Today, Cat! Jose Silerio offers his take on “Avatar.” Game on! Once again, we’ll post a Cat! Central response in regard to the film’s genre prior to our next Oscar® hopeful Beat Sheet upload.
Extra points! Click here to download the screenplay, and feel free to discuss the differences between the script –- and the finished product!
And now… STC! Beats Out Avatar! Meow!
After six weeks on top of the box office, James Cameron’s Avatar has become the number-one box office movie of all time, beating his own Titanic. Despite this amazing feat, Avatar still has its detractors.
I don’t blame them. It’s Pocahontas. It’s Dances with Wolves. It’s Ferngully — and The Last Samurai.
Indeed, Avatar has a story premise that’s been told before, but because Cameron puts it in a new setting, a new world in fact — and in 3D too — Avatar takes advantage of storytelling that’s tried and tested, and just makes it even better.
So here’s my question: Is that a bad thing?
If you ask Cameron, he has more than 1.8 billion reasons to say that it’s not. But, at Cat Central, we don’t need to look at the ticket sales to know why it’s a mega success. Avatar is a perfect example of what we like to say “Give me the same thing… only different!”
Just as he did with Titanic, Cameron takes advantage of new technologies to help him enhance his story, and to create an unimaginably beautiful world. He gives us eight feet-tall blue humanoids, six-legged creatures, a hero without legs, and a forest that glows in the dark. All in all, it’s something we haven’t seen before, something different. Yes, at its heart, the story is familiar — but Cameron has provided the opportunity for us to see it in a whole new way.
Opening Image: We first meet our hero, Jake Sully, as he awakens from his metallic coffin-like cryo-capsule after five years, nine months and 22 days. As a med tech floating in Zero-G tends to him, tiers of hundreds of cryo-capsules are revealed inside a humongous space transport system as more floating med techs tend to the newly-awakened space travelers. We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.
Theme Stated: As Jake arrives in Pandora, lost and in awe of this new world, he aptly says, “All I wanted in my sorry-ass life was a single thing worth fighting for.” Well, Jake, you’ve come to the right place.
Set-Up: Jake Sully stands out from the new recruits. He is a grunt. He carries the face of a battle weary warrior, but that’s not what makes him different. Instead, he’s the last guy you’d expect for a mission to another world — he’s confined to a wheelchair. Paralyzed from the waist down, he is a Stranger in an even Stranger Land. Isolated, angry, and alone, Jake is a man without love, without family, and without home.
Jake meets Norm, another Avatar “driver,” who shows him the Avatars for the first time. Grown from a combination of human and Na’vi DNA, Jake’s Avatar was specifically created for Tommy, his brilliant developer/twin brother who recently died. Jake’s identical genetic makeup to Tommy makes him the only one capable of jumping into the Avatar — and the last chance for company to recoup its investment in Tommy.
Jake meets the head of the Avatar project, Dr. Grace Augustine, who immediately dislikes him. He’s a jarhead and not one of the “smart ones.” He doesn’t have the years of training in Na’vi language and culture that Tommy — and Grace — have had. Once again, Jake finds himself on the outside trying to fit in.
Grace confronts Administrator Parker Selfridge about Jake. Selfridge quickly tells her that their only mission is to mine the planet’s Unobtanium, a mineral more expensive than anything else on Earth. The Na’vi are getting in their way of getting it — a problem her Avatars were supposed to solve.
With no choice, Jake is hooked up to the link pod for his mind transfer to his Avatar. As he lifts his legs into the pod, he refuses Grace’s help, telling her in a subtle Stasis=Death way that he’s tired of letting doctors tell him what to do. In other words, he’ll survive without her help.
Catalyst: Jake opens his eyes in the body of his Avatar. As the Med Techs tell him to take it easy, he won’t have any of it. He has control of his legs again and no one’s stopping him from using them.
Jake runs out of the lab and into the Avatar compound. He RUNS even more, faster and farther, pushing himself, enjoying the use of his legs and his freedom once again.
Debate: Back in his human body, Jake is recruited by Quaritch to be his man on Grace’s team, and to gather intel on the Na’vi and report back to him what he learns. He thinks the Avatars are a joke and a waste of time. This is a war, nothing else, and he needs a man who can help him from behind enemy lines. As an extra incentive, Quaritch promises Jake he’ll help him get his real legs back.
Break into Two: Jake, Norm, and Grace ride their Avatars into the jungle. It’s a whole new world to Jake — and to us. Six-legged animals, beautiful winged creatures, plants that disappear into the ground. The world is unbelievable, but dangerous nonetheless as Jake runs for his life from a creature that could easily eat a T-Rex.
Separated from the team, Jake finds himself alone in this strange world as nighttime slowly falls around him. With the darkness comes new dangers. Soon, Jake is fighting for his life when he is surrounded by a pack of wolf-like creatures.
B Story: Outnumbered and about to be turned into dinner, Jake is saved by Neytiri, a native Na’vi, when she kills the creatures — and then blames Jake for their unnecessary deaths. She prays over one of them, asking for its forgiveness. Clearly, Neytiri and Jake do not see things the same way. She sees him as a half being, a “Dreamwalker,” corrupted by the Sky People — the Na’vi name for humans.
Fun & Games: Jake has no choice but to follow Neytiri as she plunges deeper into the forest. She leads him to her home, after tiny luminous Woodsprites — pure spirits — envelope Jake in a playful dance. Neytiri sees this dance. Something magical has happened, and her attitude towards Jake alters a tiny bit.
Jake is unwelcome as they make it to the Hometree, where Neytiri’s people live. Only because of Jake’s mysterious interaction with the Woodsprites is he allowed to live. Despite Neytiri’s protests, her mother and clan matriarch, Mo’at, tasks Neytiri to teach Jake the ways of the Na’vi. Jake also meets Eytukan, the clan leader and Neytiri’s father, and Tsu’tey, the clan’s bravest warrior — and Neytiri’s would-be husband.
Back in Hell’s Gate, as Jake provides Quaritch with information on the Na’vi and their home, Selfridge reveals that the Hometree stands over the biggest deposit of Unobtanium in the planet. Quaritch tells Jake he has three months to get the Na’vi to move.
Neytiri teaches Jake how to be one of the Na’vi by using his “bond” with the planet’s spirit and all things living. In this world, things are different from what Jake is used to. There is a respect and connection for all living things that Jake must learn.
Suspicious of Quaritch, Grace moves their lab into the Hallelujah Mountains, far from Hell’s Gate.
The bond between Jake and Neytiri grows as Jake slowly becomes more Na’vi than human. He speaks their language with better fluency as he spends more time with them, learning their history, their secrets, their ways. Soon, Jake is allowed his first kill, and like all Na’vis, he offers the creature’s spirit to their goddess Eywa.
But Selfridge is not impressed with Jake’s success, so Grace pleads for more time. Quaritch questions Jake’s resolve to their mission.
Neytiri tells Jake of Toruk Macto, an ancestor who was chosen during a time of sorrow to unite all the clans. Toruk Macto was one of only five of the Na’vi to be chosen by Toruk, the greatest and fiercest of winged predators on the planet, to join with him as rider. No other Na’vi has been chosen since.
Jake is welcomed into the clan as one of the Na’vi. Yet, as he is still human, he is truly torn between the two worlds.
Midpoint: Jake confesses his love for Neytiri, and she confesses her love for him. They join as one, and, in the tradition of the Na’vi people, become mated for life.
Bad Guys Close In: Selfridge and Quaritch launch their plan to evict the Na’vi from the Hometree. Jake tries to stop the oncoming onslaught in vain, barely escaping with his own life.
The Na’vi will not listen to Grace and Jake’s pleas to move. Before Jake can tell Neytiri the truth, he is yanked back to his human body by Quaritch, and taken into custody as a traitor to his own kind. Grace and Jake plead with Selfridge to spare the Na’vi. Instead, Selfridge uses one of Jake’s recorded reports against the Na’vi. Their refusal to leave opens them up to the usage of military force — and he decides to use that force in order to get rid of the Na’vi once and for all.
Incarcerated, Jake and Grace learn that Quaritch has launched his assault on the Hometree. They plead one more time to Selfridge. He gives Jake one hour to convince the Na’vi to leave.
Jake returns to speak to the Na’vi and confesses to Neytiri that he knew of the assault even before it started. Shocked, Neytiri proclaims him a traitor to her people. Jake and Grace are held captive as the Na’vi refuse to leave their home.
(In the above section, the A and B Stories finally cross and catch up to Jake.)
All Is Lost: The assault on the Hometree begins. What took centuries to grow is obliterated in seconds in a sequence of cold, calculated military attacks led by Quaritch. Among the casualties is Eytukan. Neytiri banishes Jake and tells him never to return.
Back at the base camp, Selfridge pulls the plug on the Avatars. Jake and Grace fall to the ground, as lifeless and broken as the Na’vi Hometree.
Dark Night of the Soul: With Trudy’s help, the group escapes from Hell’s Gate but Grace is injured. Jake returns to the Hometree and wanders through the devastation alone — neither human nor Na’vi.
Break into Three: Jake has no choice if he is to help the Na’vi and win back Neytiri’s trust and love. He must return to them… but first, there is something he must do. The theme comes back to push our hero through the third act. Finally, he has found something worth fighting for.
Finale: Flying on his faithful banshee, Jake seeks out the great winged Toruk. He must do what no other chosen one has done before.
As the Na’vi lament and pray by the Mother Tree, the mighty Toruk swoops down on them, causing great panic. Their fear is quickly replaced by surprise and awe as they see Jake astride the magnificent beast. He is the new Toruk Macto. Jake submits himself to Tsu’Tey and is accepted back by Neytiri as he offers to fight alongside them against the Sky People.
At the Well of Souls, Grace is brought before the Mother Tree, together with her Avatar. But she is too weak and does not survive the spirit transfer. In death she finally achieves what she sought in life: to become one with the Na’vi.
Later, Jake stands at the base of the Mother Tree. He asks for Eywa’s help defeating the Sky People. Neytiri approaches. She cradles Jake’s hand in hers and tells him that Eywa does not take sides. “She only protects the balance of life.”
As Toruk Macto, Jake unites the clans of Pandora once again to fight a common enemy. Together, they ride and fly. Quaritch mounts his attack. Though they fight gallantly, the Na’vi are no match to Quaritch’s firepower. One by one, their plan of attack and defense are thwarted by Quaritch’s army.
Just as it seems that the battle is over, hundreds of thousands of the planet’s animals join the fight to aid the Na’vi. The goddess Eywa has decided that it is time for balance to be restored. Nature conquers technology.
Jake and Quaritch find themselves in an Avatar-to-man duel to the death. Quaritch gains the upperhand as he damages Jake’s link pod, depriving his human body of air. As Jake struggles to maintain consciousness, Quaritch goes for the death strike. Once again, Neytiri saves the day. With a series of arrow strikes, she kills the villainous Quaritch.
Neytiri rushes to Jake’s human body to save him and, for the first time, she sees him as he truly is. She cradles his tiny, broken form in her great Na’vi arms in an act of pure love.
Final Image: Under the Mother Tree, Jake is transformed wholly into Na’vi as his human spirit joins his Avatar. At last, Jake has a people and a purpose. He is home.