James Cameron on Why ‘Avatar’ Has a Simple Plot: “Layers”
Art and Experience: Avatar got slammed by some critics as a Pocahontas story. James Cameron rolls his eyes at that.
One of my favorite movies is Avatar. I think it’s a sweeping epic that certified James Cameron as one of our most important storytellers. He has incredible original ideas. I wish Hollywood would learn from him and greenlight for others.
But when Avatar came out, one of the biggest rags on it was that the story was too familiar. People called it Fern Gully and Pocahontas. But in a recent question and answer session, Cameron addressed these critics head-on.
Cameron’s basic answer was “layers.”
Avatar had to have a simple entry point so most people could come through the door. It’s the top-grossing movie of all time because it had mass appeal. It also had a lot more to say than just the plot. It was about conservation and environmentalism. It was about harmony with nature and an understanding of our planet.
Another part of this is the theatrical experience. The plot is thin because the experience is rich. Cameron wanted you to be able to steep in the world without missing intricate details. He knew how rich the film would be, especially in 3D.
Cameron does everything with intention. It’s no surprise he was thinking about the next steps here.
I wonder how far the visuals take you, though. Avatar is easy to get into, but there’s a lot to learn and understand the deeper you get inside. From the rituals to the stakes, this might seem familiar, but I think Cameron put enough of a spin on it to make things feel fresh.
A lot of times, riffing on genre tropes can revamp these older stories and spin them into being relevant today. Avatar took those pillars and delivered a movie widely accepted all over the world. It felt universal and true, even though it was happening in the distant future.