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Film Talk: Looking Back – To the blue and beyond with Avatar

"Yo, listen up, here's the story, about a little guy that lives in a blue world..." Ah, the immortal and magical Eiffel 65. Did your delectable '90s hit play any part in inspiring James Cameron's vision with this world-breaking sci-fi belter? We may never know the truth, but come on: "I have a girlfriend and she is so blue." I rest my case...

Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana in James Cameron's Avatar
Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana in James Cameron's Avatar

Directed, written, produced, and co-edited by the movie-making war horse that is Cameron, 2009's Avatar represented a milestone moment in visual effects, and as such, in cinema as a whole.

It seems strange to be able to legitimately call this one a classic. But at 13-years-mature, it now fits the bill in age as well as impact, and with its first sequel finally due to drop this year, its time to look back at what made the original so special.

Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, and Sigourney Weaver, Avatar is famously set in the mid-22nd century, on the fictional and fantastical moon of Pandora.

A world rich in resources and inhabited by a supposedly 'savage' race, Pandora is the setting for a somewhat classic tale of a misunderstood indigenous society being made to suffer at the ambitions of ignorant, pig-headed bullies. The story has been told many times, but here, Mr Cameron does tell it very well indeed.

Though it wouldn't hit our screens for another decade-and-a-half, development of Avatar in fact began in 1994. Cameron wrote an 80-page treatment for the flick, the filming of which was planned to shortly follow the completion of 1997's Titanic.

Cameron had initially hoped for a 1999 release, however quickly came to realise that the effects technology needed to give his flick the required snap, crackle and pop just wasn't there yet. The vision, however, remained.

Work continued, with the language of Cameron's iconic blue aliens, the Na'vi, being developed in 2005. The screenplay and the flick's broader fictional universe were brought into form the following year.

In cooperation with Weta Digital, Cameron eventually managed to achieve a groundbreaking array of new visual effects for Avatar, meaning that by the time of its 2009 release, a truly spectacular cinematic experience was in store for audiences across the world. But with this, the film's budget was high – very high. Would the box office takings make the ambitious enterprise of bringing Cameron's bold vision to life worthwhile? Or would Avatar be the next Waterworld?..

After his scientist brother's untimely death, paraplegic marine Jake Sully (Worthington) decides to take his place in a mission on the distant moon of Pandora – a world of danger, but also, opportunity.

Joining a team of researchers, Sully will have his mind linked to an alien body – an avatar that will allow him to interact with and gain the trust of Pandora's native Na'vi, and learn about their misunderstood culture.

Once on the moon, Sully learns of the intentions of a greedy human corporation to drive the Na'vi away from their home in order to mine a precious material – unobtanium. In exchange for the surgery that will give him back the use of his legs, Jake agrees to report tactical information on the Na'vi tribe of the Omaticaya and their main encampment, which sits directly above the richest unobtanium deposit on Pandora.

However, as Sully spends more time with the tribe – particularly Neytiri (Saldana), daughter of the Omaticaya chief – his allegiances begin to shift.

Eventually Jake will be forced to decide who the true savages of Pandora are, and join a battle for the moon's future...

So, was it a box office success? On that, we can answer a most indefatigable 'yes'.

During its theatrical run, Avatar broke numerous box office records and became the highest-grossing film at the time, surpassing Cameron's Titanic, which had held that record for twelve years. It remained the highest-grossing film worldwide for nearly a decade until it was overtaken by Avengers: Endgame in 2019. However, a Chinese re-release saw Avatar retake the top spot in March last year.

Adjusted for inflation, Avatar is the second highest-grossing flick of all time, only pipped to the post by Gone with the Wind with a total of more than $3 billion.

A cinematic achievement that has rarely been paralleled, Avatar stands as one of the world's greatest filmmaker's crowning glories, and a solid sci-fi adventure of no mistaking.

With Avatar: The Way of Water set for release in December, I for one can't wait to visit the wilds of Pandora again. Time to get the blue body-paint back out people, and party 'Na'vi style'...

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