A quirky take on Avatar

This is one of the reasons I read Steve Sailer though it’s hard to agree with him on a lot of politics:

… rather than being the America-hating leftist of neocon fulminations, Cameron is a worthy successor to the greatest American science fiction writer, Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988).

A highly imaginative writer, Heinlein’s politics were far from consistent. (His three cult novels have three wildly different cults: Starship Troopers was the second book on the official U.S. Marine Corps reading list, while Stranger in a Strange Land was beloved by hippies, and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by U. of Chicago libertarians.) Still, it’s fair to say that Heinlein was not a conventional Hollywood liberal.

Having been raised on Heinlein novels, I could always see where Cameron was coming from. His second film, 1986’s Aliens, struck me as Heinlein’s Starship Troopers done better than Heinlein himself could manage. Cameron left out the political chatter and added extra helpings of suspense and combat between giant space bugs and humans in powered armor suits

Heinlein’s thumbprints can be found all over Avatar’s pastiche of a plot. For instance, the device that launches Cameron’s scenario—one identical twin must substitute at the last minute for his brother on an interstellar voyage—is also in Heinlein’s 1956 novel Time for the Stars. Moreover, Avatar appears to borrow one of its central ideas—Pandora, a planet where the entire ecosystem is a single living network exchanging information—from the climax of Heinlein’s 1953 book for boys, Starman Jones.

Indeed, Avatar’s main plot—a human soldier teams up with a seemingly primitive but actually wise alien tribe to prevent an evil Earthling mining company from despoiling their sacred tropical homeland—an be found in Heinlein’s 1948 “young adult” story Space Cadet.

This is not to say Cameron is plagiarizing Heinlein. Rather, Heinlein’s ideas are part of the creative DNA of every artist working in hard sci-fi.

Further, Cameron is confronted with the same storytelling problem as Heinlein: they both love giant machines, but audiences don’t want to see the overdog win. Heinlein used a more convoluted variant of the Avatar plot in both Red Planet (1949) and Between Planets (1951). In these, the heroes are human settlers on Mars or Venus who enlist the admirable indigenous aliens in their fight for planetary independence from the oligarchic rulers of Earth.

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4 Responses to “A quirky take on Avatar”

  1. JC1 Says:

    Sailer’s explanation about the simplified story plot makes sense now. He had to get it out to the biggest possible audience to make a decent payoff after the huge budget with a decent amount going to technology development.

    Cameron is really a genius as far as I’m concerned.

  2. skepticlawyer Says:

    Backatcha Jason with another good find. The amount of silly political discourse on this film (and don’t worry, it’s on all sides) has to be seen to be believed.

  3. rog Says:

    There are elements that are topical SL – that is part of it’s appeal. But the bulk of the appeal is that it is just a simple story well told with great graphics.

  4. steve from brisbane Says:

    Hmm. I think the comparison of Starship Troopers to Aliens 2 is stretching things a lot. ST has whole squads of space soldiers in power suits; Aliens 2 has one scientist who uses a cargo hold power suit-ish thing to fight.

    I still suspect that the closest analogy may just be Dances with Wolves in Space, but I have to admit I haven’t seen it yet.

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