Monday, February 28, 2011

James Cameron's 'Avatar' Borrows From His Past Epics

Cameron completists might recognize themes, characters and plot points.

If you were setting out to make the biggest film in the history of movies, you'd be wise to take a close look at the brilliant work of the best filmmakers who'd come before you. It's no surprise, then, that many key elements of "Avatar" have James Cameron paying tribute to one of the most important directors of all time: himself.

From characters to plot points to several overarching themes, the world's #1 movie is leaving audiences with both a sense of awe and one of déjà vu. Not that there's anything wrong with that. After "Aliens," "The Abyss," "True Lies," "Titanic" and the "Terminator" films, he's certainly earned the right to stick with what works. Keeping that in mind, here are five recurring Cameron themes we've loved before and are loving again:

The Spineless Company Man
In "Avatar," Giovanni Ribisi's Parker Selfridge heads up the RDA mining operation, barking out orders with an iron fist and a thirst for wealth. In "Aliens," Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) is a rep for the Weyland-Yutari corporation who not only helps mastermind Ripley's ill-fated mission, but has secret plans to bring alien specimens to the company for research and profit. Both characters come from the passive-aggressive school of those who'd sell out their own mother for a buck. Company men through and through, it isn't that they don't have a sense of morality; it's that their morals are up for sale to the highest bidder.

Robotic Retrofits
It'd be really boring if someone made a movie about humans encountering an alien race with the strength of children, who we could smack around as if we were King Kong. It makes sense, then, that Cameron's winning formula has twice relied on mankind overcoming our girly-man physical limitations with the help of hardware. As far as memorable Cameron moments go, Sigourney Weaver's toe-to-toe battle with the "Aliens" queen is tough to top. After slipping into a cargo-loading exo-suit, Ripley lays the smack down. "Avatar" Chief of Security Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), meanwhile, is quite fond of his AMP (Amplified Mobility Platform) suit. Imagined as a descendent of 21st-century military exoskeletons, the AMP suit amplifies (get it?) the strength and mobility of Quaritch and other soldiers. Suffice it to say that if Cameron could have any toy from his movies, he'd probably be walking around his mansion in a giant robo-suit.

Mankind vs. Technology
Afraid that your toaster will rise up against you? That our iPods and Kindles will eventually destroy what's left of our world's simplistic beauty? Then you've probably seen a lot of James Cameron movies. "Avatar" features a none-too-subtle message about the dangers of civilized man attempting to take down the pure of heart and sensitive to nature. The "Terminator" films similarly envision a world where mankind's desire for absolute supremacy becomes its ultimate downfall. Heck, even "Titanic" is about the dangers of technological advancement and the hubris of declaring mankind's supremacy. Whether it's primitive cultures, robots or water, Cameron seems eager to remind humans that we aren't as powerful as we sometimes think.

The No-Nonsense Female Sidekick
In "Aliens," Private Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) is a tough Latina Marine who fights bravely and has more masculine qualities than many of the men around her. In "Avatar," Trudy Chacon (Michelle Rodriguez) is a tough Latina Marine similarly endearing, macho and ultimately ill-fated. Although much has been made over the years of Cameron's love for female action heroes (Ripley, Sarah Connor, Max Guevera from "Dark Angel"), his secondary female characters are just as proud a tradition.

Risk-Taking Realm Immersion
Watch "Avatar," and you're amazed at the lengths Jake Sully must go to set foot on Pandora. As he takes the less-literal dive, it's reminiscent of Cameron's "The Abyss," perhaps his most underrated film. In that movie, a diving team encounters an alien species, ultimately leading Virgil "Bud" Brigman (Ed Harris) to use a liquid breathing apparatus that allows him to dive deeper than humanly possible but risks death if his oxygen runs out. Pandora similarly poses fears of oxygen absence, total immersion and a peek at beauties never before seen by man — for those brave enough to take the leap and for moviegoers, who may similarly be watching a Cameron movie holding their breath.

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