bodies. The Na’vi are ten feet tall and I imagine much like the concept art above that was dismissed. Cameron describes them as beautiful and graceful.
Through avatars we’ve been able to communicate with the Na’vi better, but an incident involving the deaths of some of the Na’vi, the destruction of their forests, and the creatures who live there have forced them away again. They exist with nature in a way we aren’t even capable of comprehending. Hostility is rising, tempers are flaring, and attacks on the base have become much more consistent.
The gist is that humans want to strip-mine the place and the Na’vi aren’t too cool with that. Most of the expository stuff takes place near the beginning with getting Josh used to his avatar on the base. He is taught by Grace (Sigourney Weaver) who is completely in love with Pandora. You can tell from the first moment you meet her. Pandora looks like Earth, but isn’t. The dimensions are too extreme, the trees are a thousand feet tall, the animals too intense to imagine, and floating mountains that quake.
The best scene takes place at night while during one of their missions, Josh is separated from the group and attacked by Viperwolves. At night, the entire planet’s forests take on a bioluminesence. If you’ve seen any of the recent videogame stills, it’s less hard to imagine. Choosing not to flee but instead take on the extremely agile pack of Viperwolves who move as shadows, Josh earns the respect of the gorgeous, Zuleika (Zoe Saldana). On Earth, we would consider her a princess. Josh falls in love almost immediately. She takes him back to her tribe where he re-groups with Grace (as her avatar).
What follows is a montage in which we see Josh fall in love with Pandora, and moreso Zuleika. We see him earn the respect of the tribe in a glorious hunt on the backs of Bansheerays. We see him earn the respect of the forest itself as it’s willows bless him. And then, we see the very humanistic “greed” take complete control of the people in charge of the project… And we see Josh as he finds not only his place in the world, but his place in all of existence.
Even on the page, reading about Pandora, I never wanted to leave. Cameron describes everything so well that my hopes for the film are through the stratosphere, especially with WETA Digital doing all the effects. Whenever Josh rises from his link chair, I get upset. And so will you. It’s a cautionary tale, sure, but it speaks to the prospect or the very definition of “human progress.” Is this what it will always be like? Are we always going to destroy something beautiful and precious in favor of money?
I’ll stop here, because seriously, you know this story. You know which side Josh chooses. You know that a huge battle between the Na’vi and the aliens they call “humans” is coming. You know that sacrifices will be made, and characters you’ve come to love will die. And yet, you know nothing. We haven’t seen a single frame of footage (which might change come Comic-Con), or a single still of actual art from the film.
What I read was the first draft, and that was written eleven years ago. Who knows how this has developed since then or what Cameron has added? Because there is seriously nothing to take out of this.
I fell in love with Pandora on the page. God forbid what a three hour movie might to do me.