Avatar always seemed to me an odd film with which to attempt to foment a 3D revolution. On paper, it is the antithesis of a mainstream hit. And yet James Cameron has always had the unusual talent of being able to spin geek nirvana into mainstream gold. His inspirations say a lot about him. One of his first cinematic epiphanies came when he watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is a film that rescued the sci-fi genre from the mire of cheesy, low-budget schlock.
The New Yorker (via First Showing) has a 12-page(!) profile on Cameron that discusses Avatar but also delves into the director’s inspiration, weaving through every page various life incidents and experiences that begin to apprehend his entire psychological schematic, such as his blue-collar background, his approach with actors, the technology that defines him, and the human stories that shine through. The article gives the reader a better understanding of why Cameron makes the films he makes. It’s also filled to the brim with one-liners. (“Hiring you is like firing two good men.”) Here’s an excerpt:
All directors have a God complex; Cameron takes his unusually seriously. For “Avatar,” he worked with a linguist to develop the Na’vi language, inspired by fragments of Maori he picked up in New Zealand years ago. He based Pandora, and its myriad flora (spike tears, cliff slouchers, stinger ivy) and fauna (direhorses, banshees, slinths), partly on the creatures of the coral reefs and kelp forests he has seen at the abyssal depths. He hired a team of artists to execute his ideas, but reserved one creature for himself: the thanator, a six-legged black pantherlike beast, twenty-four feet long, covered in plate scales, with a reptilian double set of jaws and a threat display resembling that of a fan lizard. “The thanator is the baddest, meanest predator the planet had to offer,” Neville Page, the lead creature designer, said. “As Jim put it in the treatment, a thanator can eat an Alien for dessert. He wanted to outdo himself, outdo the Alien Queen.”
“Creating a universe is daunting,” George Lucas said. “I’m glad Jim is doing it—there are only a few people in the world who are nuts enough to. I did it with ‘Star Wars,’ and now he’s trying to challenge that. It’s a lot of work. I do believe Jim will take this further out than anyone’s ever conceived of.”
It might require more than a lunchbreak to read, but it’s worth it.